3 Stages of a New Relationship and How to Handle the Changes

“Be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyways.” ~Glennon Doyle Melton

When I was younger, I assumed that when I found the ideal person for me and was in my ideal relationship, it was going to be easy, and I was going to feel comfortable and safe all the time.

I would be floating on clouds, feeling blissful and light, and I’d love everything that person did all the time. That’s what being with ‘The One’ would feel like. I have come to learn, through countless emotional outbursts, anxious moments, doubt-filled thoughts, hard conversations, and extreme emotional discomfort, that my belief of the ideal relationship was pretty misguided.

When I met my boyfriend, I knew he was what I had been searching for. He was open, loving, honest, kind, caring, and funny, and his spirit just sparkled through his eyes. However, I was nervous.

I knew from all I had learned about relationships that they bring up emotional stuff, enabling us to heal wounds we may not have identified if someone else hadn’t triggered them. I knew I was going to learn a lot from this beautiful soul, but I didn’t expect the anxiety that came up within me once things began to get serious.

At times I felt extremely co-dependent and didn’t want him to spend too much time out of the house, or working, or pursuing his passions, even though I knew it was healthy and normal for him to do that.

I would keep track of how many hours he was away and would share how hard it was for me to trust him. We would talk openly about my feelings and issues because I never blamed him or asked him to change his actions. I just knew that I had to communicate what was going on for me in order to sort out my feelings and for us to be able to work together on healing.

Before we met I’d wanted this open communication and healing in a partnership, and I knew this is what real relationships were all about, but that didn’t make bringing my wall down any easier. Our conversations and my fears would bring things up for him, as well—emotions and fears from his past and how he felt controlled and supressed by me now.

I now believe that the ideal relationship doesn’t always feel comfortable, but you always feel comfortable and safe sharing with your partner, no matter how long you’ve been together.

I have grown to realize that all relationships have stages. When we meet someone new and begin spending time with them, these stages can seem scary and can inflict doubt. I hope to shed some light on these stages and help you feel more comfortable with experiencing them for yourself.

First Stage: New Relationship Bliss

The first stage in most new relationships is bliss! We are perfect, the other person is perfect, and the relationship just flows. You make time for one another however you can, you communicate with each other constantly, and it just feels easy.

There are no triggers or things the other person does to upset you, the attraction is unreal, and you think, “This is it! I found them! My person. Finally. I can rest.”

Even with my anxiety and fear, I managed to feel this with my boyfriend. We talked every day. I’d get my “good morning beautiful” text when I was at work, the “how is your day going?” message at lunch, and then we’d talk or see each other on most nights.

We each put forth equal effort to get to know one another, and I was open and loving toward any part of his behavior. I had patience, understanding, and joy in getting to know his quirks, thoughts, and patterns, and he had seemingly limitless energy to listen to me, talk to me, and sympathize with my emotions.

This first stage sets a foundation for the relationship and builds connection, but there’s just one small problem: It never seems to last! Does this mean we aren’t meant to stay with that person? Nope. Not at all.

Though it can feel very much like this, it only means that your relationship is changing, and that’s okay. It’s completely natural, and this process of change is what takes us into an even deeper connection if both partners are open to going there.

Second Stage: The Inevitable Turn (When One Person’s Fear Shows Up)

So what exactly is happening when the dreaded, inevitable “shift” happens? You know the one. We feel like the other person is either pulling away or becoming more controlling, our “good morning, have a good day” messages have become less frequent or stopped, and we feel like we are becoming distant from each other.

There’s a big shift when our comfort level eventually builds in a relationship and we let our guard down a bit. This seems to be the perfect time for our fear to kick in. This is what happed in my relationship.

One day, my “good morning beautiful” message didn’t show up, the next week my boyfriend had plans besides spending hours with me on Friday night, and our conversations dwindled a bit. My emotional triggers went crazy, and all of a sudden my past fears of emotional and physical abandonment kicked in.

I no longer felt emotionally stable, relaxed, or happy. I was upset all the time, I felt anxious and taken advantage of, and my mind came up with a million reasons as to why this treatment wasn’t fair.

I felt like I was the “crazy, needy girl” who wasn’t okay with her partner doing normal things. And I wondered all the time why things had changed. Was it something I did wrong? Did I expect too much? Was I being completely unreasonable, or did I just have too much baggage?

Most of the time we aren’t aware of what’s really going on; we just notice we feel differently. We might think it’s because our partner’s behavior has changed, but what’s really going on is that our past has crept into this new relationship.

Our past fears, hurts, and childhood wounds have surfaced for more healing, and if we aren’t aware of this, our new, wonderful, blissful relationship begins to feel just like the rest of them: disappointing, suffocating, abandoning, unsupportive, untrustworthy, and unloving.

The appearance of this fear is a natural, necessary step in any relationship, though, and we need to embrace it rather than run away from it. This is when a lot of relationships end, but they don’t have to if both partners want to stay and build on this stage.

Third Stage: Communicating the Fear

After years of discomfort, spiritual work, counseling, healing, and reading I’ve learned that we must communicate our fear, whether we are the one who experiences it first or the one who sees the change and doesn’t know why.

You can start the conversations by saying something like “I’ve felt a shift in the energy of our relationship, and I’m feeling anxious about this change. I’m even nervous to talk to you about it because I don’t want to put pressure on you, but I need to communicate what’s going on for me. Can we talk about this a bit?”

This can be challenging if we aren’t aware of what is really going on, but let that shift, that change, that first feeling of doubt be your signal that fear has entered the relationship. And know that it’s okay for it to be there!

Every time I felt upset I had to force myself to bring up my fear of our relationship ending, fear of being abandoned, and fear that we would never connect on a deep level. There is no shame in having these fears, and it’s not a sign that the relationship is doomed.

The fear is there as a message. It’s asking to be listened to and it is a gift necessary for our own growth. When we share our fear, and own that part of us, we’re not blaming the other person. We don’t share our fears to have the other person change, or to have them fix us, but merely to allow our hearts to open up.

By owning our stuff, we are taking care of our own healing, and this is what keeps our past from damaging the relationship in the future. It’s how we clear our past patterns and allow ourselves to move forward in a new and healthy way with someone else.

The best part is that we get to see how our partners handle this as well. Our relationships need this stage and this shift from the easy, wonderful bliss, because without it, our bonds would never grow.

If things are easy all the time, where is the room for true, deep intimacy? How do we learn to truly support our significant others, and ourselves, if we never experience pain, anxiety, anger, or annoyance?

We don’t, and that’s why after years of being with someone, we can feel like we don’t know them. If we’ve remained closed off and worked our hardest to keep things going smoothly, we only know that level. And the truth is there are deeper, richer, more intimate layers to us as humans and to our relationships.

Once you have opened your heart and begun communication around your fear, a small amount of vulnerability has been introduced into the relationship, and there is room for your partner to do the same. There is room for you to grow together.

It’s never too early to begin communicating our fears. If we wait for the problem to just go away, we essentially keep the cycle of anxiety, doubt, and tension going, because our actions, words, and energy reflect our uneasiness in the relationship.

I opened up to my partner two weeks into dating about my anxiety, fears, and panicked thoughts about seeming needy and wanting too much. I told him I was scared I was going to push him away.

When I opened up and took responsibility for my feelings, it brought us closer together. Acknowledging my anxiety without expecting him to change anything diffused the tension within our relationship, and I believe this is why we are still together today.

I don’t demand anything of him; I share my feelings, no matter how strong they are, and then he has space to make decisions based on that knowledge and to communicate his own feelings.

Stay connected to yourself and speak your truth—the whole, messy, amazing truth. Let your partner see the whole you, quirks and all, and enjoy taking your walls down together, brick by brick.

About Laura Smilski

Laura Smilski is a Holistic Love Coach and the owner of Luminous Living. She is passionate about helping single, professional women create clear, simple goals that will guide them towards loving themselves and being excited about dating and relationships. Sign up to receive her free blog updates and special Access Love Video and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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  • Steven MORTELL

    Hi Laura,

    I really could connect with your post, because I have been there in past relationships. Fear, anxiety, and jealousy are all negative emotions that need to be handled within and not from without. It is popular in our society to think that venting your emotions and communicating them releases and absolves them, it is actually just the opposite. Venting your negative emotions, lets out just enough of the energy to allow the bulk of it to be suppressed and repressed back into your sub-conscious. Further more, when you vent your fears and negative emotions to others, it is felt as an attack or emotional blackmail on the psychic level, and in return it causes the other person to withdraw sub-consciously. Paradoxically venting your fears of abandonment brings to life the exact thing that you were fearful of in the first place! Fear and negative emotions are pervasive and deteriorating. If we follow the laws of the universe which is “like attracts like.” we realize that mishandled fear and anxiety actually bring those exact circumstances into our lives. There for we must learn to handle our emotions and let them go. Surrender to your negative feelings and let all that low energy out of your system! We are all human and it is natural to feel that way. You need to stop fighting those feelings and let them come up. This is easier said than done and it has taken me years to handle a lot of my negative emotions and release the energy behind them. It is important to understand the power of the mind. What we tend to hold in mind has the potential to manifest in reality if given enough energy.

    One sentence that you wrote made me very sad and sympathetic. “I knew from all I had learned about relationships that they bring up emotional stuff, and their purpose is to heal us at deeper levels than we can access on our own.” This is a harmful attitude to possess as you are relying on someone or something outside of you to fix yourself! The solution to your problems is within not without! No relationship will ever fully heal you, they can help you with the healing process but healing is a personal journey. You must first love yourself and create a healthy relationship with yourself before you are ever able to truly love and care for another. When you have learned to love yourself and you have found your inner greatness, you will realize that your entire article above is based on a negative and limited perspective.

    The truth is, when you have obtained inner peace, those negative emotions will not be present and if they do come up they will be passing thoughts that are extremely weak compared to your higher self. Meditation and mindfulness have taught me to find my inner happiness. I hope you will do the same and find your everlasting happiness within yourself. It is a birth right to all human beings! You are not a victim of your emotions, the real you is simply a silent observer of physical and emotional phenomenon we call life. you are not the body, you are the energy/universe experiencing the body and all the emotions and sensations that come with it.

    I wrote this comment because i felt a deep sympathy for your perspective. I once shared your pain and vented my fears and anxieties with no avail. I drove people out of my life and became self-destructive. It hurts to see so many people today float through life suffering in the same manner. I am fearful that you will always be suffering from these anxieties if you continue to intellectualize them. Free yourself and welcome love and happiness into your heart. You deserve it, once you do, you will be pleasantly surprised that it was all in your own head the entire time.

  • Aliyah

    Previously, I’ve made lots of mistakes in my relationships. Having major trust issues also never made it easier for me to open up to a new person… I’ve always expected betrayal, therefore kept my heart shut and away from all the turbulence, confusion and harm. The thought of starting a new relationship and actually getting into one would give me massive attacks of anxiety. But here’s what I’ve learned over the years: no amount of anxiety makes any difference to anything that is going to happen. Fact.

    Thanks for sharing, Laura! Such an eye-opening story. Thank you.

  • Laura Smilski

    Thank you Aliyah! I’m so glad this resonated with you.

  • Laura Smilski

    Hello Steve! I thank you so much for your time and beautiful perspective! I am also grateful to be in a community with such compassion for others. I can also agree with your comment regarding relying on others to heal us and can see how that statement can be interpreted that way. What I believe is there are some things that we aren’t aware of until we enter into a relationship. I believe relationships are spiritual schools. We need to do the work ourselves, but I am grateful for the mirrors that relationships present me with.

  • guest321

    Laura, I am experiencing this very shift right now as we speak. It feels like I should be past the anxiety when we can’t really be considered a “new” relationship… We have been seeing each other for over a year. Yet, I find myself still wanting to spend time with my partner as much as I can, whereas he is content to just 2 to 3 times a week, and he fills his time with activities that do not include me. I find myself thinking that I am being needy or crazy to want to have him to myself all the time. My friends and support system tell me that if he is invested in the relationship, he will make time for me… and to them it sounds like he isn’t. They say that I have a right to want to spend time with him. The consensus among them is that I should move on. But here you speak of doing the opposite. That it is just a normal stage of a new relationship. At what point do you stop trying, when voicing your fears is not enough, and it’s time to move on?

  • Laura Smilski

    This is a very good question and one that I asked myself many, many times! For me, a big part of it was looking at my anxiety and where it was coming from. I had major abandonment issues from childhood that were completely running the show. I found that sharing my anxiety without an expectation of my partner changing his actions was critical, and I also shared with him how vulnerable I felt when I did talk to him. All I could do was keep working on my own inner fears and including him in what I was learning. It’s hard to stay in something when we feel anxious all the time, but for me, my anxiety was telling me to keep working because I knew that if I didn’t heal what was coming up I would likely run into the same experience in the next relationship. My boyfriend and I were together a year and a half before my anxiety got better and it was because I got so tired of feeling unsafe emotionally. I literally said to myself “Laura, I’m not going to do this anymore, I’m tired and we don’t need this anymore to feel safe.” I had compassion for myself but I also had to put my own personal boundary up. I told my boyfriend about this conclusion and it was a huge weight lifted from our relationship. I hope this helps in some way and you are able to feel peace.
    Love Laura

  • KarmaBum

    Have you found out what his love language is? He may need personal space. 2-3 times a week seems healthy to me, and distance often nurtures passion and renewal in a relationship. I would first, ask him about his needs. Then, take the love languages test together. I would bet your number 1 is quality time. You both have to try to sometimes speak the other’s language to keep the love going. For example, his may not be quality time, but he can make the effort to see you a bit more or at least make the time he’s with you MATTER more. But you also have to speak HIS language, too. Hope this helps.

  • Georgina Rosanna Murray

    I would say don’t let your friends and family influence you too much. At the start of my relationship with my partner he was the same. We’d spend 2/4 nights together but I wanted more. More him and more time together. What I wasn’t doing was investing time in myself. Saturday nights he would be out with his friends and I’d be at home. Sulking. That was when I had a massive reality check. If I wanted to be with this man I had to accept his need for space and invest time in my life. And that is what I did. The result – a happier me and a better relationship. Yes it has been a challenge but by knowing that I want to be with this man and not demanding he change I have not only bettered my life, but it makes the time I spend with him quality time. If your heart says he’s the one then let your heart guide your decisions to be with him not that of other people.

  • Mitzi Junie Gorman

    That is me! I’m very lucky to have an understanding partner that does not pressure me ❤️

  • D L

    Laura, Thank you So much for sharing yourself with us! This article is exactly what I needed to hear today – be messy and complicated and afraid and do it anyway! And I don’t feel alone, because my feelings are very similar to yours. Thank you so much for making it okay to just be me! Dawn

  • guest321

    We have taken the love languages test before, as well as many other personality and astrology tests. He scores 0 on most of the languages, but physical touch is his highest language. Yes, you are correct that quality time is my top score.

    But even if he makes the effort to see me more, and cancels plans with other people to be with me, how can he make his time with me matter more, when it seems like all he feels is resentment towards me?

  • Laura Smilski

    Hi Dawn! You are most welcome and I’m so happy I could help you in your journey. It is always nice to know you aren’t the only one who has felt something, that helps me to this day. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.
    Love Laura

  • Laura Smilski

    I’m so happy to hear that Mitzi!

  • Laura Smilski

    I had experience with this as well, the resentment. I found it was the way I was asking for time, I was asking from a place of fear that if we didn’t spend time together our relationship would end, rather than trusting that when we did spend time together we were capable of bonding together enough during that time. It was a combination of me trusting and communicating my fears without blame and him communicating his feelings when he did feel resentment. It was up to both of us to communicate what was going on for us.

  • Ruben Arribas Cañamares

    Thanks for sharing Laura! This is very helpful 🙂

  • Ida

    Wow… This is exactly what I have been going through. Luckily my fiancée has been there for me, when I have been sharing my fears.

  • Julianna Rodríguez

    I unfortunetly just broke up with my boyfriend of 5 months. We where great together, we shared a lot of experiences together, there was a lot of joy, laughter, we are both introverts and we both agreed that we built a connection where we felt really close to each other. 2 weeks ago, everything just changed on his end…he was saying how he felt stressed about the relationship because he wasn’t sure that we where headed on the right direction and he had some doubts if we could have a future together (get married, have kids, etc). For two weeks we where basically on a limbo, he for some reason couldn’t get out of his head that we are not happy and that we couldn’t move forward because it didn’t feel good anymore and there was not enough of a foundation to keep this going. The breakup was amicable but it kept me wondering if he is just dealing with something internal and projecting it into our relationship? In his mind a relationship should always feel good and happy and if it doesn’t feel good it has to end.