Peter Mullen, a relationship researcher, published a paper about the stages of couples and how they develop. My goal with this blog posting is to break down this information in a way that is easy to read, because, trust me…. that paper makes this simple concept seem really confusing.


Ok, so what are they?

The 3 Stages of Couple Development:

1. Confluence 

The emphasis in the relationship during this stage is on all of the things that the two people in a relationship have in common. It is usually during this phase when the couple goes from an “I” to a “we”. This is also commonly known as the “honeymoon phase.”

2. Differentiation 

The emphasis during this stage of the relationship is everything that is different. This is typically when conflicts start occurring. Usually, during this stage, one or both of the people involved start to have a desire to preserve their own self-interests while feeling guilty for wanting to do things separate from their partner. This is typically when couples are most vulnerable to premature breakups. This is a great stage for growth. Both people in the relationship at this point can learn to value and respect each other’s differences.


3. Integration

This stage involves each partner’s likes/dislikes, personality traits that oppose, and activities that may differ to come together. Integration is what ideally happens before marriage, which is what pre-marital therapy does. Typically, a couple hangs out in stage 2 for a while, figuring out how to keep their own sense of self, while integrating this new identity as a couple. It helps to have a coach, a therapist, to help couples from stage 2 into stage 3, which is keeping yourself and your identity while incorporating qualities of your partner into your personality and maybe even doing things just because your partner wants to do them (but without any resentment or anger).


Where do you think your relationship is?

Based on the original article: Mullen, P.F. (1997). Confluence, differentiation, integration: Toward a gestalt theory of couple development. Gestalt Review., 1, 331-352.