The Science of Falling in Love – Phase Two: Building Trust

The Science of Fidelity and Infidelity Series

What Happens When the Passion Wears Off

After the initial, most passionate phase of a relationship, the so-called “Limerence Cocktail” wears off, and lovers are faced with a crossroads in their connection. They begin to deliberate about whether or not to invest further in getting to know their partner. Essential questions about trust emerge.

The essential question asked in Phase Two is “Will you be there for me?”

The red flags they ignored in the “haze” of falling in love begin to pop out in front of them. Their brains start taking note. As oxytocin, dopamine, and testosterone begin to fade, they begin to see the flaws in each other. The very characteristics that attracted them to one another in the first place often become irritating. The fighting begins. Phase Two building is highly selective. Most people back out, give up, or fail at this phase, and the relationship comes to an end.

When Is the Honeymoon Over?

Phase Two can hit relatively early in a relationship, and its path of destruction leaves pain and heartache behind. However, many relationships only encounter this phase after a major milestone of commitment such as moving in together or getting married. Relationship experts have noted that most fighting happens in the first two years of a committed relationship. Many newlyweds fight, and they fight big. Some of the most intense moments in the therapy room come from the palpable pain embedded in the disappointments of newlyweds.

Over the years, researchers Levenson and Gottman have created measures that predict divorce or stability with over 90% accuracy and thus have produced a theory of relationship success. Their relationship theory predicts successful and unsuccessful relationship transitions, such as overcoming the challenges of Phase Two, transitioning from newlyweds to parenthood, or entering retirement. If you are interested in learning more about these predictors of success please read our Relationship Conflict Series. So how do couples build trust in Phase Two? And why is it that most marriages come to an end within (on average) the first 6 years?

Building a Successful Relationship Through Trust and Positivity

The essential question asked in Phase Two is “Will you be there for me?”

The couple begins to test each other on this question, mainly subconsciously. Important conversations happen during this phase such as sharing, discussing negative emotions, moving into a greater sense of “we-ness” instead of “me-ness,” handling conflicts in a positive way, and repairing negative interactions during an argument.

Couples don’t have to be perfect to be conquer Phase Two, but it is essential for them to build enough trust in each other to have courage to stay in the relationship. Couples who are successful at trust building are in “positive sentiment override”; in other words, they have a positive sentiment toward their partner and the relationship which overrides momentary frustrations, anger, or irritability. These couples have enough trust in the relationship to look at their arguments as situational and not as a reflection of their partner’s character flaws.

Through Phase Two, couples can build a sense of resilience in the face of stress and conflict, making their “Story of Us” narrative a positive one.

Are you are seeking premarital or marital counseling for issues like conquering Phase Two? Watershed has trained relationship therapists who counsel couples in any stage of commitment. Please contact us today to schedule an appointment.