Although each relationship is different, the truth is that many experts have been able to identify some stages that generally all relationships go through. This topic is one of the objects of study of social psychology, an area where many models on love, relationships and their development have been explained.
In the following article, we are going to briefly explain George Levinger's theory on relationship stages. These record the course of love from the beginning to the end due to a break-up, death, or other circumstances.
The German psychologist, George Levinger (1927-2017), dedicated his life to clinical and social psychology. His best-known contributions are those he made in the field of interpersonal relationships, especially romantic ones, which include his theory on the 5 stages of love and relationships.
When developing his model, Levinger focused exclusively on heterosexual relationships between adults; however, there are no evident limitations in his theory that prevent its application to any other type of love relationship.
Relationships necessarily begin with contact between two individuals. At this point, or progressively, a feeling of mutual attraction arises, which is usually based on physical appearance or psychological similarities.
According to Levinger, several determinants influence how the acquaintance stage of a relationship develops. One of the most relevant determinants is the experience in previous love relationships. At the moment of the attraction, the physical proximity or the popular "first impression" also have significant importance.
The buildup stage of a relationship is when the two partners become intimate, gradually trust each other and become increasingly interdependent. Regarding intimacy, Levinger highlights the weight that the revealing of private information has on it.
For the relationship to move from the acquaintance or attraction stage to the buildup one, Levinger states it is important that both parties are (or become) compatible in areas such as tastes, hobbies, personal values, and life goals. It is also common for mutual discomfort and resentment to begin to appear.
The continuation stage described in Levinger's model is characterized above all by long-term commitment and by the union of the lives of the two members of the couple, in a very general sense. The love relationship is intensified, so many stable relationships, common-law partners or marriages are included in this stage.
Although the relationship may continue to develop, grow and change during this stage, it is quite common for a long phase of stability to occur during this period (a sign of the consolidation of the relationship), which sometimes even reaches stagnation. For Levinger, mutual trust is the fundamental factor in the success of the continuation stage of a relationship.
As time goes by, it is normal for relationships to deteriorate and for the satisfaction of the partners to decrease progressively. This is associated with factors such as the imbalance between the rewards obtained from continuing in the relationship and the costs of doing so - which in turn clashes with the difficulty of breaking up, increased by the fact of having children together, sharing a house, etc.
Of course, the deterioration stage of the love relationship does not always occur; some manage to stay in the continuation stage until the end of their lives. However, even in successful relationships, it is expected that some feelings of mutual dissatisfaction and boredom will appear from a certain point onwards, even if their intensity is low.
It's obvious that the last stage of love in Levinger's theory is the termination or ending stage. This is not necessarily related to a break-up; it can also be due to the death of one of the members of the relationship or other factors.
Sometimes, the termination stage is due to the disappearing of the love and intimacy that has sustained the relationship up to a given point; it is not even necessary for negative events to happen for the connection between a couple to deteriorate and eventually break.
Levinger, G. (1983). Development and change. En H.H. Kelley et al. (Eds.), Close relationships (315–359). New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.