The Four Stages of ANY Long-Term Relationship (Partner, Coworker, etc.)

Learn about the four stages of any long-term relationship (such as partners, co-workers, etc.) as described by pyschologist Bruce Tuckman: forming, storming, norming, and performing.

Have you ever heard of the four stages of long-term relationships?

We’ve all heard of the “honeymoon phase” – the period of bliss right at the start of a new relationship. Then we often refer to it being “over” once the bliss wears off and we have our first bouts of contention.

The summer after I was graduated from high school, I landed an internship at a local business that was somewhat prestigious. After the first few weeks, however, my excitement wore off in face of some conflict with my immediate superviser.

My father – who is always full of excellent advice, like this advice when we were newlyweds – then told me about something he had recently learned at a business training: the four stages of long-term relationships.

This can apply to partners, but it also applies to new coworkers or roommates. Basically, any relationship that you’ll have with someone over a longer period with frequent interaction.

The Four Stages of ANY Long-Term Relationship

According to the psychologist Bruce Tuckman, the four stages of long-term relationships are Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. This model outlines the distinct stages that couples – and any relationship members – often experience as they develop and mature together.

While this article is written specifically about couples, you can apply these four stages to any new relationship in your life, such as a new roommate or co-worker.

Stage 1: Forming

The forming stage marks the initial phase of a relationship, where two individuals come together, often driven by attraction, curiosity, and the excitement of something new. During this stage, both partners are in a state of discovery, learning about each other’s preferences, interests, and values. The forming stage is filled with excitement, anticipation, and a sense of novelty.


  • Couples are often on their best behavior, presenting themselves in a positive light.
  • Communication tends to be polite, and conflicts are usually avoided or minimized.
  • Partners are focused on building rapport and finding common ground.


  • There might be a lack of deep emotional connection due to the surface-level interactions.
  • Unrealistic expectations and idealized perceptions of the relationship can arise.
  • Conflict avoidance may lead to unresolved issues simmering beneath the surface.


  • This stage allows partners to experience the joy of discovering shared interests.
  • The positive energy and anticipation can help build a strong foundation for the relationship.

Tips for Navigating the Forming Stage:

  1. Embrace open communication to foster genuine connections.
  2. Be authentic and true to yourself while getting to know your partner.
  3. Manage expectations and recognize that conflicts will inevitably arise.

Stage 2: Storming

As the initial excitement of forming a relationship wanes, couples often enter the storming stage, characterized by increased intimacy and a deeper exploration of each other’s personalities. This stage involves facing differences, disagreements, and even conflicts, which are essential for growth and building a resilient partnership.


  • Conflicts emerge as partners reveal their individual values, opinions, and expectations.
  • Power struggles and tensions may arise as partners assert their needs.
  • Communication may become more direct and honest, leading to more profound emotional connections.


  • Misunderstandings and disagreements can lead to frustration and emotional distress.
  • Power struggles and disagreements can strain the relationship.
  • Couples may question the compatibility of their partnership.


  • Honest communication and conflict resolution build trust and emotional intimacy.
  • Overcoming challenges together can strengthen the relationship’s foundation.

Tips for Navigating the Storming Stage:

  1. Practice active listening to understand your partner’s perspective.
  2. Approach conflicts with empathy and a willingness to find compromises.
  3. Focus on effective communication and maintain respect during disagreements.

Stage 3: Norming

In the norming stage, couples begin to find their rhythm and develop a shared sense of understanding. Through effective communication and mutual compromise, partners establish norms, roles, and routines that define their relationship. This stage is characterized by increased harmony, cooperation, and a deepening of emotional bonds.


  • Couples establish shared routines, rituals, and traditions.
  • A sense of companionship and emotional intimacy continues to grow.
  • Partners actively collaborate to overcome challenges and maintain a stable relationship.


  • The risk of becoming complacent or falling into predictable patterns.
  • Unresolved issues from the storming stage might resurface if not addressed.
  • Balancing individual needs and desires with the shared norms of the relationship.


  • A sense of stability and security provides a solid foundation for growth.
  • Partners develop a deeper understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Tips for Navigating the Norming Stage:

  1. Prioritize open and honest communication to sustain emotional connection.
  2. Create a balance between shared routines and maintaining individual identities.
  3. Continuously address and resolve any lingering conflicts or unresolved issues.

Stage 4: Performing

The performing stage is the pinnacle of a long-term relationship, characterized by a strong emotional connection, effective teamwork, and a shared vision for the future. Partners have worked through challenges, established trust, and developed a deep bond that allows them to thrive both individually and as a couple.


  • Partners are emotionally attuned to each other’s needs and desires.
  • Effective problem-solving and conflict resolution are natural processes.
  • The relationship is characterized by mutual support, respect, and a shared sense of purpose.


  • The risk of taking the relationship for granted and becoming complacent.
  • Maintaining a balance between individual growth and shared goals.
  • Ongoing effort to ensure that communication remains open and meaningful.


  • A fulfilling partnership marked by trust, shared values, and a deep emotional connection.
  • Partners experience a strong sense of support and companionship.
  • The ability to weather challenges and celebrate milestones as a united front.

Tips for Navigating the Performing Stage:

  1. Continue to invest time and effort into the relationship, even during periods of stability.
  2. Foster ongoing personal growth while maintaining your shared sense of purpose.
  3. Celebrate accomplishments, both big and small, to reinforce your sense of unity.

New Long Term Relationship Stages

This advice from my father helped tremendously. Because I could recognize that my boss and I were in a new stage, it helped me develop the relationship in a healthy manner.

I’ve since applied these four stages throughout my life: new roommates in college, mission companions as a missionary in Puerto Rico for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and after I was married.

Long-term relationships are a remarkable journey of growth, love, and companionship. The “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing” model provides valuable insights into the stages that couples often experience as they progress through their partnership.

By understanding and embracing these stages, you can navigate the challenges, build a strong foundation of communication and trust, and foster a relationship that stands the test of time.

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