Boon-Holmes: Three stages of romantic relationships

Boon-Holmes: Three Stages of Romantic Relationships

Social psychologists S. D. Boon and J. G. Holmes conducted a research about romantic relationships. To be specific, their study explored the dynamics of interpersonal trust among couples. Their findings revealed that romantic relationships move through three developmental stages or phases. These are the romantic love stage, the evaluative stage, and the accommodative stage.

Boon-Holmes Three Developmental Stages of Romantic Relationships

Below are the concise definitions of the Boon-Holmes Three Developmental Stages of Romantic Relationships:

1. Romantic Love Stage

During this stage, the couples experience an outpouring of positive feelings or a state of romantic euphoria. This stage also involves an idealization of the partner. Boon and Holmes argued that love and trust are essentially undifferentiated or interchangeable during the romantic love stage because the involved couples strongly believe that their relationship will prosper. Their high hopes overshadow any fears and doubts about each and their entire relationship.

2. Evaluative Stage

The evaluative stage generally characterizes a participant or all participants evaluating the pros and cons of a relationship. Boom and Holmes mentioned that the sustained close contact between couples reveals imperfections and dislike. Hence, each participant naturally steps back and take a break to evaluate his or her partner, and the entire relationship. Both participants eventually engage in reciprocal self-disclosure while also responding to the thoughts and feelings of each other. Boom and Holmes argued that the evaluative stage is where real trust takes root as each participant determines the genuineness of the responsiveness of the other participant.

3. Accommodative Stage

Beyond the evaluative stage, the accommodative stage takes place. This is where the couples further negotiate their conflicting needs, expectations, and observed incompatibilities. Boon and Holmes said that successful negotiation further solidifies trust. In addition, the accommodative stage is where the couples ultimately accept the fact that they cannot completely know everything about each other but still believe that their relationship will prosper due to their ability to resolve their differences and of course, their established compatibility that they both enjoy.

A Note on the Boon-Holmes Developmental Model of Relationships

It is interesting to note that the aforementioned Boon-Holmes Three Developmental Stages of Romantic Relationships shares some similarities with other concepts about human relationships. For example, the Hedonic Adaptation model, and the counterpart Hedonic Adaptation Prevention model both explain that romantic relationships are always characterized by profound happiness and excitement during the initial stage or within the first one to two years. However, the euphoria fades and the relationship can degrade as involved parties become accustomed to the positive stimuli brought by their sustained close contact.

Furthermore, the Boon-Holmes model has also been referenced by other scholars not only in the field of social psychology but also in the field of organizational development. Particularly, these scholars have used the Boon-Holmes model as a theoretical framework for analyzing and discussing relationships and trust as they transpire in social and organizational settings to include workplace interactions, management-employee relationships, and buyer-seller agreements, among others.


Boon, S. D. & Holmes, J. G. 1991. “The Dynamics of Interpersonal Trust: Resolving Uncertainty in the Face of Risk.” In eds. R. A Hinde & J. Groebel, Cooperation and Prosocial Behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press