From the moment you lay eyes on that special someone until the day you decide to spend the rest of your lives together, your relationship progresses through several stages. Identifying the dating stage you are in can help you pinpoint problems during the process, as well as provide insight as to where your relationship is heading. According to “Human Communication” author, Joseph DeVito, the following stages represent stages of all interpersonal relationships, whether they develop face-to-face or on the latest social networking site.
The early stages of dating begin with that first move—an initial connection. This encounter could occur non-verbally as you smile at someone from across the room, or verbally as you search for the right words to start a conversation. In general, four factors account for the reason we are attracted to someone. The more similar someone is to you, the more likely you are to have similar values and relationship goals. The closer you are geographically, the more likely it is you will interact. Reinforcement refers to the rewards your relationship offers, such as compliments, favors, gifts and increased self-esteem. Physical appearance also plays a major role. Theorists who support the “matching hypothesis” claim people date people who are similar to themselves in level of physical attractiveness.
During the involvement stage, you learn more about the other person. As you discover qualities, quirks and views on important issues, you determine if this person is right for you to date. This step is important because it sets the foundation for later stages of dating. If you skip this stage or rush through it too quickly, you risk entering a relationship with someone you barely know.
Intimacy refers to a level of closeness between people. It may involve sex or exist as a strong social bond. During this stage, self disclosure, or revealing personal information about yourself, becomes more frequent. People usually determine rules for the relationship at this point, which might include exclusivity, level of commitment and expectations for the relationship.
In any relationship where people become dependent on one another, conflict eventually surfaces. This could be dissatisfaction felt by one person or unhappiness between both of you. The deterioration stage is the point that makes or breaks couples. A value is placed on the relationship, and decisions have to be made. Is the relationship worth the effort? If so, you progress to the next stage. If not, you break up.
A number of factors determine whether or not you might choose to work on your relationship rather than abandon it: emotional attachment, convenience, children, fear, the economy. While working through this stage of dating, it’s critical you figure out what triggered your relationship to go sour. For example, was it unrealistic expectations? Unfaithfulness? Lying? Abuse? Then you need to come up with strategies for dealing with this problem, and integrate them into your relationship. This stage involves an element of risk since both of you must be committed to salvaging the relationship. But if you deal with the conflict in a positive, productive way, you will strengthen the bonds that hold your relationship together and experience even deeper intimacy than before.