Whether you and your partner are enjoying the sweetness of a new romance or have been together for years, you may, at some point, wonder where your relationship is headed. While there is no hard and fast relationship timeline that applies to everyone, there are certain stages of a relationship that most couples go through. But the time frame varies. According to a WeddingWire survey, 38 percent of couples get engaged after dating for 18 months or less, while 25 percent wait five or more years before asking the question, so there is a wide range of what which is “normal” in terms of a time relationship. The most important thing is that you and your partner feel safe and happy together, whether that means a wedding is in your future or not.
Table of Contents
Take a look at our final relationship timeline to see where you stand, and where you are headed.
Step # 1: The cute (or not so cute) encounter
Each couple has their own unique story of how we met that begins their relationship timeline. According to the WeddingWire survey, meeting through friends is the most common. In fact, 23 percent of couples met through mutual friends (yes, sometimes even at the wedding of a family member or friend!). Because dating apps are more popular than ever, it’s no wonder 16 percent of couples met through online dating sites and apps. Couples also meet at work (15 percent) and at school (12 percent). And yes, people still know “the old way”: 10 percent of couples meet in a social setting such as a bar, a concert or a party.
Step # 2: Get to know yourself
As the dating stage begins, you are likely to talk and listen a lot to learn more about each other. If you’re noticing some awkward silences (totally normal!) During your initial dates, use these “icebreaker” questions to find out important details about the person sitting across the table from you. Through your responses, you will be able to determine if this is just an affair or a relationship that you would like to continue.
Step # 3: Meet with parents
One of the first signs that things are getting serious is meeting the parents (hopefully without Robert DeNiro playing a role). If your partner is close to your parents, he or she will likely introduce you to you early in your relationship. This is to make sure that you get along with your partner’s parents, and that they “approve” of your budding relationship. This is also a good opportunity for you to start developing a good relationship with your possibly future in-laws.
Step # 4 (or # 3….): Those Three Little Words
There is no rule that dictates when you should say those three magic words: “I love you.” Typically, couples who have spent a lot of time together (which can be days, weeks, months, etc.) will find a particularly romantic moment to express their love for each other. But just like the rest of this relationship timeline, every couple is different and it’s important not to feel pressured or rushed to say “I love you.” But of course, once those words have been exchanged, their relationship is headed for the long term.
Step # 5: Spend the Holidays and Travel Together
It may seem like NBD, but one of the most important steps in a relationship is spending vacations and holidays together. Whether it’s a weekend getaway to attend a friend’s wedding, a long road trip, or an adventure abroad, you’ll learn a lot about your partner when you travel together. An even more important step is to go on vacation with your partner’s family, or vice versa. According to data from WeddingWire, 41 percent of couples took a vacation with their families before getting engaged. Likewise, spending vacations with each other’s families is a definite indication that your relationship is moving toward marriage. It turns out that 67 percent of couples spent the holidays together before making it official.
Step # 6: To move together or not to move together?
An important part of the time in a relationship is the decision to move in together. Our survey found that 72 percent of couples move in together before getting engaged, but some prefer to maintain separate residences until an engagement ring or wedding ring has been presented. So if you have a toothbrush and half of your wardrobe at your partner’s house, it might be time to talk about sharing a dorm.
Step # 7: The Inevitable Disagreements
As you spend more and more time with your partner, you will realize that not everything is sun and roses. In fact, you may find yourself arguing more. These could be arguments about leaving the toilet seat up or not flushing the dishwasher, or bigger fights over your relationship. Know that disagreements between couples are normal, but learning to fight fairly and resolve your conflicts is an essential part of a developing and prosperous relationship.
Step # 8: Are You “Pre-Engaged”?
If you and your partner have been dating for a while, your friends and family may start asking you when to take the next step. It may feel a little weird talking to your partner about whether he or she sees marriage in your future, but it is a discussion that you will need to have. And this does not mean that a proposal is going to happen immediately. It turns out that there is a step between simply dating someone and being engaged – the “pre-engagement” period. This is not really an official milestone, but you may be committed beforehand and not even realize it.
Step # 9: The Difficult Conversations
If you think that you and your partner are in it for the long haul, it’s important to be on the same page on certain important topics, perhaps the most important of which are creating a family and money. According to the WeddingWire survey, 55 percent of couples talk about whether or not they have children before committing, and 54 percent talk about finances before committing. These may not be the funnest topics to talk about, but they are pretty essential. If having children is super important to you and your partner is totally the opposite, you will have to solve these problems before rings are exchanged. And perhaps, as a children’s pre-cursor, you might consider having a pet together – in fact, 35 percent of couples have a pet together before committing.
Step # 10: Introducing Families
This step in the relationship timeline could be before or after a proposal, but if it is possible to introduce your family to your partner’s family’s pre-engagement, it is often preferable. This can be a dinner at your favorite restaurant, a casual barbecue at your home, or another location or occasion. Although this initial meeting may seem a little strange or awkward, it is totally normal. As the two families spend more time together, they will feel more comfortable and relaxed together.
Step # 11: The Waiting Game
At this point, you and your partner may feel very, very ready to take the next (big!) Step in your relationship timeline (or maybe you’ve decided that marriage just isn’t your thing, which is also very good). But just because you and your partner feel ready to commit doesn’t mean it will happen immediately. Some couples openly talk about the proposal itself, buy the ring together, etc., while others have tighter lips. As long as you are both on the same page as to whether the marriage is in your future, the exact timing of the proposal (as well as who makes it) should be less of a concern.
Step # 12: The Proposal
Congratulations! You or your partner have asked the question and are on your way to marriage. Enjoy celebrating this milestone with your family and friends, and then let the wedding planning begin!