Would you like to have solid answers to these questions when returning to the search for a new committed relationship:
- Does this person help me get over my last relationship that didn’t end well?
- Do I enjoy spending time with this person?
- Can this person provide me with what I require in a relationship? Is this person Mr./Ms? Right for me?
- Can this person and I make our relationship work?
- Do we as a couple help each other grow and develop (i.e., change) over time?
Sounds innocuous enough, right? Who wouldn’t want to know this about a new partner? Would you believe that violating the order in which you answer these questions can sabotage any hope of having a healthy, long-term relationship? Here’s why:
Sequence Matters! – The Five Foundation Relationships1
For your next relationship to succeed in the long term, it must go through several separate, sequential, and identifiable relationships. Skipping any one can derail your future happiness.
The five foundation relationships are (1) Transition Relationship, (2) Recreational Relationship, (3) Pre-committed Relationship, (4) Committed Relationship, and (5) Marital Relationship. Skip or short-change one at your peril.
Each of the five foundation relationships can be considered a separate relationship having a unique purpose and a specific underlying question that defines each stage, the answer to which will determine whether the relationship will move on to the next stage of development or not. Done right, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and they must be done in sequence.
1. The Transition Relationship: Have I Removed My Ex from My Mind?
The first of these foundation relationships is the Transition Relationship.
This is a relationship you enter into either before your committed relationship ends in divorce, or shortly thereafter, to ease the process of getting uncoupled. Its goal is to facilitate the uncoupling from your previous partner and re-experience validation.
The focus is on you as an individual and the driving question motivating this relationship is: “Can he/she help me get over my ex?”
You feel validated and hopeful for the first time in a long time. However, the good feelings can lead to this very common trap: you get so excited by finding someone who can give you what your ex could not or would not, that you conclude, “At long last, I have finally found my soul mate!” No, you haven’t. Not yet. You have only realized you can be hopeful that life without your ex can be enjoyable.
Some folks may already be uncoupled without any emotional baggage attached to their ex. They can move directly to the Recreational phase. However, others will use a transitional relationship to ease the breakup.
2. The Recreational Relationship: Does My Heart Soar When We’re Together?
The second foundation relationship we must master is the Recreational Relationship.
The purpose of the recreational relationship is to enjoy yourself and re-establish a sense of confidence and validation that are almost always lost in the divorce process. The goal is to have fun, feel good about yourself again, and re-establish your self-confidence in your social and dating skills.
The focus is on you as an individual and the driving question motivating this relationship is: “Do I enjoy myself when I am with him/her? Is he/she fun to be with?”
The most common trap at this stage is you feel so good when you are with your partner that you commit the cardinal sin of believing what our culture tells us when it says, “Follow your heart. If it feels good, it must be true love!” No, it isn’t. Not yet. It’s just hormones and chemistry. You have only met someone you enjoy spending time with.
As a result, you will find yourself thinking about the future with your new friend and even talking to your friend about your future together. Don’t. You will not know if the two of you are a good fit for several more months at the earliest.
During the recreational phase of the relationship, a good rule to follow is the 6-1/6-4 Rule. This means for the first 6 months restrict your plans, thinking, and conversation topics with your partner to events 1 week in the future or less. Then for the next 6 months restrict your plans, thinking, and conversation topics with your partner to events 4 weeks in the future or less.
That is, for the first 6 months, look no further into the future than next week. And for the next six months, look no further into the future than one month. You have plenty of time to get it right. Use it. Get to know each other.
3. The Pre-committed Relationship: My Head Must Be Heard, Too
The third foundation relationship we must master is the Pre-committed Relationship.
This one is the biggie simply because most people do not realize it exists or they think it violates the cultural dictum to “Follow your heart. You will just know if it is true love.”
In this relationship, you undertake the serious intellectual work of determining if your basic requirements for a long-term relationship can be met. This stage of a relationship is vitally important for long-term success and can last several months.
The purpose of the pre-committed relationship is to determine if someone is a “good fit.” This goes beyond is he/she fun to be with, and asks the crucial logical question, “Will a life with this person give me what I require in a long-term relationship?”
The focus is on you as an individual and the driving question motivating this relationship is: “Is this person Mr./Ms. Right for me? Is it possible to realize all my requirements in this relationship?”
Unless all your requirements can be met, your satisfaction with the relationship will be doomed.