In Relationship Advice

Why do some relationships break up and others last a lifetime?

One reason is that relationships go through 5 predictable relationship stages, each building on the last.

By understanding the 5 stages of a relationship, you can be better prepared to navigate through each stage successfully and not get “stuck” in any of them.

Here are the 5 stages of a relationship (as identified by Dr. Susan Campbell during a study of hundreds of couples):

  1. The Romance Stage
  2. The Power Struggle Stage
  3. The Stability Stage
  4. The Commitment Stage
  5. The Co-Creation or Bliss Stage

I’ll spend more time on the first two stages, because those are the relationship stages that most couples never get past.

1. The Romance Stage (drug addiction phase)

The Romance StageNature designed the Romance Stage to have us fall in love.

In fact, nature forces us to fall in love, but not with just anyone… Nature’s bias is towards survival of the species. Adaptation and growth are nature’s way of ensuring survival.

The real reason you fell in love…

So how does nature ensure that we adapt and grow?

Nature makes sure we fall in love with the most incompatible person in the entire universe…

…the person least capable of meeting our needs and most capable of making our worst nightmares come true.

Yet they are the PERFECT person to push our every button and force us out of our comfort zone to ADAPT and GROW.

But of course, when we fall in love, we don’t see our partner’s flaws. If we knew about them, we’d run like hell in the opposite direction…

Which is exactly why nature has to DRUG us!

The Chemistry Of The Love

Love's Chemistry

When you fall in love, your brain releases a cocktail of chemicals (including Oxytocin, Phenylethylamine and Dopamine) designed to set your heart thumping and of course, light a fire in your loins.

In fact, the only difference between being in love and being (an addict) high on drugs is that being in love is legal.

Just like getting high, falling in love allows you to see the world through beautiful rose colored glasses – only seeing what makes you feel good and ignoring what makes you feel bad.

Your drug induced haze forces you to only see where you are similar to your lover, hiding you partner’s flaws and making you say and do anything to get along and please each other.

Until the high wears off. That can take anywhere from 2 months to 2 years.

At this point, your brain stops producing chemicals of love and you wake up one morning with what I call a “Love Hangover”, laying next to the most incompatible person in the world.

The Romance stage has ended and the Power Struggle stage begins (cue JAWS music here).

The Romance stage is not the pinnacle of romantic achievementTIP: Hollywood has glamorized the Romance Stage, making it out as the pinnacle of romantic achievement.

As a result, when our relationship hits the Power Struggle stage, we panic and incorrectly assume that because our relationship doesn’t look all starry-eyed like in the movies, it must be flawed.

Couples who hit the Power Struggle stage often break up and look for more compatible mates, only to discover that the same thing happens in their next relationship all over again… and again… and again.

2. The Power Struggle Stage (the love hangover)

Couple FightingThe highest percentage of first marriage divorces happen here – around the 3 to 4 year mark.

This is such a painful time for most couples as the illusion that ‘romantic love will last forever’ falls away and is replaced with feelings of disappointment and anger.

Instead of seeing your similarities (like you did in the Romance stage), you begin focusing on your differences and your partner’s flaws.

So, you get to work trying to change your partner back into the person you thought they were, or punish them for not being that way, or both.

Often one partner pulls away and withdraws, needing space… and the other partner needily chases them feeling emotionally deserted.

If you can relate to any of this in your own relationship, then your relationship is likely stuck in the Power Struggle Stage.

The goal of this stage of the relationship is to establish your autonomy inside your relationship, without destroying the love connection between you.

This stage can last anywhere from a few months to years and years, depending on the support and guidance you have and your willingness to grow.

INTERESTING FACT: Without the skills to navigate the Power Struggle stage and resolve your differences, you’ll keep returning to this painful stage over and over again throughout your relationship.

There are 2 ways most couples deal with the Power Struggle stage.

  • THEY BREAK UP: They take the nearest exit and break up. Very often these people are serial daters, never fully committing, always looking for love, but finding disappointment instead.
  • THEY SURVIVE: They continue along their journey together, surviving through the pain and frustration of a relationship that is stuck in the past and no longer growing. People who have chosen this option typically think that good relationships involve sacrifice and compromise. Their relationship eventually emotionally flatlines, along with their sex life.

Overcoming The Power Struggle Stage

The other alternative is that you overcome the Power Struggle, either on your own, or with professional guidance.

You graduate from the Power Struggle stage when you:

  • accept and appreciate each other’s differences
  • learn to share power, and realize that using force will never get you what you want in love
  • realize who you are and what you have (as a couple)
  • give up your fantasies of harmony without struggle
  • surrender to life just the way it is

Overcoming the Power Struggle in relationshipsAs simple as that sounds, actually getting through the power struggle stage is not an easy ride for most couples.

It’s all too easy for one person to quit halfway along the journey and end the relationship because it feels like too much hard work.

In reality, when one partner quits the relationship midway through the Power Struggle, they’re usually unwilling to face aspects of themselves that feel too scary to confront.

I believe it’s so important to get someone who knows the lay of the land to guide you through the Power Struggle.

The only reason my partner and I are together today is because we sought professional help.

If you’d like me to hold your hand and help you navigate through the rough seas of your power struggle, let’s chat about how relationship coaching can help you.

Alternatively, if you’d rather learn from the comfort and privacy of your own home, the Love At First Fight online training program is designed to help you get past the Power Struggle.

So what can you look forward to beyond the Power Struggle?

3. The Stability Stage

A stable connectionOnce you’ve learned how to fight in a way that both of you win, you move to the Stability stage.

The thrill of being in love returns and if you’ve completed the Power Struggle stage, it returns to an even deeper, more mature form than in the Romance stage.

In this stage, it finally becomes very clear that you’re never ever going to succeed in changing your partner and you’ve given up the desire to.

You’re OK with your partner being different from you. You both have clear boundaries and you need to learn mutual respect. If you don’t, you go back to the Power Struggle.

TIP: You can get stuck in this stage if you get too attached to the peace and stability that comes with it. Remember that all growth requires change and getting outside your comfort zone.

4. The Commitment Stage

The Commitment StageIn the commitment stage, you fully surrender to the reality that you and your partner are human and that your relationship has shortcomings as a result.

You have learned to love each other by having to like each other and you choose each other consciously.

You can honestly say to your partner, “I don’t need you. I choose you knowing all I know about you, good and bad.”

You begin to experience a beautiful balance of love, belonging, fun, power, and freedom.

The trap in this stage is thinking that all your work is done. While this may be somewhat true on an individual level, your work in the world as a couple is just beginning.

TIP: This is the only stage where you’re actually ready to be married. However, being married does not mean that you’re in the Commitment stage. Most people get married in the Romance stage when they are high on drugs, and before they have learned to navigate conflict. Pretty crazy, huh?

5. The Bliss / Co-Creation Stage

The Bliss or Co-Creation StageIn this stage you become two people who have chosen to be a team moving out into the world. You move beyond the relationship and your relationship becomes a gift to the world.

Often, couples in this stage work on a project together – some kind of shared creative work that is intended to contribute to the world in some way e.g. a business, a charity or a family.

TIP: If you’ve been together many years and are in the Bliss stage, be careful not to invest so much energy into the outside world that you forget to nurture your relationship.

These stages are not a linear process; they are more like a spiral, circling upwards.

You retain the lessons you learned at each stage and bring them forward as you grow – you are in one stage or another at any given time with bits of the others thrown in for good measure.

You’ll keep coming back to the Power Struggle stage until you learn to love each other’s differences and fight in a way that deepens your intimacy and connection instead of eroding it.

Romance, Power Struggle, Stability, Commitment, Bliss

If you’ve ever wondered why you and your partner keep arguing over the same things over and over again, it’s probably because you’ve not gotten through your Power Struggle stage.

If you’d like some one-on-one help to get past your Power Struggle stage, get in touch with me to find out more about how my relationship repair program can help you fix your relationship or marriage troubles.

Lastly, please leave me a comment below and let me know which of the 5 relationship stages your relationship is in. If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more, you can get on my mailing list (by entering your email in the box below the comments) and I’ll send you a free video training on how to stop fighting and start being happy together.

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21 comments so far
  • pat

    It is on power struggle stage

  • Matshidiso

    my partner nd I are at the power struggle stage,the 2nd stage.We arquire a lot nd I feel he hs changed,bt he says his not.I always hv to fight with hm about onething over nd over again.I hv to force hm to do staff,especailly whn it cums to da issue of our child.Ive lost hope in das relationship nd da way I am I dnt evn feel like speaking anymore.

  • vbright

    Power struggle stage. We have come to realize we are going to have to step out of our comfort zones and talk about things no matter how silly they seem. I am to the point I don’t want to argue. I just want to talk about the issue and find a solution or agree to disagree and move forward with our lives.

  • LOLA

    We are in the power struggle stage! Uggggh!

  • Shan

    Sadly my parents are at the Power Struggle stage and because I see what it could do to our family.. I really want to resolve the issue by informing them about this. I’m the eldest so I’ve seen them bounce back to this same stage over and over again. My mother has definitely withdrawn from the relationship & my father is the one chasing. It hurts a lot to see this but you can’t fool your children into thinking there’s nothing wrong.

  • sarah

    power struggle stage

  • Troy

    My girlfriend and I are definitely in the power struggle stage. It is tough, definitely the hardest stage to get by, but with the help of god and each other we can make it.

  • Maggy

    we r in stage 2, I feel he s changed and distant, its frustrating.

  • Patrick

    Power struggle stage. It’s only 4 months in though so I don’t know if that’s weird

  • Kylie

    I feel like we are towards the end of power struggle makin it to the stability but still working on some communication mainly with big issues like buyin a second car and/or moving to a new place. We’ve known each other 10yrs dated 3times this time bein the third n currently we just passed our 5yr mark. It’s been a hell of a ride so far n its the commitment to our 2beautiful daughters to work out our relationship if it hits a snag. Love my family!!!

  • Saeed Mohammed

    I am in romantic stage ,but my fellow seems to be in stage three,

  • Karen Angelo

    My husband and I are in the power struggle stage, we are seeking counseling for ourselves and then our marriage.

  • Gee

    This is a very interesting article. I’ve been married for nearly 8 years. My hubby and I are going back and forth between the 2nd and 3rd stage. I am the one who always want to withdraw and he is the needless chaser but also the one who starts the quarrels.

    I find this very educative and know where to tackle to move through the stages smoothly

  • Dee

    We are in the power struggle stage

  • Ryder

    Well, its all true but it seems some people skip the stages and end up in nightmeres or tears. I’m in a relationship and as such I feel the need to be patient and completely honest with my partner. No matter how bitter the truth may sound it actually helps grow you and your relationship

  • Sheena

    We are in the romance stage. I have been through some really bad relationships. I mean, I’ve made some bad choices and Im ready to do things right this time; thats why I am on this site. My childrens father just died from a drug over dose and even though we werent together because you know I had gotten clean almost 2 years ago it was hard news. I had started dating this guy right before my ex died then, I felt bad and told him I needed some space and he gave it to me. Well we are dating again now its been a little over 2 weeks sense my ex passed and I just want to do things right. We are actually pretty compatable and are falling head over heels for each other fast. I am a little worried what my ex’s family will think when they find out.

  • Alysha

    I am currently in the power struggle stage. Only being twenty one makes this stage difficult because they say I have my whole life ahead of me, but why can’t the journey be with my partner. I can not help but look towards the future regarding school, work, and of course my relationship, but these thoughts make living “in the now” difficult. I realize being young creates a lot of stress between understanding myself fully and knowing what I need and how I need it, so I don’t know if the fights and struggles my partner and I are having are due to becoming whole with our individual selves or if we are not right for each other. “I don’t need you, but I choose you.” It is easy to rely on him for comfort, but I need the strength and courage to be an individual without him. How do we power through to become a strong, happy couple while we transition becoming strong individuals first/during?

  • Sheri

    Oh the power struggle stage!! I’m in love with the romance stage and don’t like this one :(. I lefty last marriage to chase romance once again and like a huge lightbulb – realized I can’t live my whole life in stage one! Bummer. This stage sucks as does our sex life! Coming up on 4 years and don’t know if well make it. Blended family life stinks and I regret leaving my past marriage – should have stayed and made it work!! I will stay here for the sake of my son but I feel that’s the only reason I’m staying. We were BOTH in love with love!

  • mahle

    We have 3 years together. And we on power struggle, its so hard..sometimes you even doubt your love for him. I just need to pray

  • JW

    Power stage. 3 yrs.great sex and passion. Both divorced. Her 2 yr.marriage. Me 35 yr. marriage. She pulls away I feel hurt and chase. She went back half heartedly to her ex. Then back to me. Love each other a lot but are stuck. Frustrated and discouraged x

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