Home » Divorce Recovery, Early Dating, & Transition Relationships: Isn’t This Another Name for an Affair?

Divorce Recovery, Early Dating, & Transition Relationships: Isn’t This Another Name for an Affair?

By Jerald Young, Ph.D.

This article answers the question, “What good is a transition relationship if it is just another word for an ‘affair?'”

For divorce recovery to truly begin and for the deep healing to commence, one must first get uncoupled. On the one hand this rates a “duh” from Captain Obvious. Isn’t “getting uncoupled”  exactly what divorce means? On the other hand, in reality this is never easy and often a major issue for the person wanting out of the relationship. It is very common for a partner in a marriage to put off, or actually freeze at the prospect of, seeing the lawyer.  This article describes a very effective, intuitive “workaround” for those stuck in that miserable purgatory of wanting out of the relationship but balking at the reality of formally killing the marriage. They need a “boost.” Could a transition relationship provide the very support they need to make that happen?

Early Dating

Early dating refers to dating before a divorce is final or dating very soon after a divorce is final.

Reasons for early dating vary: (1) Sometimes the motivation for dating before the divorce is final is to add to one’s relationship experience and/or the euphoric feeling of being intimate with someone new who genuinely wants to be with you, at least in the short term. (2) Other times the motivation for dating before the divorce is final is to save the emotional health of a marriage partner by giving him or her the courage to end the marriage. (3) Still other times the motivation for dating soon after the divorce is final is to begin healing and to help the person let go of how life used to be which is preventing him or her from taking advantage of the potential good in their life after divorce.

A transition relationship can be very helpful in the second and third situations above, but not the first situation. Whether the motivation is to summon the courage to end a marriage or to assist in healing and releasing the baggage collected in a past life during a marriage, a transition relationship can be useful. This article addresses the issue of summoning the courage to formally end the marriage.

Our Culture Does Not Like Transition Relationships

Often the uncoupling process involves having one or more “affairs.” This practice is almost universally looked down upon. Our friends and relatives, the most direct dispensers of cultural Do’s and Don’ts, discourage us from having affairs. Presumably, the affair damages the trust at the core of the relationship, which is the glue that holds the relationship together which will lead to infidelity recovery treatment.

However, what if the trust at the core of the relationship has already dissolved away? What if we are looking for the courage to end the marriage formally? What if we want to end the marriage – but are having trouble contacting an attorney to get the ball rolling legally? What if we are needing someone to throw us a life preserver as we struggle and flail in the deep end of our marriage?

More often than not, we are left to our own devices about how to think about a transition relationship. Guilt over having an “affair” is common. At the very least, we are doing something that practically everyone thinks is a bad idea. It is hard not to be defensive.

How is a transition relationship different from an affair?

An affair gives you some fun; a transition relationship gives you a future.

A person having an affair is like a train pulling off the main track to take a side trip on a pleasant, exciting excursion. You get off the main line of marriage and engage in something new and enjoyable. But, if all goes according to plan, you almost always intend to rejoin the trip with your spouse back on the main line sooner or later.

On the other hand, a person having a transition relationship wants a fundamental switch in the train’s direction and destination. You know the train on the main line is scheduled to forge straight ahead. However, you actually want to get off at the next station and board a different train heading in a different direction. Your problem is you are having trouble buying the ticket for a new destination. You could use some help in getting on the new train.

My Ex Is My Hero – How She Saved the Emotional Health of Both of Us

After deciding the marriage is over and you cannot do it anymore, it is time to find a divorce attorney and begin the administrative process to end the marriage. Easier said than done.

For example, after eight years of marriage, my first wife and I decided our marriage was over. However, out of fear of being single again, we put off taking any legal steps for almost two more years.

Then my wife began dating someone. Neither of us would have described it as a “transition relationship” at the time. I believed it was an affair. She believed it was her next long-term, committed relationship. At the time I was hurt, devastated, and all the other emotions that go with finally acknowledging the death of a relationship. She was optimistically looking forward to a bright, new future.

Regardless of the labels used, it did provide the necessary support she needed to finally see a lawyer and get the legal ball rolling.  In retrospect, it was an act of courage on her part that we both benefited from.

To be clear, this was in no way a “sordid affair,” as some of my friends believed. It was a very healthy attempt to summon the courage to end our marriage so she could move on with her life. It was a textbook transition relationship.

To this day I am grateful to her for having the guts to initiate the transition relationship and end our marriage. It enabled each of us to move on in our lives and find new partners to live with and love.

Her act of heroism saved the emotional health of us both.