How Relationships Change Over Time

Love has many forms, intensities, and ways in which it shows itself. So how does the passage of time act on love? What effect does the passing of the years have on relationships?
How Relationships Change Over Time
Sara González Juárez

Written and verified by the psychologist Sara González Juárez.

Last update: 10 October, 2022

Love, despite what romantic comedies and folk tales insist on telling us, isn’t always forever. Not only because some relationships die and come to an end, but because the passage of time affects everything, both physically and emotionally. It transforms love into another kind, not the conventional one but a mature kind of love. Indeed, relationships change over time.

Does this mean that we’re condemned to stop loving passionately and abandon falling in love? Not necessarily. Love transforms over time and involves efforts on the parts of both partners in any relationship.

Love is part of human nature. It’s complex and is experienced in many different ways. We’re going to talk about how relationships change over time into something different, but something that’s no less worthwhile. It’s useful to know about this process as it’ll help you in making decisions, learning about your own emotions, and fine-tuning your efforts in your own relationships.

Do relationships change over time?

The answer is yes. Both the individual maturational stage and the social construction that relationships are susceptible to changes over time. For example, the loves of adolescence are far more intense and contain more toxic components. That’s because, at that age, there’s a lack of experience and the world seems far more inhospitable.

However, falling in love can happen at any age, along with sexual attraction and mature love. Regardless of when a relationship begins, the changes it’ll undergo over time follow a fairly definite pattern in most cases.

Couple forming a heart with their hands
The passage of time affects all elements of a relationship.

The phases of a relationship

As a rule, it’s thought that there are three phases of relationships. These are infatuation, romantic love, and mature love. There are other classifications, but we’re going to focus on this one. That’s because it provides more general information, so more of us will see ourselves reflected in it.

The infatuation phase

This phase is the most similar to the relationships portrayed in romance novels and movies. It’s a period that’s characterized by the exaltation of the positive traits of the partner, the presence of passion, and feelings like butterflies in the stomach.

For those who have sex, it’s also a passionate time when hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins are the order of the day. In fact, even if couples don’t have sex, they still feel passionate.

However, this state of euphoria isn’t bearable in the long term. The physical and mental activation is simply too much. Therefore, the passage of time will make the couple’s relationship move toward a calmer state, but one that’s not without love.

Second phase: romantic love

In this phase, passion and love are maintained, but it’s no longer blind. The couple enters into a process of getting to know each other, in which their virtues intermingle with their faults and the first problems to be solved appear. It’s when acceptance and conflict resolution skills come into play.

This stage is of vital importance. Indeed, it’s a point at which many relationships end, as it’s where the pillars of communication, respect, and tolerance begin to be built. It’s also the phase when the partners decide whether or not their differences make them incompatible. Individual independence also becomes important at this stage as, in the previous one, their individual needs were overlooked, to a certain extent.

Third phase: mature love

The third phase is the most talked about when it comes to long-term relationships, that of mature love. At this stage, the couple has become stronger and developed its own dynamics and strategies for coexistence and problem-solving. It’s a freer kind of love, based on trust and, although the passion and sexual desire are less, they’re more solid.

The biggest problems that two people face at this stage are monotony, unresolved problems, and external agents, such as unexpected events or changes in the socioeconomic paradigm.

Often, this love is represented in two ways. The couple who live together out of habit, while hating or having no interest in each other, and the old couple who still walk along holding hands. Naturally, we all want this last image for ourselves. The real secret to achieving it is to work on your relationship day by day, rather than simply letting the years go by.

older couple
Mature love is based on trust and respect.

Exceptions and new couple models

Most theories that try to fit love into universal norms tend to originate from a white heterosexual perspective. However, there are currently many other forms of relationships and couples that are becoming visible and normalized. For instance, polyamorous couples, couples who’ve decided not to live together, swingers, etc.

The only variable that remains active and universal in love, whatever its type, is respect. It means accepting that a partner is worthy and sufficient and that their happiness always comes first. Indeed, we should always love who we want to love, for as long as it lasts, and in a free and liberating way.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Mora Montes, J. M. (2007). Comprensión del enamoramiento. Cauriensia.
  • CISNEROS ESQUIVEL, ADRIANA, & LÓPEZ NUÑEZ, MARIBEL. (2013). Tipología de violencia en relaciones entre enamoramiento de adolescentes y jóvenes universitarios.
  • Ledesma, A. C. (2018). Reflexiones entre el amor romántico, el amor maduro, la locura y el amor sin etiqueta en psicoterapia de pareja. Revista REDES, (37), 51-60.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.