by Zara Mohammed, Relationships Columnist
Published in Relationships on 15th March, 2019
Getting to know someone new can be a fun, and sometimes even exhilarating experience, but dealing with the way your relationship changes over time can be confusing and lead to problems.
You may even find yourself doubting everything about your relationship if the changes you experience begin to make you feel insecure.
Understanding what you are experiencing is the best way you can make the most out of your relationship and make sure that you are strengthening your bond with your partner instead of weakening it.
It is perfectly natural for a relationship to change as it develops over time. Every relationship has a natural cycle to live.
When you are struggling with your lover or more long-term partner it can be reassuring to know that relationships tend to go through a recognisable pattern of development.
Once you are able to recognise where you are in that cycle it can help you to decide what to do next.
I have outlined the 3 main phases of love to help you to better understand your feelings and the behaviour of you and you partner.
The 3 main phases of love are:
You know that initial period of time where you are just starting to date and get to know someone new and you just feel like they are perfect in every way?
You feel like you are the happiest you could possibly be and you can't believe how lucky you are to have met your soul mate. That is called The Honeymoon Phase, and I'm afraid to break it to you, but it rarely lasts.
During this phase in your relationship the romantic love that you feel is caused by chemicals, which react in your body and cause you to think and behave in irrational ways. These chemicals are the hormones testosterone and oestrogen.
This is a process that has its roots set in evolutionary mating processes. The strong physical attraction essentially sets the stage for the more long-term emotional attachment phase, which drives you forwards in the relationship cycle.
The reason you feel totally besotted and like your partner is "the one", is because your brain is being flooded with endorphins that make you feel good when you are together or when you think about them.
These endorphins are so strong and effective that they can even make you feel high, which is a similar sensation to what you might feel after a great workout or after eating something very high in sugar.
The second phase you will naturally move into during your relationship is The Lovesick Phase. If you find yourself daydreaming a lot, or losing your appetite, then you have probably entered this challenging phase of your relationship.
Your body and brain are being flooded with a cocktail of hormones: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. But while you still feel good, there is a conflict happening because reality is also starting to kick in.
You may find yourself looking into the future and dreaming about what your life is going to look like, and this may lead you to begin to start to try and mould your lover into your ideal life partner. This is what can lead to power struggles.
Your relationship suddenly starts to become more complicated because the infatuation is wearing off and emotional attachment is setting in.
At the same time you have to deal with reality, and the reality might be that you both have differences of opinion, different ways of viewing life, and maybe you even both want different things from the future.
This is a tricky stage of getting to know each other deeper and learning to compromise and be more realistic about your relationship. Or alternatively it is an opportunity to find out if you are well suited for a long-term relationship.
If you make it through the rocky middle stage then you will find yourself here on more solid ground, and in a proper, stable and mature relationship with a potential future.
The love you have for each other has grown and changed now. It feels less immediate, less desperate, and less dramatic. In place of the hormone induced madness you felt before, you find yourself being able to truly appreciate each other as individuals.
You challenge and support each other at the same time, and perhaps you even feel like together you are two halves of a whole.
A mature relationship develops between you. It is one that is defined by commitment, sharing and flexibility, empathy and understanding, sharing of responsibility and possibly even making your own family together.
You will still encounter plenty of confrontational moment and difficulties, and this is because you feel strong enough together in your relationship to know that neither of you are necessarily afraid of losing each other.
This means that you can both be authentic about how you feel, what you want and what you do and do. You know that you partner loves and accepts you for who you are, as you do them.
You also both know that you are able to make sensible decisions about your future. Sometimes that decision might be to break up, and this is also part of the natural cycle of a relationship. Some relationships last longer than others.
The main thing to take away from your relationships are that all of them, no matter how long or short, and no matter which stage you manage to get to in the relationship, they all serve a single purpose, and that purpose is to help you to grow and develop as an individual.
You will learn something important about people, life, relationships and ultimately yourself with every "failed" relationship, and this will help to lead you towards success and happiness in future relationships with a partner who is much more suited to you.