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Whether you want to admit it or not, there are absolutely different stages of a relationship that determine whether or not it’s going to be successful or fall flat on its face. Some of these things may not pop up right away, but, in time, we always seem to see traits in our girlfriend or ongoing disagreements that never truly go away.

Personally speaking, as someone who is currently still in the honeymoon phase with a girl I’m dating, things are going great. There’s a good balance of seeing one another, texting and learning more about each other — oh, and the sex is great, too — but we’ve only been dating for about two months, so there’s still lots to figure out with each other. We hope it continues to go well, but dating is tricky, so we’ll see.

The one thing we’ve learned through all of this is simple: patience is a virtue. Years ago, I may have jumped into commitment too soon, sacrificing the long-term success by not getting to know the girl as well as I should. While the first three months are always the best, it’s impossible to hold onto those when months and years continue to pile up. That’s why I’m giving you the five different stages of a relationship, which should help you determine how to handle different situations when they arise.

The infatuation stage

After the two of you have met and hung out a few times, getting to know each other a little bit better and sharing a few early memories, the infatuation stage starts to take shape. This means you’re both still really flirty, seeing all the good things in one another, over-complimenting and maintaining a healthy distance to stay guarded. It’s when you’re both most likely to want to see each other as often as possible, filling a void that you don’t have with anyone else.

The honeymoon stage

As we all know, the honeymoon stage is when a relationship becomes official, the two of you are exclusive and the excitement of what’s to come is in full effect. This stage typically lasts the first three months or so, with you both avoiding much conflict, meeting one another’s friends and doing new things together. It’s the feeling that the relationship has a good base, and that there’s real potential about what’s to come. Generally speaking, it’s the less dramatic stage of a relationship.

The opinion stage

Following the honeymoon stage, the opinion stage is where the two of you begin to see the true colors of each other. Sometimes, that can be good, while other times, it can lead to tension or a concern that things may not work out. That’s why the opinion stage is, arguably, the most important stage of a relationship, as one or both people are evaluating the future together. For example, if your girl turns out to be really gossipy and negative all the time, is that something you think you can handle, or is it a dealbreaker that you just can’t surround yourself with? Likewise, maybe she finds out you’re really unmotivated. She may see that as a fault you may not be able to change, leaving her with questions about a future together.

The happy stage

Now that you’ve gotten through the opinion stage and have talked out certain faults, values and traits about yourselves — even overcoming disagreements or differences in opinion — it’s time for the happy stage. Unlike the honeymoon stage, this stage is more authentic, as you’ve survived the excitement of a new relationship, the arguments and judgements of the opinion stage and now actually know each other well enough to take things for what they are. You no longer need to spend on lavish dates or constantly be doing something, instead finding happiness in small things like cooking together or going for a walk.

The doubt or complete trust stage

Whether it’s been less than a year or multiple years, the final stage of a relationship is either boom or bust. That means that you and your significant other are fully evaluating either a future together or ending things. Regardless of how long you’ve been together, this is the stage where you two make the adult decision of making your relationship official, or, for more intense relationships, if marriage is the next step. On the contrary, there may be doubt in one or both of your minds that leads to doubt that cannot be repaired. If that’s the case, there’s no sense in trying to change one another, with the natural step being a break up, unfortunately.

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