How We Fall in Love in Three Steps

Falling in love is a process, if you’ve been in love you know it happens before you even know it. You wake up one day with butterflies and next thing you know you’re smiling while texting at work.

This process is actually a common topic of interest in relationship psychology. This phenomenon may seem hard to nail down to a complete science, but so it in fact has been. Psychologist break the process of being in love down to three stages.

The definition of what constitutes the three stages is a topic of division. While the three phases are often more vaguely defined, Dr. John Gottman defines them as Falling in Love, Building Trust, and Building Loyalty.


Phase One: Falling in Love

This phase is filled with the classic behaviors one associates with the “honeymoon phase” of a relationship. Both partners “can’t get enough of each other,” so to speak. To get more technical, the falling in love phase is characterized by high levels of Oxytocin (the “Love Drug”), dopamine, vasopressin, and other hormones associated with positive emotions. There is breakfast in bed, many bouquets of flowers, and plenty of romantic walks.

But these things don’t just happen out of nowhere. According to Dr. Theresa Crenshaw, the other person needs to feel right, smell right, and look right to trigger this kind of reaction. Only the person who is “right” for you at that moment is the one who is going to make you feel the way one does when they’re “in love.”

Phase Two: Building Trust

This is the key phase. In this phase the important questions are asked of the relationship: does he/she really love me? What if he/she doesn’t? Has this whole thing been a lie? If so, how can I trust him/her? How these questions, and others like them, are answered and dealt with defines this phase. It’s the little things that go a long way here: remembering they like coffee in the morning with one cream and no sugar. Taking out the trash, doing the dishes, folding the laundry. Or the big ones: being there as a shoulder to cry on or listening ears to rant to when they’ve had a bad day.

This is also the phase where most of the fighting and arguing occurs during the relationship. How the two of you argue and fight is going to determine the outcome of this phase. If you recall healthy relationships maintain a ratio of at least five positive interactions to one negative interaction during conflict. While this may seem a bit mechanical, Gottman’s research suggests this is a big factor in relationship success.

At the end of the day, the establishment of trust between the two of you is what is going to help your relationship succeed.

Phase Three: Building Commitment, Loyalty

The third and final phase of love is commitment and loyalty. Depending somewhat on the results of phase two, this phase determines whether a couple constructs a relationship around cherishing each other and gratitude for what the relationship is, or resentment and longing for what might have been. Gottman describes what he calls the “fairness metric” as a key factor to the continued success of a relationship at this stage: when both partners have equal share of the leadership and power, the relationship flourishes. But when one partner feels like they have less power than the other, the imbalance can undermine everything that has been accomplished up to this point.

As a young couple, when you look at an older couple that has been in a relationship or been married for an incredibly long time –even by today’s standards –and you can see the way they look at each other with such happiness and contentment. They are happy and content because they were infatuated with each other, then they built trust and learned they could depend on each other for support and continued love even when the times were tough. They are confident in their loyalty to one another, while looking to always be ready to work things out.

Falling in Love, Easy as 1, 2, 3?

Relationships sometimes seem to just happen, but it is important to note this is a linear journey. Love isn’t always easy, patience and observation are key. Be patient and let the relationship happen, but at the same time, be observant, especially for things that will help during phases two and three. Having the knowledge of what makes your partner tick will help you connect with them and better establish the trust needed for the long haul.

Have you been in love? Tell us about it in the comments!