Understanding The Stages Of A Relationship

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Back in the 1980s, the divorce rate hovered at an all-time high of around 50 percent in the United States. These days, only one-third of marriages end in divorce. Marriage rates are at a 150-year low, so that could be one of the reasons. On the other hand, people today have a lot more information available, about relationships and everything else. And no matter what kind of relationship you're in, it will go through various stages. Relationships may vary in form and composition, but the stages of a relationship are pretty similar, no matter who you are. And knowing where you are in your relationship can help you to get where you want to be.

Whether you are just starting, getting ready to tie the knot, or moving in together with your partner, there are things you can do to help ensure the two of you don't become a statistic. Luckily, we all know that knowledge is power. Learning the stages of a relationship is a chance to empower yourself and your partner with some expertise. Knowing this could help the two of you make it for the long haul.

Why It's Important To Study Relationships

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When you hear anyone that's been in a long relationship talk about how they made it so far, they always have at least one answer in common -- they say they work on it. Indeed, one of the tenets of all successful relationships is the work each partner is willing to put into it.

That sounds simple, right? Though, if you think about it, have you ever had a job that required zero training? No matter how simple the work may be, the person doing it needed at least a little bit of practice. Considering that the skills for making a relationship work are much more intense than stuffing an envelope, for example, it only makes sense that some instruction is in order. Once you understand the stages of a relationship, picking up on danger signs will be easier than ever.

Understanding The Stages Of A Relationship Is An Essential Tool

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Of course, there are a lot of things to learn when it comes to building and maintaining a relationship. So, learning the stages of a relationship will only be one tool in what will hopefully become a box full of them.

One way of looking at the stages of a relationship is Devito's Six-Stage Model of Relationship Development. This theory uses six different and distinct groups that define all types of relationships. You can use this model to asses three things: where the relationship is right now, where it will be in the future, and most importantly, how to influence the outcome.


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The very first stage of any interpersonal relationship is contact. Contact is that brief initial moment when one or both of the individuals become aware of the other's existence. This moment could be at work, a club, or across the aisle on the train.

During the contact stage, several things will occur. First, you will experience "perceptual contact." This phase describes that very first instant you become aware of the other person's existence. At that moment, you perform an "initial assessment." You take in the person's appearance, gender, and what type of human you think they are. Finally, at this early stage, you may experience some "interactional contact." Interactional contact describes any interaction you may have with that person.

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The second phase of Devito's stages of a relationship model is involvement. In this stage, the people involved start to engage with one another more and form a light friendship. Overall, this is the time in a relationship when you begin to experiment to see if you can learn more about the other person. You ask things like where they work or what political party they support to find out more about them.

Overall, in this stage things could progress and "mutuality," will occur. Mutuality is when both of the people involved feel a sense of connectedness. Once both parties start to feel that sense of togetherness, the "testing," begins. Testing is when each person decides whether they want to move towards the next stage. To put it differently, this is the moment a couple decides to "take it to the next level."


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The third stage in the model we're discussing today is the intimacy stage. The intimacy stage is the one where you and your partner truly commit to one another and the relationship. The other person becomes your closest companion, and you form a personal commitment with them.

During this phase, you both will start to share in each other's social circles. This is known as the "interpersonal commitment" phase. Overall, the intimacy phase is the time you genuinely start to share a life with the other person. You begin to share in your daily life and struggles with them, according to the model. During this time, it's entirely reasonable for either party to feel anxious about possible issues like abandonment or eventual boredom. It's essential that you discuss these things with your partner if that happens.


The fourth phase in Devito's stages of a relationship model is deterioration. No matter how much you love the other person, this happens in every relationship. Deterioration is the time when things get real. Whether someone in the relationship breaks a promise or some emergency comes between you, things start to break down. 

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Even in relationships that have no obvious trouble, it's normal for couples to begin to feel less excited about the whole thing.

In this stage, a couple will experience weakening bonds. The relationship is tested by things such as work, kids, or hobbies. Merely seeing each other too often can lead to feelings of unease. People start to panic because they have less to say to one another. There's no reason, though, to panic about this as every couple experiences it. Again, communicate with your partner and take steps to work into the next stage which is repair.


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We know that you love your partner, and you want to make things work. So, it's crucial that you learn step five of Devito's relationship model which is repair. In this phase, you will both need to focus on two areas for the work -- intrapersonal repair and interpersonal repair. Intrapersonal repair is when each person, with the help of friends or counselors, works on their individual perceptions.

During this time, you want to identify what made the relationship work as well as where it went off the rails. Likewise, it's essential you each understand your part in the whole thing. Of course, you both need to work together as well, which brings us to interpersonal repair.

 During the interpersonal repair phase, you both need to work together to figure out what exactly is wrong. At this time, you move past the part where you place blame into a place of acceptance and growth together. If you do this phase well, it will lead to a cathartic and enlightening moment for both of you. Hopefully, your partnership will grow as a result. Of course, if you don't continue to work on the repair together, it could be only a temporary solution.


That brings us to the sixth phase in the stages of a relationship: dissolution. Of course, not every relationship will get to this point. In this step, the relationship dissolves, or the partners return to something more platonic. Overall, if the following things have started to occur with you and your partner, you are in the dissolution stage.

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Intrapersonal Separation

When "intrapersonal separation" occurs at this stage, a person in the relationship distances themselves from the other person psychologically. During this time, that person stops sharing their identity with their partner and becomes a distinct individual again. This stage is problematic, of course, especially when one partner is checking out, and the other still wants to keep things together.

Interpersonal And Social Separation

Finally, in the dissolution stage couples will experience interpersonal, as well as social separation. The interpersonal separation is the agreement between the two parties to move on without the other person. Ideally, during this time, the couple creates both psychological as well as physical distance with each other.

Additionally, the two individuals in the dissolution stage also go through a social separation. This stage is the opposite of the intimacy stage. During social separation, each party informs their family, friends, and colleagues of the break.

Knowledge Is Power

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In summation, we know that knowledge is power. Now, you have empowered yourself and learned Devito's six stages of a relationship. Not every relationship gets to the dissolution stage. Ultimately, you know which stage you are in currently, and now you have the key to moving on to the next one or not. If you and your partner are in the deterioration stage, consider some counseling for both of you -- together as well as individually. No matter what, continue to study relationships and what works for other people. If you do that, you add more tools to your box and you might find there's very little you can't fix.


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