eHarmony psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos

The Five Stages of Love Revealed

by Eharmony Editorial Team - October 31, 2014

Does your dream date make it difficult to drop off to sleep? Or maybe you're distracted by the joy of text with your other half? Chances are you're in one of the five stages of love, as revealed today by eHarmony psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos.

Our study of British couples has identified five distinct stages in a loving relationship, and the symptoms which help you identify which one you’re in.

From the early excitement of the Butterflies stage, to the warm contentment of Stability, our results showed that your love life can affect not just the way you feel, but your ability to work and sleep and you can even experience feelings equivalent to the effects of Class A drugs.

Dr Linda Papadopoulos explained: “Shaped via a mixture of physical and emotional indicators, it’s fascinating to note that this one core emotion can be broken down into such distinct stages. What’s more, each stage may be relived and recaptured as couples grow into a relationship, and face different life challenges together.”

Stage 1: Butterflies

This stage is all about the initial lust and infatuation felt when you meet someone you like – and the ‘happy anxiety’ that comes with it. The person becomes all you can think about, and it’s common to frequently check your phone, email and social channels to see if they’ve been in contact. This is also where you become acutely aware of yourself and your own image – buying new clothes, double-checking your Facebook photos, etc. This lust is driven by the sex hormones Testosterone and Oestrogen. Testosterone is not confined only to men (while it is known as a male sex hormone, women have levels of the hormone in their system as well) and it’s part of what drives desire, fantasy, and thoughts about sex, and even helps provide the energy for sex in both men women.

Stage 2: Building

By making it to Stage 2, you have developed a deep physical attraction to the other person, fuelled by neuro-chemicals called ‘Monoamines’ including Dopamine, which is also activated by Class A drugs, and Adrenalin). These literally get our hearts racing and produce Serotonin, the happiness chemical. These drive you to want to find out everything about the person, and this where you match your feelings to the facts about the person and find out who they really are by filling in their ‘life CV’. This includes meeting friends (and potentially family too, depending on the individual). Who are they, what do they do, where are they from, what do they like?

Stage 3: Assimilation

This stage is about applying the knowledge from Stage 2 and working out how this impacts your relationship and how things are going to work. While Stages 1 and 2 were about ‘is this the right person for me?’, Stage 3 looks at ‘is this the right relationship for me?’ and how you can assimilate into each other’s lives. E.g. If they don’t like dogs, and you have four dogs, how is that going to work? It is where the relationship becomes more about practicalities, expectations, and forming boundaries with each other for what is and isn’t acceptable in the relationship. Despite your differences, do you understand each other? Do you share core beliefs, and how can you find compromises? Is the person spending enough time with me, and is this what I really want?

Stage 4: Honesty

Following on from the practicalities of Stage 3, Stage 4 is where the games finally end and you show each other the real you – your vulnerabilities that you hide from the world, and reveal yourself ‘warts and all’. This is where you ‘cut the BS’ and lay yourself fully on the line, which is necessary to form a deep bond with each other. Because of this, it is also the stage where you are most likely to feel a sense of vulnerability – those initial heady stages of lust and attachment make way for the deeper work of connecting emotional and intellectually. What matters here is feeling that your thoughts values and beliefs as a person are heard and respected and ensures that you can both be your ‘truest’ selves without fear of rejection.

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Stage 5: Stability

This is the stage that takes over from the initial stages of lust and attraction – it’s here where deeper bonds are made and ideas about a shared future are constructed. Two hormones that are likely to be released around this stage are believed to play an important role in social attachments – these are Oxytocin – which interestingly is released during child birth to help attachment between mothers and baby, and it’s also released by both men and women during orgasm and again is believed to effect bonding and intimacy. The other is Vasopressin – another important chemical in the long-term commitment stage. It was found that in male voles (yes voles), vasopressin helps keep the mate close and the competition far away- vasopressin activates bonding centres in your brain, making you feel attached and protective. NB – life events such as having a baby can put you back to Stage 3, while rekindling the passion (Date Nights, etc) can help you revisit Stage 1. You’re not stuck in Stage 5 forever!

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