The 5 Stages of Commitment in a relationship: From Casual “Hello” to “Soulmates” in 5 Steps
Before we talk about the importance of commitment in a relationship you need to know one important fact, which is
“A man is like a cat; chase him and he will run. Sit still and ignore him and he’ll come purring at your feet.”
– Helen Rowland, author of A Guide to Men (1922)
Have you ever caught yourself wondering, “Things used to be so amazing, but now they’re so hard and weird …
I don’t understand why we can’t be happy the way we used to be … what’s changed?”
If so, you’re not alone. Turns out that relationships have definite, documented “steps” that we all proceed through in a specific order … and how you’re feeling about your partner at any given moment is related to whereabouts your relationship is on the scale.
And trying to skip any steps is BAD news for the future – so no cheating!
According to John Gray (author of the seminal Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus), there are 5 distinct stages to dating and committed relationship.
Each stage must be experienced in sequence – if you skip a stage, the result can be disastrous.
Note: But that’s not how men think about commitment in a relationship.
If you or your partner attempt to skip a stage, it actually makes it more difficult to experience happy commitment in the future and have that blissful long-lasting relationship.
For example, say you’re happily dating a great man. You’ve been together for six months now and are officially “in love”. The two of you still live separately and spend a couple nights a week apart, but things are great.
Then all of a sudden he decides he wants to have children – right now.
He insists that you are perfect for each other, and that he wants to be a dad by this time next year.
If you don’t agree to have kids with him, he says, he’ll have to leave you.
The amount of pressure exerted by this sudden demand would be, in most cases, catastrophic (Gray, 72).
Why? Because there are natural stages for commitment. Each one builds a strong foundation for the next.
And if you try to move to the higher stages of commitment without first taking some risks to prove that you are right for each other that actually pushes your relationship back a step.
It’s as bad as if you had asked him, on the first date, how many people he wanted to invite to the wedding and what color the flowers should be!
Skipping steps doesn’t work. In effect, you’ll actually move BACKWARD.
(That’s not to say that a couple who gets married early won’t stay together. But they will have some extra challenges!)
To know how to act (and to find out whether his “coolness” or “aloofness” is actually a positive sign!), you need to know where you are on the relationship scale.
So where are you in the 5 stages right now?
Let’s take a look …
Stage 1: Attraction
In the attraction stage, the two of you are excited about what the future may hold.
You look forward to finding out whatever you can about your partner, and the urge is to reveal as much of yourself as possible.
It’s all about fantasy, dreams, hopes for the future, possibilities, and the asking of “what if”. (Hint: relationship counsellors never see anyone in the Attraction stage!)
Stage 2: Uncertainty
You know that this person is more special than others … you think you’d like to have an exclusive committed relationship … but all of a sudden, you’re not so sure any more.
“You could actually be dating your soul mate, but in stage two of dating you may not know it.”
– Dr John Gray (Mars And Venus On A Date)
In other words, uncertainty is just the next stage after “romance/attraction”.
Just because you’re feeling uncertain doesn’t mean he’s not right for you.
He could be your soulmate, so don’t quit just because you’re not sure – you’re meant to be unsure!
Uncertainty is a positive and absolutely NECESSARY step towards commitment! You cannot move forward without it!
The thing to remember in stage 3 is that even men who came on really strong in stage 1 can and will pull back noticeably in stage 2.
Your job as a woman is to sit tight and resist the urge to pursue him, chase him, or try to figure out what he’s thinking.
Don’t give him more of yourself right now … he needs distance to discover how much he really likes you.
By taking up the slack yourself, you deprive him of that sense of movement and momentum that he needs to keep moving forward with you.
As long as you gracefully and peacefully give him the space to pull away, says Gray, he will come back – just like a rubber band that’s been stretched to its limit and then snaps back into place – as long as you don’t run after him.
Gray suggests that this is the time for a woman to surround herself with friends, fill up her life, feel complete in herself, and contemplate on what she’s been getting so far from him
Now is the time to ask yourself the difficult questions: does he really have potential? Would you like to continue dating him? Does he make you happy?
The challenge for women here is to NOT mother the guy and try to figure out what’s “wrong”.
Instead of trying to give him more of yourself, you need to take an emotional step back and focus on YOU: what do you want?
Have you been having your needs met up till now? What do you like and dislike about him?
This process of uncertainty, of distance and “pulling away”, is what gives you the time to figure out if this is the man whom you’d like to form an exclusive relationship with.
It’s hard (especially when all you want is to run after him and yell “what’s wrong??”) … but the uncertainty and distance of stage 2 is absolutely necessary for forming solid attachments down the track.
Without it, you’ll simply find yourself feeling that exact same uncertainty later on – when it’s much more difficult and much less convenient to do so (like when you’re already engaged, married, or settled with kids!)
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Stage 3: Exclusivity
In this stage, you make a commitment to focus purely on your partner and get to know him exclusively.
This is where you build the foundation that allows you to connect on a soul level further down the track.
Before stage 3, it’s all about testing each other, enjoying the anticipation of getting what you need, and figuring out who this person is.
Now that’s over, and it’s time to start giving more of yourself and getting what you need in return.
Again from Dr Gray, “most couples in this stage unknowingly sabotage their relationship … as soon as they become exclusive, they relax and stop putting their best foot forward … this is a big mistake!”
“Most couples in this stage unknowingly sabotage their relationship”
– Dr John Gray
This is when you need to start practicing asking for more – don’t assume that he can read your mind!
Remember, men’s minds function differently from yours: once he’s become exclusive and feels that the relationship is more established, he tends to assume that, if you’re not asking for their support, you don’t need it.
It can be hard to ask for help. Most women find it difficult, as though they’re asking too much.
But this is actually one of the best things you can do in stage 3: if you need something, ask.
Men love to feel needed, and when he knows you want and need his opinion, support, or help, it will make him feel strong and masculine – and actually more certain about you!
Make sure you don’t fall into vague, nagging tendencies though. You must give him the opportunity to win.
Say this: “Would you take me out to dinner next weekend?”
Instead of: “You never ask me out any more.”
Say this: “Let’s do something really fun this weekend! I’d love to go on a hike and swim under the waterfall.”
Instead of: “Things used to be so much more exciting than this … I’m sick of staying in all the time.”
In this stage, couples need to keep putting forth their best effort – for you that means asking for help in a positive, specific way when you want it.
That gives him the chance to give you what you want and need.
As long as he feels like you’re noticing his efforts and are openly pleased by them, he’ll happily keep trying to make you happy.
It’s important for a man to keep putting forth his best effort – but as a woman, it’s just as important to let him see and feel how much you appreciate those efforts.
This step is important for a committed relationship.
When he can see that you notice how hard he’s trying, and feels like he’s pleasing you through his efforts, you will come across as extremely attractive. (It’s like magic!)
So don’t get lazy – there are still at least 2 more stages to progress through before you can rest on your laurels!
Stage 4: Intimacy
Intimacy is about revealing who you really are. This is the stage where it starts to be okay to show your partner some of your “dark side” – the yang to your yin.
You don’t have to be so guarded any more, and it starts to be okay to talk more honestly about how you feel.
For example, if up till now you’ve been making sure to talk positively and with an upbeat spin on daily events and your life in general, stage 4 is where you can start to relax a little bit.
You can admit that certain things are not perfect. You can admit that there are things you may not like about your life.
You can be more vulnerable now.
Once the barriers have come down in stage 4, the two of you start to share who you really are.
This is where you can create true, lasting intimacy: intimacy that’s based on knowing each other at the “soul level”, not just the level of fun and positive chit-chat.
Stage 4 can be scary because suddenly it’s not just about “good times” any more.
This is where you start to see the “real person” and realize that they have bad moods, down days, and grumpy moments too.
They might actually hate their job, their roommates, or their parents. It’s not all “sunshine and happiness”.
Even though this can feel like work sometimes, the effort is worthwhile: you’re gaining true intimacy, where you know each other as people, not just dating partners. This is where a true bond is forged.
Stage 5: Surety
The 5th stage is where the two of you reach certainty that you are each the person you want to spend the rest of your lives with.
You’ve felt strong initial attraction and pleasure in stage 1; you’ve experienced the uncertainty and distance in stage 2 that, paradoxically, gives you the space and opportunity to move on to exclusivity in stage 3; you’ve opened up your hearts and souls in stage 4 and really gotten to know each other’s whole selves – good and bad.
Now, you’re in the stage of true commitment: the stage of soul mates.
You might get engaged; you might move in together; you might have a commitment ceremony; or in some other way, make a sign that the two of you are committed to each other and love one another.
Make sure you strike while the iron is hot, though – if you allow things to stagnate, the urge to keep moving forward (by making an official commitment of some sort) can actually reverse itself.
This isn’t about desperation for marriage or trying to “get a ring on your finger”.
This is about strengthening a commitment by recognizing and acting on it.
By the way – if you skipped a step earlier on (some couples are so freaked out by stage 2, uncertainty, that they go right to stage 5 and get engaged), now’s the time that you’ll likely start having the doubts that you tried so hard to avoid earlier on.
So you MUST keep talking! Keep checking in on how he feels, and check in with yourself, too – don’t be shy about speaking up.
When you’re really, truly serious about getting serious (and having him get as serious as you are) then you need to let him know one very important thing.
You don’t need him, but you do want him.
Sometimes when I tell my clients in, they look at me—confused, sometimes even angry.
It can be confusing, because men want to feel needed.
But, there’s a fine line between showing a man he’s needed, without communicating that you’re needy.
As you already know, the best way to communicate that you’re sexy and emulate femininity is by being happy. And frankly, happy women aren’t needy women.
What men need is not a needy woman, but a woman who will give him a sense of independence when he needs a night to go out with the boys, or head out to a work dinner party—and without the third degree.
A woman who is independent, confident and happy with herself is incredibly attractive.
Just think about it…if you were him, what would be more attractive to you: a woman who has a great time living her life, or a woman who is always complaining about her life?
When you’re needy, what you’re essentially telling a man is that you depend on him to make you happy.
Sure, a man can make you laugh.
He can take you to dinner.
He can show true commitment in a relationship.
He can even make love to you in a way that you’ve never been made love to, before.
But, that’s not what lasting happiness is about—and it’s not what will keep you happy within yourself…day after day.
That’s something he’s giving to you—now, what you can give yourself is a life you’ll be happy to live
Show him just how happy you are with my list of amazingly simple non-neediness questions.
It will set you apart from every other woman out there.
It will tell him you’re the one he’s been looking for.
It will show him you’re already happy—so you don’t need him to fulfill that need for you (which will allow him right off the bat to WANT TO make you happy!)
Use any one of them and the other women in his life, who are lurking around (and even those who have temporarily gotten his attention) will dissipate…today:
“You’re not a needy woman, are you?” (This shows him point blank that you’re not needy.
If you were needy, you’d say something like, “So, you’re independent then?” (with an insecure tone.)
• “What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve done in the last year?” This is a great question to ask during a first date, a pre-date text, or email communication if you’re online dating.
What this tells men right off the bat is that you’re adventurous—which is amazingly attractive to men. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t even THINK to ask him that.
• “What’s your ideal vacation?” Follow this question up by telling him one of of your funniest or most unique travel stories.
• “What are you better at than the majority of the population?” This is always a fun question to get to know him, while also showing him you’re a free spirit type of woman who has better conversation skills than the majority of the population! —and which takes the pressure off of him to keep the conversation going!
• “Would you ever skydive? Or rock climb?” Men love questions that challenge their physical strength and courage.
On top of that, if a woman (like you) is asking them, they will love to “prove” how strong, capable, daring and gutsy they are—especially if it means they’ll win big points impressing you by doing so!
When asking a guy this question, really listen to his answer. He may go on about this one for a while (men are physical, so this can be a question he can really answer, willingly!)
Chime in when he’s done. Show him how you’re likeminded, and love doing those kinds of activities too. If you never have, tell him that (don’t be dishonest) – but follow it up with, “I’d love to! Just let me know when you want to go!”
Have you ever done improve before?” You don’t have to use this question, word for word. Feel free to change it based on your own life experience.
But, the key is, to pick something that you’ve done to show that you’re confident enough to get on stage (and even make a fool of yourself) and show others what you’re about.
“Do you want to skip dinner tonight at the Italian place we’ve been to before, and pick out a new spot in town to try?” Now, when using this question, gauge it.
If he’s planned a special dinner somewhere, you don’t want to take over and squash his romantic plans for you.
But if you’ve been dating for a few weeks (or a few years) and you want to show him how non-needy you truly are, surprise him by being spontaneous.
Showing him that you’re down for whatever (just as long as you’re together) will reassure his belief in you that you’re happy—and without a doubt, it’s not on him to make you happy.
“Do you want to recreate our first date?” This is a great, confident way to put the spark into a dying flame.
If you’re married (or you’ve been in a long term relationship and you haven’t been able to reclaim the connection you two once shared), use this question to get it back.
Ask the question the night before, and then proactively make plans to recreate it for the next day. Just tell him to be ready at 8pm, and you’ll take care of all the details.
How do you feel about us trying something different tonight?” when you ask him this question, smile.
This is another great long-term couple question that will excite him and put the focus for him back on YOU.
Trying something ‘different’ could mean anything—buying yourself some gorgeous lingerie, cooking up his favorite meal, or buying him tickets to see his favorite band play.
It could be a romantic night of exploring one another (that you two haven’t made the time to do for ages) with lit candles that light up your home, romantic music playing in the background and his favorite wine chilling in the refrigerator.
The main thing is that you shock, awe and mesmerize him with your spontaneous, confident nature.
Feel free to keep your thoughts to yourself until he comes home from work.
He can use his imagination while you’re apart, and trust me—he won’t be able to stop thinking about what you have in store.
And that’s what will push him to show you true commitment in a relationship with you.
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