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Is This True Love and Will it Last?

read counselors thoughts on love that lasts

by Dennis Azaroff

It seems like it’s so easy to fall in love. However, how can we know if what we are feeling is the type of love that will stand the test of time? Well, no one can foretell the future, but understanding the stages of love and the problems that lead to broken relationships may help us decide if we are on the right track, if we need to work harder on our relationship, or if it’s time to move on.

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The Three Stages of Love

According to an article at PsychCentral.com, Robert Sternberg, author of True Love: How Do You Know?, breaks down true love into three parts. He suggests the stages are: passion, intimacy, and commitment.

1. Passion: Intense passion is the beginning stage of a relationship. This is when we’re infatuated, we’re filled with dopamine, we idolize our partner and we feel breathless when we think about them. According to Helen Fisher in The Anatomy of Love, this period can last up to seven years.

2. Intimacy: The next stage of a relationship according to Sternberg is intimacy. This is the stage when we attach to our partner in a deeper way. It’s when we grow to respect them as a person, not just a love object.

We spend more time with them, we may introduce them to our family and friends, we plan things with them and begin to more seriously think of them as a lifelong partner.

This stage is accompanied by increasing feelings of trust and safety. We find we can disclose our deeper fears or failures to them, without being ridiculed or invalidated. Without feeling safe, intimacy cannot continue.

This can be a very difficult stage for some people, and it’s the stage in which many relationships founder. Intimacy is the stage in which people with issues left over from childhood or from previous relationships may begin to feel discomfort or to start acting out.

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Is This True Love?

3. Commitment: The final stage that Sternberg theorizes is commitment. This stage embodies the ability to stay together “for better or for worse.” It is when we emotionally commit ourselves to staying and doing the hard work when things become unpleasant or painful.

It’s when we learn to accept our partner even when there are significant differences, because we love and respect them. Our partner has become our "friend” and lover. We want to spend the rest of our life with them, not just because we enjoy sex with them, or because they make us feel good, but because we like them for who they are, even though we may not like some of their behaviors.

Building a Good Relationship

John Gottman in his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, has suggested that long lasting, stable relationships have three qualities: affection, respect and friendship.

Starting in the passion stage, and continuing through the other two stages, we are
discovering and building affection, trust and friendship. Without these overarching
characteristics, a relationship cannot last.

Qualities That Can Destroy Your Relationship

Gottman goes on to suggest, based on his research, that there are four qualities that presage the eventual demise of a relationship: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.  These qualities have been described in the following way at Marlenaandbob.com for a self test to determine if you are riding the Four Horsemen.

Here Are Definitions and Examples of Relationship Problems

1. Criticism: Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong. Generalizations often begin with phrases like:

  • “You always…”
  • “You never…”
  • “You’re the type of person who …”
  • “Why are you so…”

2. Contempt: Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her. Insults and name-calling include words like: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…” Other examples of contempt include:

  • Hostile humor
  • Sarcasm or mockery
  • Body language and tone of voice
  • Sneering
  • Rolling your eyes
  • Curling your upper lip
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3. Defensiveness: Seeing self as the victim, warding off a perceived attack, making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way). Examples:

  • “It’s not my fault…” or “I didn’t…”
  • Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint or criticism with a complaint of your own, or ignoring what your partner said.
  • Disagreeing and then cross-complaining: “That’s not true, you’re the one who …”
  • Yes-butting: starting off agreeing but ending up disagreeing.
  • Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying.
  • Whining: “It’s not fair.”

4. Stonewalling: Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness. Examples:

    • Stony silence
    • Monosyllabic mutterings
    • Changing the subject
    • Removing yourself physically

Ask yourself these two questions:

1. “If I were not married to my partner, would I want to be his/her friend or spend time with him/her?” If the answer is no, then you may need to ask why not.

2. “Does my relationship contain criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling?” If it does, how can I or we change that?

More Information About Dennis Azaroff:


Dennis on Facebook

More Articles About Relationships:

Dating for Newly Divorced Women Over 40 or 50

Internet Dating Tips for Women Looking for Men

Could You be the Target for a Psycho?

Internet Dating from a Male Baby Boomer's Point of View

Photo Credits:

  • Main Photo: Triumph of Venus painting by Csaba Markus, Wikipedia.
  • Will Our Love Last?: Philip Clifford Flickr creative commons.
  • Is This True Love? Reklamaren Flickr creative commons.
  • How to Tell if Love is Real: Konstantin Sarmov, Wikipedia.

What do you think of this article? Leave a comment at the bottom of the page or give us a Google Plus.

Dennis Azaroff L.M.H.C., the founder of LovingPartners, has been in private practice in the Seattle area since 1980. Dennis has extensive experience in treating a variety of issues including mood disorders, marital problems, mild bipolar disorders, unfinished grieving, and recovery issues. Dennis is comfortable and experienced working with these issues in individual, couples and group settings.

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  1. Maria Blanco

    This is a very nice article. I think it allows for a lot of introspection, and I believe that introspection is something that is sorely lacking these days. Possibly this lack originated in the "feel good" era and the "I'm OK, you're OK" philosophy...

    When relationships fail, I find that folks often move on to the next relationship or entanglement (maybe not even a romantic one) without ever taking the necessary time to seriously consider why or how the failure occurred.

    • Christina Gregoire


      I agree. Dennis is very good at succinctly explaining a few relationship problems that have haunted me throughout my life. I know it takes two to tango, but mea culpa. Now what?

  2. Is it True Love?Will He Propose?

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  3. Borraderliner

    I don't know, ya its all true but why do unethical slimy things happen on the side? Like all these good things that describe a person of impeccable character (on the outside) can be cancelled out , if say, a partner has blinding anger issues that make him (probably him and not her) do damage on the other person like an accident but with tragic results that he might end up living the rest of his life bothering other people and projecting his issue onto others'. Or taking unauthorized payment " ünder the table" . I think this article is well written BUT feel it projects a hatred onto a specific archetype of a personality type or disordered type that resonates deeply the author and with contempt?

    • Tina-Boomerina


      Wow, I didn't write this article. It's my website, though.

      The article was written by a relationship counselor who was dating my former sister-in-law. That's an interesting idea about the contempt part. I don't know Dennis well, but he comes highly recommended. He is divorced, though... so you may be onto something.

      And... where the hell did all my photos go. I'll have to find new photos. Some of my pics disappeared when we updated this site.

      Anyway, unethical things do happen. We've had quite a few divorces within my own family. Some of the people have even remarried their former spouses and re-divorced them.

      And, anger has usually been at the core of the divorces I'm thinking of. And, projecting issues onto new partners has been the cause of other divorces. Man-oh-man, you should be a marriage counselor.