What modern relationship is going through

Partnerships - Development Phases

How quickly the children become “fledged” and enter into relationships themselves. How it looks today, which partners are found, is described below as well as the forms that young relationships go through today before they - possibly - lead to a marriage. Finally, a graphic representation shows an overview of the essential phases and tasks of the partnership.

A partner is someone who is part of the same cause, who is on the same side as me. Partners are equal and have equal rights. Parents are partners in very different areas - in raising children, housekeeping, financial security for the family, etc. - and every single task challenges them and their partnership anew every day.

Partnership and parenting

The first child often becomes a challenge for the couple. At first everything revolves around the next generation. Parents quickly forget that their relationships with one another also need care - especially since they are now exposed to new stresses.

As a rule, the tasks are now distributed differently. West German young mothers very often take on childcare and housekeeping at the same time. The young fathers mostly stay at work, and so the partners live in quite different worlds. This can quickly lead to incomprehension and dissatisfaction. She feels overwhelmed by housework and family work, for which there is little recognition. He has too little time for the family and envies them for being at home all day. She has to get used to the material dependence on a breadwinner, he to the fact that he bears the financial responsibility largely alone. She doesn't see why he doesn't help so much with the household. He does not understand what is so demanding. It is not uncommon for both of them to have too little sleep and thus less strength to deal constructively with their situation. It is therefore not surprising that marriage satisfaction decreases significantly in the first time after starting a family (Vaskovics / Schneewind 1996).

It works better if it is ensured beforehand that the conditions are right: stable relationships in which the partners are satisfied and no longer looking for new adventures are good starting conditions. The same applies to adequate financial resources and living space. A circle of friends you can rely on, or relatives who can step in in an emergency, are helpful. But it is also important to be aware of the "costs" of parenthood and to decide how far you want to go: Do ​​you really have to go without going out? Can't you afford a babysitter? Does the baby have to sleep in a double bed and thus penetrate into every intimate sphere? This relationship has to be cultivated a little so that the parents remain partners after their mutual commitment to the offspring.

The last sentence also applies after the difficult acclimatization period. If the partners only perceive themselves as parents - e.g. only speak of mum and dad - their relationship easily withers. On the other hand, it only helps to reflect more often on the other as a partner, to do something together and to maintain and express mutual appreciation. It is also important that dissatisfaction and fears are discussed openly and dealt with constructively (Tillmetz / Themessl 2004).

Dealing with crises

"... and were happy for the rest of their lives". As in fairy tales, "normal" life usually does not go through, as the above remarks have already shown. Despite all demands for harmony and congratulations, a relationship is not always "perfect sunshine". In other words, a lasting partnership must be able to deal with minor and sometimes major crises.

External influences

Not all difficulties are "self-made" - everyday life demands a lot from the partners. Whether it is unemployment, illness, problems with relatives, constant annoyance in the company, stress with the children, etc. - the partner is always the partner / the compassionate. It is important here that both accept that they perceive stress differently and can deal with it. What appears to be a catastrophe for one person may not be so tragic for another. Unilateral pointing of blame is of no help; they only strain the relationship. Rather, it is important to tackle self-blame as well (Parker 2002). Maintaining mutual appreciation and respect facilitates a constructive solution and helps to emerge stronger as a couple from crises.

The risk of the downward spiral

Once you've discovered the fly in the ointment, all of the food no longer tastes good. What is happening? The negative perception dominates the overall impression. The same can happen to couples who are dissatisfied with their relationship. If perception and communication are colored negatively, this attitude easily solidifies. The difficult aspects of the relationship become exaggerated, the positive recede. In the end you only see black. In this context, the "four apocalyptic riders" on the way to separation are spoken of:

  • "Criticism (Allegations, accusations, constant nagging, complaining),
  •  Contempt / degradation (Insults, derogatory, cynical and sarcastic remarks),
  • Defense / Defense (Justifications, counter-allegations, repudiation of guilt) and
  • Walling / blocking (Refusing to communicate, not listening, ignoring the other "(Lösel / Bender 2003: 58).

These four strategies can break any relationship. But you can also do something about them!


Since all relationships are stressed, it is interesting to ask about the "cures". First of all, it is important that the partners experience themselves as active creators of their relationship and not as impotent victims of an adverse fate. Then concrete strategies for coping with stress can be included:

  • Perception of stress: look for explanations and information. To deal with it.
  • Demonstration of affection, control of negative emotions.
  • Communication: listening and showing openness • Strengthening bonds: showing trust, cooperating.
  • Individual development: feel autonomy, develop activities.
  • Accept support from outside: e.g. from friends and relatives.
  • Spiritually oriented couples can also gain strength through religious activities and belief in faith (Lösel / Bender: 64).

Partners stay after the breakup

Sometimes, despite all the goodwill, cooperation is no longer possible. Marriage and relationships can be broken up; What remains, however, is the relationship and responsibility towards the children. And these continue to connect the former partners. In the past, it was considered better to "create clear relationships" after a separation or divorce and "assign" the children to only one parent, but today it is different: the law alone urges parents to share responsibility even after the separation. The continuing common parental custody means that separated parents continue to decide jointly on all essential questions that affect the child (e.g. vaccinations, operations, selection of kindergarten, school, special support).

This legal regulation corresponds to the child's need for a relationship with both parents and the willingness of most parents to continue to take responsibility for the child despite their separation. This presents them with an enormous challenge. Your own hurt, sadness, and perhaps anger must be overcome if this new form of partnership is to succeed. Since this is particularly difficult in the first time after the separation, it is advisable to make firm agreements on the frequency and duration of the contact. This relieves the burden and - provided the rules are followed well - also creates trust. Later, when the parents are able to relate to each other more relaxed, they can decide more spontaneously and more flexibly about how to deal with each other.

It means security for the children when the same rules apply to father and mother. Voting on it helps everyone. But if father and mother have completely different attitudes, they should also convey these to the children. It is important that when explaining and enforcing their own ideas they do not speak badly or devalue those of their former partner. Here, too, fairness is the goal (Karst 2001).

Ideas and expectations

Concepts of partnership and marriage have changed dramatically over the past few decades. If factual ideas and supply aspects dominated the war generation, this purpose orientation quickly lost its importance: the love marriage had become the leitmotif of the choice of partner, which was superior to factual and material aspects. Security and happiness became goals of the bond. In the 1980s, this was increasingly expanded to include the aspect of self-realization. The partnership should not only be harmonious and reliable, it now also serves personal and mutual development ("mature").

The purpose orientation was then almost completely lost in the 1990s. Today women want security, harmony, romance, a man to talk to and to spend their free time together. Communication has become more important. The partner should be friend, partner, lover and lover at the same time. For men, the focus is on the desire for security, trust and closeness. Communication means less to them than women; they focus on common interests and everyday life (Braun 2001).

The first kiss, the first love, the first relationship

Boys and girls can't relate to each other, find each other boring ... up to puberty. At an average of 12 years (for girls, a little later for boys) this change sets in and the opposite sex becomes interesting. After enthusiasm and admiration, the first "attempts at walking" in matters of relationship soon follow. Since sexual maturity occurs earlier and earlier, relationships and sexual contacts are tried out earlier and earlier. In 2001, only 28% of 14-year-old girls and 32% of boys of the same age had not had any sexual experience (BZgA 2002: 44).

It starts with a kiss. 70% of the girls and 62% of the boys already have "kissing experience" by the age of 14. At 17, 92% of girls and 90% of boys discovered this form of tenderness for themselves and tried it out with a partner (BZgA 2002: 45). With increasing age, more sexual tenderness follows, so that every second adolescent between 14 and 17 years of age has experience with petting (ibid .: 47).

Even when it comes to their first sexual intercourse, today's teens are often still quite young. For both girls, the rate of those who have already had sexual intercourse rises from 11% at the age of 14 to 25% at 15 and 40% at 16 to two-thirds among the 17-year-olds. The boys remain inexperienced for a little longer on this point (8%, 18%, 37%, 61%) (BZgA 2002: 48). However, the gap between the sexes has narrowed since 1980 - so the boys are catching up. However, there is a relatively stable group of young people who "enter sexual life in full" late (ibid: 49).


What is felt to be problematic about this development is the lack of knowledge among young people. They are not well informed or even incorrectly informed about fertility and contraception, but also about the risk of contracting AIDS. This is the main reason why, despite the general availability of contraceptives, a relatively large number of young people are "reckless": 18% of very young girls do not use contraception during their first sexual intercourse (cf. Gille / Klapp 2002). Against this background, teenage pregnancies have also increased in recent years. The fact that these young mothers mostly stand alone shows that the early relationships are not yet sustainable or resilient. Parents are the most important support body here.

Who with whom?

Similarity characterizes many couples, especially with regard to social class and level of education. The tendency towards homogamy - i.e. the choice of an equal or very similar partner - can not only be explained by personal preferences, but also by opportunity structures. After all, school, university, training center and workplace are the places where most couples get to know each other (Blossfeld 2003). The partners are similar in various dimensions, such as religious beliefs, attachment patterns, attitudes and temperament. These correspondences are important for building conflict-free bonds and promote relationship satisfaction (Lösel / Bender: 57).

While it used to be very common for women to marry "upwards", i.e. a man with a better education and / or income, homogamous couples are increasing as a result of the educational expansion (Rupp 1999). In contrast, a reversal of the gender-specific choice, i.e. that women have higher qualifications or incomes than their partners, is still very rare. Apparently normative ideas have an inhibiting effect here. Differences can be attractive and thus establish important elements of a partnership. We find this more on the level of personality, i.e. that partners with different characteristics are found (e.g. very calm people with lively partners), or with regard to the roles that men and women assume in the relationship.

It is important that similarities develop over the course of a relationship. Different stages can be distinguished in which different aspects are important:

  • At the beginning, the attraction is usually decisive; The focus is on external characteristics, such as appearance or popularity.
  • There follows a phase in which the values ​​are compared: Are the interests, views, needs, attitudes and values ​​of the partners compatible?
  • In a further stage of the bond, the role models and expectations are checked to see if they match. Finally, it is important that couples find a division of tasks that is sustainable for both partners (Lenz 1998).

Relationship forms, relationship stages

Until not so long ago there were only three typical stages of the relationship: the so-called "dating", which usually precluded a sexual relationship, the stage of being engaged and finally marriage. Various transitions were coupled with the marriage: moving out of the parental home to one's own apartment, the permissibility of sexual relationships and, for women, often also giving up their own professional activity.

This connection has now been dissolved, and as a result we can differentiate between different forms of partnerships, some of which also represent successive stages of increasing commitment of the partnership.

Couples without a common household

At the beginning of a partnership, the partners usually live separately, either in their parents' household or in their own household. The relationship develops through dating, joint activities, and building a sexual relationship. This is also the phase in which the agreement of interests is checked.

Sooner or later the question arises whether it is possible to live together. There are essentially two very different reasons why couples live in separate households for a long time: A (smaller) part appreciates their freedom and their own area so much that their common apartment is not wanted. Many couples, however, are tied to different places through studies or work, so that coexistence depends on whether and how a change in the professional situation can be achieved.

Unmarried partnerships

Living together without a marriage certificate has become socially acceptable after it was frowned upon for a long time. It is often referred to as the "extended search or test phase", since in this stage a life together is developed and these relationships carry a comparatively high risk of failure. Non-marital partnerships do not only have the character of a test phase before marriage; rather, they are now a natural stage in the development of relationships. And some of them live permanently without intoxication.

For most young people, being out of wedlock is a normal stage in a strengthening relationship. As you move in together, more and more areas of life are gradually being shared. If you know exactly who owns what at the beginning and pay attention to separate accounts, these demarcations become blurred over time and what we have in common becomes more important.

The challenge in this phase of the partnership is to organize a common everyday life: the roles and tasks in the household have to be distributed - really not an easy task. If you bring your laundry to mom at the beginning, the couple will be confronted with the question of role design at the latest when they buy their own shared washing machine.Since in this phase both partners are usually employed or in training, more equal arrangements are made, although traditional gender-typical lines are already emerging. Here, too, women are more responsible for the household, the men more for cars and repairs.

Unmarried couples have very similar demands on their relationships as married couples: Mutual understanding and acceptance are important values, and the same applies to reliability and loyalty. The question of whether one shares the same values, whether a sustainable and long-term partnership will develop from this relationship and - last but not least - whether starting a family is being considered, is decisive for whether a marriage is also planned.

Since unmarried partnerships often begin in phases of life in which the social and financial conditions are not yet perfect, the partners often have to cope with various changes. In many relationships, one of the partners completes his training and starts his professional career. If nothing suitable can be found at home, the couple can decide to have a weekend relationship. That can be very stressful in the long run.

But even without such additional difficulties, the transition to professional life is not infrequently a challenge for the relationship. Task arrangements that have just been found must be changed, rhythm and balance must be rebalanced. It is not uncommon for personality developments to result from the new roles on which the partner has to adjust first. The transition from trainee to employed person thus poses a risk to the relationship that some fail to cause (Vaskovics / Rupp / Hofmann 1997).

The transition to marriage

If marital coexistence is not so easy, why do young people still marry? What do you associate with marriage? In West Germany, the desire for children plays a very important role. Starting a family is therefore usually still associated with getting married. Marriage is therefore considered to be the socialization authority for children. But it also has some other advantages to offer, especially when you consider that West German couples very often choose a traditional division of labor as soon as there are children. They automatically guarantee the social security of the partners. In addition to the child-related marriage motifs, religious ideas, romantic aspects, but also the expectation of greater stability in the relationship come into play.

Marriage is relatively late today: women are on average 29 years old, men a little more than 30. This is explained with "obstacles" resulting from incomplete living conditions (lack of professional / material security). Under such conditions one does not get married, among other things because one does not want to have children under these circumstances. At the same time, it is not necessary to get married as long as an informal bond seems sufficient.

With the transition to marriage, little changes in the relationship itself - most of them
have lived together for a long time. However, one can see a greater tendency towards joint investments (owning a home etc.) and an increase in joint economic activity over a longer period of time around the marriage. Really serious changes for the relationship only occur with the birth of the first child (see above).


Guide for parents

  • Karst, Patrice: Tips for turbulent times. Survival Guide for Single Parents. Freiburg im Breisgau 2001.
  • Lederle von Eckardstein, Osterhold / Niesel, Renate / Salzgeber, Joseph / Schönfeld, Uwe: Parents remain parents. Helping children with separation and divorce. Edited by the German Association for Youth and Marriage Counseling (DAJAEB). Detmold. O.J.
  • Braun, Annegret: Concepts of marriage and partnership from 1948-1996. Munster 2001.

General literature

  • Blossfeld, Hans-Peter / Timm, Andreas: Who marries whom? Educational Systems As Marriage Markets in Modern Societies (European Studies of Population, 12). Dordrecht 2003.
  • Federal Center for Health Education: Youth Sexuality. Repeat survey of 14 to 17 year olds and their parents. Results of a representative survey from 2001.
  • Burkart, Günter: Phases of Life - Phases of Love. From couple to marriage to single and back. Opladen 1997.
  • Gille, Gisela / Klapp, Christine: Not infrequently pregnant at the age of 14! Working Group on Child and Adolescent Psychology, 2002
  • Grau, Ina / Bierhoff, Hans-Werner: Social psychology of partnership. Berlin 2003.
  • Lenz, Karl: Sociology of two-way relationships. An introduction. Opladen 1998.
  • Lösel, Friedrich / Bender, Doris: Theories and models of the couple relationship. In: Grau, Ina / Bierhoff, Hans-Werner: Social psychology of partnership. Berlin 2003.
  • Matthias-Bleck, Heike: Why still marriage? Attempts to explain child-oriented marriage. Bielefeld 1997.
  • Reichle, Barbara: Developing Partnerships for Young Parents. How problems develop from coping with life changes. Opladen, 2002, in: Schneider, Norbert F. / Matthias-Bleck, Heike (ed.): Elternschaftheute. Social framework conditions and individual design tasks. Family Research Journal S. 75-121.
  • Rupp, Marina: The illegitimate phase of life as a bonding phase. Couple constellations and bonding processes, Hamburg 1999.
  • Schneewind, Klaus / Vaskovics, Laszlo A .: Options for shaping the life of young marriages and the desire for children. Final report of the joint study. Series of publications by the Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth, Vol. 128.1. Stuttgart 1996.
  • Schneewind, Klaus / Wunderer, Eva: Process models of partnership development. In: Grau, Ina / Bierhoff, Hans-Werner: Social psychology of partnership. Berlin 2003.
  • Tillmetz, Eva / Themessl, Peter: Become parents - remain partners. Munich 2004.
  • Vaskovics, Laszlo A. / Rupp, Marina / Hofmann, Barbara: Life courses in the modern age: Illegitimate relationships. A sociological longitudinal study. Opladen 1997.
  • Parker, Robyn: Why marriages last. A discussion of the literature. Research Paper No. 28. Melbourne 2002.11

More articles by the author here in our family handbook


Dr. (rer. pol.) Marina Rupp is deputy head of the State Institute for Family Research at the University of Bamberg. For a long time she has dealt with questions of relationship development, especially with unmarried partnerships. In addition, family education, violence in the family and the various forms of life are the focus of her work today.


Dr. Marina Rupp
State Institute for Family Research at the University of Bamberg
Heinrichsdamm 4
96047 Bamberg

Tel .: 0951 / 96525-27