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I am writing a story with a three crisis structure. The first is an external crisis that has the hero rushing to the rescue of the heroine. Then their relationship develops at a brisk pace, in the manner of "too much, too soon." The novelty wears off, and one or both recoils at seeing the other "real person," creating the second crisis.

After they are reconciled, they make it towards the top together, and this causes the third, decisive crisis. One wants to continue reaching for the brass ring, and the other wants to "kick back, relax, and take some time off with someone I love," basically two conflicting goals.

Do I need an external crisis for either the second or third crises? Or is it plausible that the characters run the risk of being victims of their own success?

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Oh, goodness yes!

First, your idea of conflicting goals is wonderful.

Here are some additional ways success can lead to crisis (which may or may not apply to your story):

  • They become cocky, thinking the success was entirely due to their skill or other personal attributes.
  • Success creates pressure to repeat their performance, and they fear that their success was a fluke. Lots of ways to react to that pressure, some of which lead to crisis.
  • Having been successful at one thing, they now attempt a more difficult thing (with higher stakes).
  • The people and world around them adjust to their success, creating an environment where their successful strategy will no longer work
  • Their success invites attention of a kind they are not prepared to handle. Competitors. Threats from people damaged by their success. Glory seekers. People who want to knock them down a peg.
  • … probably a lot more I haven't thought of …
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I think this is plausible. Just because a conflict is internal (or between two protagonists, rather than hero vs villain) doesn't mean it isn't an important or engaging conflict.

The important thing is that readers have to care about the people involved in the conflict. This, not fast-paced action scenes, is what makes conflict appealing: Something bad is happening to a character we like, and we want to know how the conflict ends.

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YES

Success creates conflict. Here are a few examples just off the top of my head.

  • Sibling rivalry: when one sibling succeeds a lot and one does not, tensions arise
  • The need to repeat the exploit, to top the current high, adds pressures both internally ("I must remain the best") and externally ("Buddy, you were just lucky")
  • Success does bring some measure of public exposure. While your MC may be good at -say sports- he may be terrible at facing the cameras after the deed.

Success breeds envy and from there jealousy. Success breeds pride and from there overconfidence and contempt.

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