The Family Life Cycle

Relationships go through several stages. Each phase makes the partners develop in different ways. Find out more here.
The Family Life Cycle
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 11 May, 2023

Throughout life, we go through different stages of growth. Each one presents us with new challenges and opportunities. The same happens with relationships since these change and transform at the same time as we do. The family life cycle accounts for the different states that a relationship between partners embodies over the years and the main difficulties and experiences of each one of them.

Not all couples experience all of the phases, as some of them are linked to family life. And, even those who do form families may decide to separate at some point. However, the family life cycle we’re going to explore is the common roadmap for most relationships that are maintained over time.

The family life cycle

Formation of the relationship

It could be said that the life journey of a relationship begins even before the partners meet. In fact, it starts with the expectations and desires that each one of them forms regarding their ideal partner.

Therefore, when you meet someone who appears to fit this mental mold, you fall in love. At this stage, your body releases large amounts of hormones that make you feel fulfilled, euphoric, and full of energy. Your partner becomes the center of your world and you completely ignore their faults.

But, later, during your courtship, you start to realize their not-so-attractive traits. At this stage, emotional intensity decreases and intimacy and complicity gain weight. Together, you need to develop some more mature plans, now you’re free from the hormonal torrent of earlier times.

If you carry out this stage successfully, it culminates in a demonstration of commitment. This often involves living together. At this stage, you must both learn to negotiate and intertwine your points of view to reach a common understanding. Your respective families will start to lose importance compared to the new family unit that you’re creating together and that now takes priority.

Family with small children

The birth of your first child marks a milestone in your family life. Your dynamics and routines completely change and your child and their needs become the center of your home life. However, there’s a tendency to neglect your life as a couple due to exhaustion or lack of time. For this reason, you must both make an effort to continue cultivating your relationship within this new set of circumstances.

As your child/children grow older, they demand less time and supervision. That said, you may face certain conflicts, arguments, and disagreements with your partner concerning their upbringing. But, if you both work as a team and manage to agree, it can be one of the sweetest periods of the life of your relationship.

Family with teens

Adolescence is a stage full of changes and turbulence. For this reason, you might excessively focus your attention on your teens and their conflicts and worries. Consequently, you may become somewhat disconnected as a couple. You must also both mourn for the loss of your child who’s beginning to become an adult. Therefore, this stage requires great flexibility and both individual and joint work.

Emancipation and the empty nest

The departure of your children can have a strong impact on you. This could especially be the case if you neglected your partner in the past due to excessively focusing on your parenting role. Whatever the case may be, there’ll be a restructuring of your roles and routines.

On the other hand, this stage also opens the possibility of a second courtship. Indeed, now you’re free from your parental responsibilities, you can renew the relationship with your partner and begin a period of stability, calm, and enjoyment.

Sustaining the relationship

Being in a relationship implies assuming and facing the challenges of each vital period together. Added to the personal work required by each change of stage is the need to care for and attend to your relationship. Communication, empathy, and flexibility will prove to be great allies along the way.

If you overcome each phase of the family life cycle satisfactorily, you and your partner will change and grow together. On the other hand, it might be the case that it’s healthier to separate. After all, everyone’s path in life is different and we don’t always have to be linked to one person forever.

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.

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