What are the ‘normal’ stages in a relationship?

The Relationship Stages

Dr. Jim explains the relationship phases with a simple guide to build a healthy relationship for those singles who are marriage minded.


The media bombards us with sex and dating built appealing to our fantasies. There is a progression that should take place in building a relationship. The following is offered as a guide to consider as you build a relationship.

Note: As soon as I say guide, every single reading this will think they are an exception and the timing noted does not apply to them. Yes – it does! One of the strangest phenomenons that I have observed is that single dating behavior is more common than most of us think. I encourage you to not look for the ‘exception’ but where you can build the type of relationship that will serve you and your partner well for years to come.

Fantasy Stage 1 – 6 months:

  1. There is an attraction to each other and we immediately (or soon thereafter) think we have found our soul mate. Candidly, there is really little more in the relationship during this stage than ‘physical attraction’.
  2. There is a temptation to begin saying, ‘I love you’ during this fantasy stage. What the expression really is saying is – ‘I am in love with the idea of being in love’ AND ‘I really think you are the answer for ME’! It is mostly self-serving.
  3. The emphasis should be upon enjoying each other’s company and building a FRIENDSHIP and refraining from going any further.
  4. After 2 – 3 months of this type dating and it is mutually agreed, the relationship can move into an exclusive dating arrangement. This should be mutually agreed to and clearly understood.
  5. It is very important that each person have their own accountability group of their own gender. The progress of the relationship should be shared so that their objectivity and accountability can be a valuable resource to the couple.

Affirming Stage 6 – 12 months:

  1. Once a couple is satisfied that there is something to take to the next level, the couple should develop a plan in how they can best get to know each other in ‘real settings’. This plan will include such things as spending time around family and close friends to enable each other to see how the other person builds and sustains relationships.
  2. I do not suggest that the couple spend all their time together at this stage. It is a temptation to do so, but I suggest that it is actually unhealthy for the relationship. Our emotions need to ‘grow’ into this type of deep relationship. Pushing the pace causes areas of each other’s character to not be observed. For example: Can the couple enjoy their alone time as well as their together time? If not, what is the ‘force’ at play that is ‘pushing’??? This often means that a healthy bonding is not taking place and the emphasis is upon self-satisfaction.
  3. It is very important to look for CHARACTER issues in each other during this stage. Give yourself enough time and enough settings where character issues can surface. Why is this important? Individuals can ‘mask’ character issues for an extended period of time – especially a few months during the fantasy period. But character is the foundation upon which commitment is built. Character does not change just because one gets married. You need to know ‘what they are really like’ before you move into a marital relationship.

Pre-engagement Stage 1 – 2 years:

  1. The couple has spent a good deal of time building their relationship. They mutually agree that this relationship has the great potential of moving into marriage. It is important that there be a ‘pre’ engagement period of time. There is no set time frame for a pre-engagement period. It is more important that a process be completed than the time completed.
  2. Marital inventories and temperament sorting should be taken at this stage. These are a wonderful means of finding out which areas you are really in ‘sync’ and where you are apart. It serves as a basis for building the relationship into as healthy a one as possible BEFORE marriage. (I highly recommend the inventories developed by Dr. David Olson that can be found at www.lifeinnovations.com. There are many counsellors who can provide insights into the results found in these inventories. The Myers-Briggs temperament sorting is another excellent source of information that each should know about themselves and each other.)
  3. At least 4 sessions should be spent with a Christian counsellor who is trained in pre-marital counselling. It would be especially helpful to take the inventories mentioned above to the counsellor for their input.
  4. It is very important that the couple receive affirmations from family and friends during this stage. If they do not (unless there is a good reason), the couple should take the time toz listen to the concerns and take steps to ensure that they are embracing and working through them. Please see blog post about: How To Make Friends.

Engagement Stage:

  1. Once a couple arrives at the point that they ‘know’ that they want to be married and have all the affirmations that they can receive, they can move with confidence into the engagement.
  2. I do not recommend a prolonged engagement once the couple decides to get married. If they have done the process in a ‘seasoning’ manner, they should plan to marry as practical – with mutual agreement. I say this so that pre-marital sex will not be a temptation.

Marriage Stage:

The couple should be able to enjoy the blessings of God as well as family and friends as they move into a marriage that has been well planned and confirmed in a healthy process. They can be assured that they have taken the steps to assure a long and satisfying marriage.

There are so many voices at play in our world today. Many of these encourage us to rush into marriage with anyone as soon as we find a strong attraction. This is not wise and God wants to mature you in your bonding process. It is my prayer that you will use the above to develop your own guide as you build a strong and satisfying relationship.

Dr. Jim

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1 comment on “What are the ‘normal’ stages in a relationship?Add yours →

  1. I was in a relationship where I did feel rushed. Six months after we started dating, he proposed marriage, and I told him I felt it was too soon (after 3 months the initial infatuation wore off and I had suspicions that he was not quite the right person God intended for me). After a year of dating, he asked again but I still felt pressured for time and could not accept. I said I needed at least another year, which would be the pre-engagement stage outlined in this article. He then took it to mean we would be married a year from then, but my thinking was get engaged at that time. We eventually went our separate ways because it was apparent we were not at the same point in life. This article showed me I was justified in asking for more time before engagement.

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