Power struggles and commitment issues – how to survive the 7 relationship stages

All relationships are unique, but most tend to follow a similar pattern. Understanding the different stages, from initial dates and the first holiday to unveiling any unattractive habits in front of each other, can help you deal with the common issues that often arise.

OK! columnist LalalaLetMeExplain, who’s also the author of Block, Delete, Move On: It’s Not You, It’s Them, has advice for some of the typical problems you might face at each of the seven milestones…

The early romance stage

When you don’t know what your relationship status is:

“It’s exciting at the start of a new romance, but trying to figure out how your partner views your relationship can be unsettling. You can even find yourself a victim of ghosting. Be bold. Once you’re seeing each other regularly, just ask what status your relationship is – it will ensure you’re on the same page.

“Still not sure how they feel? If they’re constantly blowing hot and cold it’s a red flag and you should get out while it’s still early days. If you’re the one who’s not sure about getting involved, write a list of relationship positives and negatives. This should clarify your feelings.”

The power struggle stage

When you’ve had your first big argument:

“Are you fighting to be heard? Are you fighting against being controlled? If it’s either of those, then this is a red flag.

“A clash of opinions over something silly, like what to watch on TV, is something you can work through, but pay attention to how they deal with the aftermath. If you can agree to disagree, apologise and move on completely, this is a good sign of a healthy relationship. If they hold it against you, or give you the silent treatment, then this is toxic behaviour.

“This stage of the relationship is about learning what the other person’s limits and triggers are – you both need to show respect, even when you don’t agree."

The stability stage

When you have a rocky meeting with their family and friends:

“You don’t need to be besties with your in-laws. What’s more important is how your partner treats the situation. I wouldn’t expect a partner to abandon their family, but I would expect them to make sure both parties – that’s you and the family – feel secure and heard.

“If it’s your family that dislikes your partner, find out why. If it’s surface level, such as they don’t think they’re fun to be around, then this is irrelevant. Point out the good parts of your partner’s personality, explain that you’re happy and state that you don’t want to hear the criticism any more.

“But if they’re signalling more serious red flags, listen to them. Some issues that are glaringly obvious to outsiders are hard for people within the relationship to see. Those who love you have your best interests at heart.”

The commitment stage

When you have different ideas about what the future looks like:

“When things become serious you’ll naturally start mapping out your future together. If you’ve got different visions, then it’s incredibly important to chat about this no matter how tricky. Compromise is an important part of a relationship, but you don’t want to end up resenting each other, so make sure you agree on the big things. If you disagree on something as huge as wanting children, then you need to seriously consider ending it for the sake of you both and your happiness.

“Getting cold feet before a wedding is normal – it’s a big decision! Be brave. Talk about your concerns with your partner. If you can’t do that now, how will you communicate within a marriage? You should be able to speak about the good, the bad and the ugly.”

The comfortable stage

When you start to feel bored and dissatisfied:

“The seven year itch is very real – it’s the point where a relationship plateaus. You become two people who live in the same house and pass each other every so often and have monthly robotic sex. Ensure the passion stays alive with date nights and new experiences together, especially if you’ve got children.

“An uncontrollable amount of jealousy is unhealthy in a relationship, but having a small element of jealousy and feeling like ‘this person could leave at any time – I have to keep them’ actually helps. Don’t take for granted that you’re both still choosing each other.”

The readjustment stage

When big life changes threaten your comfortable equilibrium:

“Kids leaving home, careers changing, downsizing after years in a family home – these big changes are an opportunity to re-establish yourself as a couple. Find time to do the things you used to enjoy together before you had responsibilities.

“Reigniting the passion isn’t just about being sexual, it’s about bringing the romance too. Leave a Post-it note telling your partner that you’re thinking about them. Don’t become complacent. It’s the time to discover each other again in a new way.”


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