Navigating The Five Stages Of Love

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated April 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

"What is love?" is a question that has been asked in many novels, poems, plays, and songs. The answer to the question may vary and could change within a lifetime for each individual. Love is often considered complex, and many philosophers and scientists have hypothesized about what it means. Although love is scientifically a chemical reaction in the brain involving norepinephrine, oxytocin, and dopamine levels, how we interpret each stage of love can vary. Different stages of love, such as falling in love, passionate love, or a long term relationship, reflect the emotional connection and growth between partners as they navigate their lives.

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As science has come to understand how certain neurotransmitters interact to generate feelings of love, research has identified specific patterns, like body language and love languages, that tend to play out in relationships.

These can be broken down in several ways, and not every relationship may operate according to the same playbook. Still, many researchers and psychologists may agree that there are often five stages of love in a healthy relationship, including the following. 

Stage one: Initial attraction

The first love stage, also known as the attraction stage may be described by Hollywood films when two characters lock eyes, the music swells, and they declare love at first sight. Although we may enjoy seeing this portrayed in movies, love may not be that simple. However, it is true that humans often make snap judgments about physical appearance. Research shows that our brains are hardwired to jump to quick conclusions based on superficial qualities. 

Although it may not be the case for everyone, for many, the primary driver in this attraction phase is physical attraction, driven by the hormones testosterone and estrogen. This first stage of the relationship may be referred to as the “honeymoon phase,” “puppy love,” or “infatuation.” It is often marked by increased feelings of lust.

In the first stage of a relationship, partners may try to impress each other using conversation starters and could feel open-minded and thrilled by the excitement of attraction when someone else reciprocates. They might experience their brain’s reward centers receiving heightened levels of dopamine and serotonin—the chemicals responsible for the euphoric feeling often felt at the beginning of a connection. 

Although people may spend the first stages of their relationship enjoying the thrill of mutual attraction, they might also analyze their partners for long-term compatibility. During this stage, qualities like charisma, kindness, and sociability may be assessed. In a healthy dynamic, someone may choose to leave a partner during this stage if they portray “red flags” or unhealthy behavioral patterns. 

Stage two: Moving from attraction to attachment

Once a relationship has passed the surface-level attraction of stage one, both partners may believe the relationship is worth their time and effort. That feeling can be exhilarating but might also apply more pressure to a budding relationship. The second stage could still feel like the “honeymoon phase.” However, partners may start to notice aspects of each other’s personality that may cause conflict, such as one partner’s propensity to leave clothing on the floor after a shower. As the novelty of the relationship starts to fade away, partners may start to discuss what’s under the surface. 

At this stage in the relationship, you might talk to your partner about their goals for a long-term relationship and ensure that your values align to the extent that you’re comfortable with. For some, that future might involve marriage and kids; for others, it might look different. It may be good to clarify such aspects of a relationship early on.

The timeframes for each stage may vary. However, researchers have noted that the first two initial stages of “passionate love” generally last about six months. During this time, the perceived intensity of a relationship might be high. Couples may feel that they have met their soulmate or will never stop feeling the intense “in love” feeling they have together. They might feel a strong sense of attachment in this phase.

This love stage might also be referred to as the “starting to get serious” stage. Social circles might begin to intertwine, partners may get to know each other’s families, and they may start to witness each other in varying social contexts. New behavioral patterns could appear. In this stage, a partner who was previously using “love bombing” techniques might start to act unhealthily, which could signify an abusive pattern.* 

*If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

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Stage three: Getting ready to commit

Stage three may clarify what individuals want out of a relationship. Couples might experience a “make it or break it” moment during this phase. The fiery passion and infatuation of the beginning stages may start to fade, and partners might wonder if the relationship has become dull or if they love their partner still. For some, commitment can feel scary or confusing in these stages. 

The third stage has been called “passional love” by researchers. This period of romantic love, which lasts roughly from the 6-month through 4-year landmark in a relationship, may be marked as a period when passion remains the same or decreases and feelings of intimacy or commitment rise. 

Crossing the threshold to a more committed relationship stage can feel challenging. Doubt and denial might begin to appear. During this stage, open communication with your partner. Let them know your doubts and try to work through your feelings together. If you’re not comfortable with those conversations, talking to a therapist is another way to work out complex emotions. Couples therapy can be beneficial for a couple trying to navigate the third stage of love. 

Stage four: Nurturing love

Mutual commitment and feelings of contentment often mark the fourth stage. In this stage, you and your partner may step out of your comfort zone and spend time discussing the future of your relationship, including plans for the next stage. You might already be married or have children, or you might live together during this stage. The initial spark lit the fire, you both worked to nurture the flame, and now you can bask in the warmth of one another’s companionship.

Although this stage is often marked by companionship and commitment, couples can still face challenges at any stage of love. It's essential to practice self-care and self-love to maintain a healthy dynamic. If you feel trapped or have difficulties in your relationship, consider reaching out to a couples counselor. 

Stage five: Lasting stability

If you’ve reached the fifth and final stage of love, you may feel that congratulations are in order. Forming a strong, lasting bond with someone can be an achievement, and not everyone gets to this stage.  

In many cases, stability might come after many years together, often following the previous stage. However, you may still work on the relationship as time passes. Stability can mean maintaining a balance, which might require a give-and-take dynamic. You might make adjustments or sacrifices for your relationship or your family. Remaining communicative, respectful, and honest can benefit you during this stage.

The work you put into stages one through four may start to show in the fifth stage. You and your partner might feel like life partners, long-term best friends, or a team. If you are willing and want it, your relationship may last for many years to come, even through times when the relationship may falter or face challenges.

An older man with white hair, beard, and glasses, holds a tablet and looks at his partner, who gestures at the screen.

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How therapy can help you navigate a relationship

The five stages of love might feel challenging to navigate on your own. Often, individuals may turn to friends and loved ones for advice on how to get from one stage to the next and how to build a lasting bond. However, advice from a friend might not always be the healthiest. If you feel like handling a relationship has begun to affect your mental health negatively, you may want to consider speaking with a licensed therapist. 

For example, commitment, communication, and infidelity may arise in relationships and cause conflict. People dealing with trouble committing to relationships might also struggle with feelings of inadequacy or isolation. Therapists have found that approaching those feelings with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help analyze and address fears of commitment. CBT can target thought patterns that may harm your emotional state and allow you to actively change negative perspectives into positive ones.

People might seek expert tips or support at different stages of love, including the fourth and fifth stages. At times, problems may not emerge until after years of commitment. If you are one of the individuals facing challenges in your relationship and constantly searching for how to know when love is gone in Google, help from professionals can be a great option. In one 2014 study, researchers found that online marriage counseling can be as effective and more available than traditional in-person therapy. The study found that online therapy removes barriers that may prevent couples from seeking treatment, such as social stigma, financial burden, and difficulty scheduling appointments. If you’re interested in trying couples therapy, consider a platform like Regain.

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Takeaway

Love can seem like a long road, with many potholes or twists and turns. Navigating through the stages of a relationship may seem challenging, and you might not realize which stage you’re in until you’ve arrived. This can make it difficult to tell when a relationship is on the decline. Knowing the signs of a potential relationship fall can help you take proactive steps to keep your connection strong and healthy. However, even with challenges, support is available for couples. If you want to improve communication, work on conflict management, or learn more about your relationship, consider reaching out to a counselor for further guidance. 
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