from hello to i do: the five stages of relationship development

I recently taught my students about the five stages of romantic coupling created by relationship researcher Mark Knapp. Later that week, Hus and I went shopping at the almighty Walmart. As we walked up and down the aisles, I began to notice the different pairs of individuals we passed. I started to try and classify each couple into one of the five stages. For instance, there was this one couple that was holding hands, smiling, and talking about what they wanted to eat that night. Neither person had a ring on his or her finger, so I figured that they weren't married. They kept saying things like, "do we need dish soap?" and "do we need lunch meat?" To me, this implied that they lived together. Based on this brief interaction, I concluded that they were likely in the fourth stage of development.

Have you ever wondered what stage your relationship is in? Read each description below and you be the judge.

Stage 1: Initiating
This stage is characterized by individuals sizing each other up. You are in this stage with someone you have just recently met. Maybe you're checking him out from across the room or maybe you're standing right next to her and thinking about starting up a conversation. However you meet, you haven't spoken to one another yet. You're examining his or her physical appearance to determine if this is someone you want to chat with. You may rely on their clothing, physical attractiveness, gender, ethnicity, age, body type, and/or posture to make this evaluation. If you are interested, you will likely develop some sort of greeting and initiate a conversation.
Stage 2: Experimenting
Once you've gotten past the initiating stage and you've decided to talk to this new potential mate, you will enter the experimenting stage where you begin to disclose superficial information (like your name, hometown, age, favorite hobby) about yourself to this person. Based on what you learn about your potential future sweetie, especially what the two of you have in common with each other, you'll decide whether or not to see him or her again and move on to the next stage. So, in the initiating stage, you're deciding whether to start a conversation with this new person and the experimenting stage results in a decision about whether you're ready to begin a relationship with him or her. You and your prospective partner could be in the experimenting stage for a day, a week, or even a few weeks, depending on how often you see him or her. Individuals who move towards creating a relationship then move onto the intensifying stage.

Stage 3: Intensifying
When in this stage, you and your partner are likely experiencing strong feelings of attraction and liking. The breadth and depth of your disclosures increase and your use of pet names will also likely increase. This is additionally where you increase your physical expressions of affection like cuddling, kissing, hugging, hand-holding, and/or sexual activity. In this stage, couples may also want to test their relationship to see where it is going. Last, but certainly not least, this stage is characterized by expressions of commitment. Couples could be in the intensifying stage for a few weeks to a few years.
Stage 4: Integrating
The fourth stage of relationship development is called the integrating stage. This is where you begin to combine your lives, physically, emotionally, communicatively. You may begin to spend a lot of time with each other, leaving personal items at each other's homes or even moving-in together. You may also find that you are able to finish each other's sentences or that you have developed a secret "insider" language together. In addition, you will begin to develop joint attitudes and beliefs (ex: "we like that show"), while also creating shared activities and interests (ex: "our favorite restaurant" or "our song"). Using "we" language instead of "I" language is also a characteristic of this stage. Again, this stage could be long or short.

Stage 5: Bonding
If you're lucky, you and your partner might make it to the final stage of relationship development: bonding. Bonding is distinct from the other stages in that you will likely only make it to this stage with a few select people in your lifetime; maybe even just one. In this stage, couples publicly express their commitment to each other, usually through marriage.

So, what stage are you in?

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