The 5 Stages of Love: Why Too Many Stop at Stage 3

 February 07, 2016

The 5 Stages of Love Why Too Many Stop at Stage 3

We all want real, lasting love, whether we are in our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, or beyond. Yet too many marriages fall apart and most people don’t know why.

They mistakenly believe that they have chosen the wrong partner. After going through the grieving process, they start looking again. But after more than forty years as a marriage and family counselor I have found that most people are looking for love in all the wrong places.

They don’t understand that Stage three of the five stages of love is not the end, but the real beginning for achieving real, lasting love:


Stage 1: Falling in Love

Falling in love is nature’s trick to get humans to pick a mate so that our species carries on. It feels so wonderful because we are awash in hormones such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen.  Falling in love also feels great because we project all our hopes and dreams on our lover. We imagine that they will fulfill our desires, give us all the things we didn’t get as children, deliver on all the promises our earlier relationships failed to fulfill. We are sure we will remain in love forever.  And because we are besotted with “love hormones,” we’re not aware of any of this.

When we’re in love, we dismiss naysayers like curmudgeon George Bernard Shaw who cautioned:

When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part. 


Stage 2: Becoming a Couple

At this stage our love deepens and we join together as a couple. This is a time when we have children and raise them. If we’re past the child-rearing stage, it’s the time when our couple bond deepens and develops. It’s a time of togetherness and joy. We learn what the other person likes and we expand our individual lives to begin developing a life of “the two of us.”

During this phase we experience less of the falling head-over heels “in love” feelings. We feel more bonded with our partner. We feel warm and cuddly. The sex may not be as wild, but it’s deeply satisfying. We feel safe, cared for, cherished and appreciated. We feel close and protected. We often think this is the ultimate level of love and we expect it to go on forever. We are often blind-sided by the turn-around of stage three. 


Stage 3: Disillusionment

No one told us about Stage three in understanding love and marriage. Stage three is where my first two marriages collapsed and for too many relationships this is the beginning of the end. This is a period where things begin to feel bad. It can occur slowly or can feel like a switch is flipped and everything goes wrong. Little things begin to bother us. We feel less loved and cared for. We feel trapped and want to escape.

We become more irritable and angry, or hurt and withdrawn. We may stay busy at work, or with the family, but the dissatisfactions mount. We wonder where the person we once loved has gone. We long for the love we once had, but we don’t know where it went, or how to get it back. One or the other partner wants out, or sometimes people go on “existing together,” but without really feeling intimate.

16 comments on “The 5 Stages of Love: Why Too Many Stop at Stage 3

  1. Marriage is work. Anything we create takes work, like an artwork, we are in love with our idea and we start, we sketch and it takes shape and we are still passionate about the idea of it, then we start to add color to our canvas, that obscures the original idea, it changes the sketch, it forces us to wonder whether we’ve pushed too far, we don’t like it, the details aren’t emerging, it’s a big muddy mess. We must step back and look at it. Sleep on it. Think about it. Look at the original sketches, study the early inspiration, maybe alter it, have a friend look at it, add to it, let it dry a little, maybe paint over bits, rearrange bits, fall in love with the complexity of it as we push thru it continually altering a little here, restoring a little there, getting excited about it until you are ready to reveal it.
    I think that marriage continually goes through these stages over and over again. My husband and I have been married for only 16 years, but we have experienced jobs that have changed our realationship, kids that have changed our relationship, family circumstances that have changed our relationship. Stage three came around year two, then again year ten. Right now we are at a four, but I see the possibility of stage three resurfacing of we allow outside stresses overtake our lives again. Communication is scary, so scary and painful, but it is so much the key. My husband has taught me that. Don’t assume. Marriage is too important a commitment.

  2. My husband and I are on stage 4, I felt like leaving but though hard and long about it and decided that I love him to much to leave and we have been together for way too long to just walk away. If we were in the stage 3 for about 2 years. Stage 4 is a learning, accepting and building a stronger relationship. What’s important is to remember that when you are on stage 4, individual psychotherapy and/or couples therapy is a must. It’S a bumpy road currently in my marriage, but I hope we smooth it out… I honestly hope we will.

    • “What’s important is to remember that when you are on stage 4, individual psychotherapy and/or couples therapy is a must. ” I’m sorry but that is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever read. The notion that every human being needs to go to therapy when reaching a point in their relationship is anything but true. Are you a therapist trying to make a buck or something?

  3. My heart is racing. My hands are shaking. Thank you for this brilliant article. What shakes me is that I have had these thoughts for a while and have tried to express them to my partner (we are a stage 3 couple) to no avail. She wishes to feel “butterflies” again. This is so timely and gives great hope. Our relationship was founded on trust, truth and communication. She is my best friend. But she has carried all her hurts with her over the years like momentos which you dips into occasionally; the weight of which has become to much to bear, so it seems. I see her, I love her unconditionally but lack the wisdom to make her see the beauty of where we are at this moment.

  4. My husband and I have just gone through stage 3, which lasted for at least 3-4 years….we are now in the process of re-learning who we both are, as individuals and as a couple….looking forward….

  5. Lovely, lovely article, and it is holds true also for any new love relationship we venture into. I went further than Stage 3, but it still failed and I am pretty okay. Really lovely article.

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