One model for lesbian relationships developed by Clunis and Green describes six stage.
1. Getting to know you - We are on our best behaviour as we get to know each other and start dating. You may find yourself withholding negative traits in yourself to give the best impression, or try to shape yourself to please your potential partner. This stage may or may not include a sexual element. We might start to make assumptions in an attempt to understand our partner – and be surprised or upset when she does not always agree with our views.
2. Romance – The “high” phase of feeling that you are merging with your partner and feeling like you have a lot in common, that you are completely understood, accepted, loved and appreciated. Probably also a lot of exciting, hot sex. To maintain this you may find that you are trying to maintain an artificially positive image, rather than actually being yourself.
What’s the rush? For some lesbian couples the transition from “getting to know you” to romance is as short as weeks or even days. It doesn’t help that we may not necessarily find applicable the stages that apply to straight couples like engagement, marriage, living together, having children etc., taking more time to get to know each other better as a “complete person”, and finding the characteristics that you respect and admire about your partner. This is part of building your friendship that can help you build a better foundation for a lasting relationship.
3. Conflict – One day, you wake up and realise that your partner is not the person that you thought she was. She behaves in a way you don’t understand. You have a disagreement over something that seems fundamental. You have countless disagreements over things that seem unimportant. You feel betrayed. She may be going through the same experience too. This is inevitable because no two people are identical. Conflict is a normal and healthy part of any relationship if we can deal with them and find a space in our relationships to deal maturely and sensitively to each other’s needs.
Some couples don’t survive this phase because:
a) They may not be compatible – The “getting to know you” phase might have been so short that they did not realise that the differences in character, values, goals and lifestyles might be so far apart they cannot be resolved .
b) Either partner does not have the knowledge and skills to resolve conflicts and may choose to walk away rather than work through it. Or the style of fighting is so destructive and painful that breaking up seems to be the only solution.
c) Partners didn’t take the time to build understanding, respect and admiration for each other.
4. Acceptance – The calm after the storm. Couples who have been together for several years may experience a deep sense of stability, happiness and affection that is combined with an acceptance of partner as a separate human being with differences, faults, strengths and virtues. We are able to use conflicts to understand ourselves, and to see the connection with past experiences.
5. Commitment – At this stage, couples make deliberate choices about the relationship and being responsible for them. We are able to let go of comparison to the “ideal” relationship and instead celebrate a relationship that will have its ups and downs, but where pain and problems are more than compensated by the many times when it is also right, happy and satisfying. At this stage, partners learn to seek ways to compromise with their different needs and goals. Agreements may be made and possibly broken, but the relationship can be sustained if there is trust and willingness to keep working to recover from the problems.
6. Collaboration – At this stage we are ready to create shared meaning in our relationships. This can take the form of supporting each other’s goals, or creating joint projects.
Couples may experience some or all of the above stages, and sometimes in a different sequence or return to any of the previous stage. It is normal for relationships to change through time, and for the feelings you experience to change as well. In fact, the brain chemicals observed in a state of long-term loving attachment are different from those experienced during the high of romance. Sustaining meaningful relationships takes hard work. It can be a rewarding way to grow. It is also normal for some relationships to come to an end when individuals involved seek a new chapter in their lives.