All relationships change over time, but some life events can have a major impact on a couple's relationship.

The Phases of Relationships

All people change over time. We are familiar with the way children change through their physical growth and the development of their personality. We are, however, less aware of the ways adults change. These changes are less visible and less obvious.

If, however, you were to think back five, ten or twenty years you would find your attitudes, your expectations of life, your self-confidence and your interests would have changed in many ways.

Change for adults is gradual, but is still very real. Because adults change, their relationship will also change.

People sometimes complain that their partner has changed. 'They're not the person I met all those years ago.'  No - they're not. Chances are they have changed.

Relationships and Change

Most relationships change a great deal over the years. It is important for couples to realise this, and to be ready for change. Otherwise, perfectly normal changes in their relationship may be seen as a threat or disappointment. This can lead to tension and difficulty in their relationship.

Three types of change occur in relationships:

  • changes in the pattern of the relationship
  • changes caused by the stage of life the couple have reached - the `milestones and hurdles' of committed relationships
  • changes caused by some of the unexpected events that can occur in anyone's life, such as the unexpected death of a family member.

This page will briefly describe each type of change. Although these changes happen to many couples, there will be exceptions. The important thing is not how well your relationship fits the following pattern, but how well you are coping with whatever changes have occurred for you.

Changes in Relationships

In love ...

Many relationships begin with an exciting and often intense period of falling in love. This is a time when couples wear rose-tinted glasses, they idealise each other, can't spend enough time together, and make light of any differences between them. Love will conquer all. The first phase of the relationship is important as well as enjoyable.

It provides a powerful bonding of the couple that will carry them through more testing times in the future.

Recognising differences ...

Eventually couples move onto the next stage of their relationship. This can happen early in their relationship or sometimes not for a year or two. Couples begin to be aware of the differences between them, and become more realistic in their view of each other. Arguments that are more than `lovers' tiffs' will often occur.

This phase can be quite frightening for some couples, especially if they weren't expecting it, believing that the honeymoon would last for ever. The earlier experience of being in love, and the bonding together of the couple, now comes into play and serves to re-assure couples that their relationship will survive.

I want to be me ...

In the previous phase of their relationship, couples began learning how to be two separate individuals within a relationship. This process continues for most couples in the third phase, when much of the energy of the two partners will go into establishing their own lifestyle - as parents, in their work and in their interests outside the home.

This is often a time when the relationship seems to coast along and the partners want less from each other. They know the relationship is there, and it is safe to be busy in the 'outside world'.

Together by choice ...

The fourth phase is a process of finding each other again, of seeking greater intimacy and deepening the relationship. This is vastly different to the intimacy formed in the earlier part of their relationship.

The partners now have a stronger sense of themselves as individuals. They are choosing to be together, to be dependent and intimate at times, rather than needing to be together.

This phase represents the end of the journey from being "in love" to "loving". There is a growing balance between 'I' and 'us'. The relationship is based on choice rather than need - two partners, who are not afraid to be independent, who choose to be together and to be intimate.