The Phases of Romantic Love

Man kissing, teasing woman over coffee
Cavan Images/Iconica/Getty Images

Romantic love has inspired poets for centuries and been the subject of plays, songs, movies and any other creative or artistic endeavor you can think of. Why? Because, as anyone who's been in love knows, love is complicated and capable of eliciting strong emotions, from elation to heartbreak.

Love relationships go through ups and downs—from that initial, intoxicating "honeymoon" phase to a sense of disappointment, and, ideally, to a state of acceptance and a desire for permanence. It can be challenging to move through these phases, but the reward is a healthy, long-term relationship.

Infatuation

During the infatuation phase, also known as lust or "limerance"—a term coined in 1979 by psychologist Dorothy Tennov—you feel exhilaration, passion, and elation when you and your lover are together. Neurochemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and norepinephrine—also known as the "feel-good" chemicals—are released. These chemicals make us giddy, energetic, and euphoric, sometimes leading to decreased appetite and insomnia. You actually can be so “n love that you can’t eat or sleep. 

The high you feel during the infatuation phase leads you to idealize the other person and want to be with them constantly; you think about them all the time. Because this person seems perfect during this phase, you are also unable to see your lover's flaws and shortcomings— hence the saying "love is blind."

Typically, the infatuation phase lasts for around six months to a year.

Reality Sets In

The first sign that the infatuation phase is wearing off is a sense of disillusionment. You start to notice habits and flaws in your partner and become critical of some of his or her behaviors and attitudes. Some of the same traits that you found so attractive at first start to show their downside. (For example, someone who seemed confident and decisive at first might now seem rude and close-minded.)

Additionally, as the high wears off, you both start to show your true personalities and aren't as forgiving and unselfish as you were when your partner seemed like he could do no wrong. While at first you may have gone out of your way to accommodate the other person, you may start to feel like your own needs aren't being met.

As idealization fades, you may find yourself feeling resentful that your partner is no longer causing that wonderful intoxicating feeling anymore. In some cases, serious problems, like addiction or abusive tendencies, can reveal themselves, and potentially be dealbreakers.

Getting through this phase requires the ability to compromise, to speak up about your needs and wants, and to learn how to resolve conflict productively. Rather than trying to change your partner, your focus should be on learning to respect each other. You will discover if, ultimately, you both have the desire to make the relationship work despite challenges.

Facing inevitable challenges, however, doesn't mean the underlying feelings of love and attraction go away. In fact, being able to manage the inevitable bumps in the road is a good indicator that the relationship can evolve into something more long-lasting and stable. 

Sticking with a person who inspires romantic feelings, and communicating your dreams, desires, and thoughts with one another can lead to true intimacy and attachment, the next stage of love.

Mature Love

Just because the passion doesn't stay red-hot and unrelenting doesn't mean that love doesn't continue. Mature love is the kind of devotion found in long-term relationships and successful marriages. In mature love, two people are together because they want to be together and not just because they feel an irrational desire or need to be with one another.

Signs of mature love include acceptance, emotional support, commitment, calmness, respect, caring, kindness, friendship, and consideration. Cementing this phase is oxytocin, sometimes called "the cuddle hormone," because it compels you and your partner to get close and to bond.

In fact, scientific research suggests that the brain activity of couples in mature relationships is very similar to the brain activity of those newly in love. Just because you're not pining for the person doesn't mean it's not true love; in fact, mature love is usually deeper and more meaningful (not to mention much more sustainable) than its younger counterpart.

 

Sources:

Harvard University. Science in the News. Love Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship. http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/love-actually-science-behind-lust-attraction-companionship/

The Gottman Institute. The 3 Phases of Love. https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-3-phases-of-love/

Was this page helpful?