By Jerald Young, Ph.D.
This article answers the question, “What is a Transition Relationship and how can it set the stage for making a smooth divorce recovery?”
It takes courage to get married. It takes more courage to get divorced. And it often takes even more courage to confront and master the demands of making a successful recovery from divorce. Sometimes we can summon the courage and wherewithal to handle these issues on our own. Other times we need a little help from a divorce lawyer. The transition relationship often provides that help and courage we need.
Divorce batters us. Often into submission. Our feelings of control and self-esteem are replaced by helplessness, doubt, shame, and/or self-loathing. Our sense of validation can be totally squashed. Our hope of finding true love again is dashed. We look at ourselves in the mirror and think, “How did it come to this?!” We are a mess.
Being in such a state of anguish makes it difficult to make a clean break and move on with the next chapter of our life. We often need help in making the transition from being married to being single again. A common tool used to help us make that transition is what I call a “transition relationship.”
What Is a Transition Relationship?
A transition relationship is a relationship whose sole purpose is to help at least one of the partners make the transition from “being married” to “being single again.” It is not necessary for either partner to know that that is the goal of the relationship. In fact, seldom are folks aware they are in a transition relationship because it feels identical to the early stages of a regular relationship. Quite often it is that very lack of awareness that dooms the long-term success of 75% to 90% of transition relationships and leaves the partners worried that they are doomed to never find true love again.
The main emotion-based result delivered by a transition relationship, and what makes it so wonderful, even euphoric, is a renewed sense of validation.
Carol’s Story – A Transition Relationship to the Rescue
Carol (all names have been changed), a previous client of mine, grew up in Seattle. She had been in a relationship with Robert, also from the northwest, for nine years. They had been living together for the last seven in what was, in essence, a de-facto marriage.
Robert wanted to get formally married. Carol was hesitant. She described her relationship with Robert as “perfect, except he would not express his feelings.” Furthermore, she desperately wanted a partner who would talk about how he felt. She asked him several times to tell her how he was feeling. He refused. Then she begged him over and over to tell her how he was feeling. He continued to refuse. She even threatened to breakup if he would not talk about his feelings. To no avail. She finally concluded, “That’s just how all men are,” and went ahead with the wedding plans.
Then she met Archie. It was innocent enough. Just an evening out with her girlfriends at a bar. Archie asked her to dance. Afterwards they talked and talked until closing time. All innocent and above-board.
He asked to see her again. She accepted. This time they had some privacy which allowed them to talk about more personal things. To her astonishment, Archie was perfectly comfortable in expressing his deep-felt, personal feelings. She was hooked.
She now realized the fallacy of her belief that all men were incapable of expressing their feelings. She further recognized that she could have a relationship in which the sharing of feelings was possible.
Only problem was, what to do about the wedding? After all, she and Robert had been living together for almost seven years. Invitations had gone out. Wedding gifts were accumulating in their living room. The minister was lined up. The reception hall was rented. The flowers were ordered. The videographer was retained. The caterers were hired. She had bought her wedding dress. The bridesmaids had been fitted for their dresses. Out-of-town guests had purchased non-refundable airline tickets. Friends and family liked Robert and were looking forward to the ceremony. How could she disappoint them? How could she hurt Robert so? But also, how could she settle for less than she now knew was possible?
How a Transition Relationship Can Transform a Person’s Life
The job of a transition relationship is to help someone let go of a relationship, including the attachments to the past that are associated with it, that they no longer want but are having trouble actually releasing. Carol was having trouble getting uncoupled from her relationship with Robert. She wanted to breakup with Robert but felt doomed by inertia. Then Archie tossed her a life preserver.
Based on what Archie had demonstrated to her, and with the confidence she and Archie would become a serious couple, Carol bit the bullet and, with the ceremony only two weeks away, cancelled the wedding. Her relationship with Archie enabled her to make the transition from “being married” to “being single again.” Her transition relationship had come to the rescue for Carol and now she could look forward to having the relationship of her dreams.
The Outcome of Carol’s Transition Relationship
The data tell us that 75% to 90% of transition relationships fail to blossom into a successful, long-term relationship. Such was the case for Carol and Archie. Carol told me, “I wanted a relationship in which my husband and I could exchange our feelings. But not all the damned time! He just wouldn’t stop talking about his feelings. He told me his feelings morning, noon, and night. I finally said, ‘Enough already.’ I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to break off the relationship.”
Was the Transition Relationship a Success or a Failure?
Was her transition relationship a failure? Absolutely not!
The function of a transition relationship is not to find your next life partner. Its only job is to help you get uncoupled from a relationship you no longer want. Her transition relationship with Archie enabled her to leave Robert with the knowledge that it is possible to have a partner that meets all, not just some, of her requirements for a spouse.