The Six Stages of Marriage

How Couples Evolve Over Time

By John E. Turner, LMFT and Sally R. Connolly, LMFT

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Couples go through six different stages during their courtship and marriage. Some couples move through them very quickly while others stay "stuck" in one for a long time. All of these stages in a relationship are normal. Read about them and see if you might find your relationship patterns.

Stage 1: Romance, "The Honeymoon" or aptly termed “Loving Under the Influence”.

During this initial stage of marriage, partners see each other as perfect.  They think that they pretty much think and act alike and are only slightly aware of any differences.

As external interests or renewed career goals emerge, those can be viewed as a betrayal of the relationship. At this stage, couples need to learn to accept the differences as enhancing their relationship rather than tearing them apart.

Stage 2: Expectations, Compromise, Disappointment or Distress

In the second stage of marriage, couples sometimes experience changes in each other and in the relationship with feelings of disappointment, loss, anxiety and self-doubt.

The job at this point is to draw a distinct boundary between themselves as a unit and the rest of the world that affects their relationship.

Stage 3: Power Struggles and Control

At this stage of the relationship, interests diverge and develop independently.  Each may try to control the other.  Issues of time together vs time apart and a pattern of one person pursuing while the other distances are frequent.
 Many couples stay in this stage for years.

Struggles are generally over nurturing each other and themselves as individuals.  It might look like how much time to spend together and how much to spend apart, how much to focus on career and children and what time to devote to the relationship.

Stage 4: The Seven-Year Itch or the Stage of Competition

One or the other may be feeling the need to run from the relationship. “I want time for myself”. “I need some space”.

There may be affairs at this stage as partners look for space (regardless of time that they have been married).

Stage 5: Reconciliation and Co-operation

As couples reach this stage of the marriage, the are reaching toward intimacy. 

Couples recognize that they have a full identity to share with each other.

Stage 6: Acceptance and Collaboration

Intimacy and mutuality. At this stage, couples recognize that they can separate and reconnect without losing that identity.

* Adapted from "The Reinvention of Marriage" by Hara Estroff Marano in Psychology Today.