Home » Divorce Recovery & the 5 Steps to Your Next Long-Term Relationship: Step 1–The Transition Relationship

Divorce Recovery & the 5 Steps to Your Next Long-Term Relationship: Step 1–The Transition Relationship

Jerald Young, Ph.D.

This article answers the question, “What is the first step to take in finding my next long-term relationship after my divorce?”

This time around we hope it will be one that actually works and survives. The first step on the path to a new relationship future is a “transition relationship.” As the name implies, you are in the midst of change. Being able to accept the need to fix the things your divorce broke is the key to a successful new relationship.

 A Story of a Transition Relationship

A client of mine felt guilty about going outside of his marriage, even though his spouse had broken, and refused to reinstate, an especially important, fundamental agreement they made prior to their getting married.  He talked incessantly to his girlfriend about his displeasure with his ex and his unhappiness with his marriage. His partner reassured him his happiness was the most important thing.  She encouraged him get help from a divorce recovery coach. He did.

He worked with the coach, resolved his feelings of guilt, and formally ended his marriage. Without the support and reassurance from his girlfriend, and  his willingness to make the necessary changes in his feelings about his divorce, he would have stayed in an unhappy marriage and resented his spouse and himself for years to come.

The Five Required Steps to a Long-Term Relationship

To build a new, long-term relationship, you must navigate five separate steps in your  relationship with your potential partner: (1) Step 1 – The Transition Relationship, (2) Step 2 – The Recreational Relationship, (3) Step 3 – The Pre-Committed Relationship, (4) Step 4 – The Committed Relationship, and (5) Step 5 – The Marital Relationship.

(For a discussion on recreational, pre-committed, and committed relationships, see David Steele Conscious Dating, (Campbell, CA, RCN Press, 2008). The discussion of the pre-committed relationship is particularly good.)

Each relationship has a unique goal and a specific underlying question that motivates action at each stage. Done right, this process is a marathon, not a sprint. This article describes the first step, the Transition Relationship.

The Structure of a Transition Relationship

A transition relationship is one in which you enter into either before your committed relationship ends, or shortly thereafter, for the sole purpose of easing the process of getting uncoupled.

Goal and motivation. The goal of the transition relationship is to get released from the baggage of marriage and re-experience validation. The source of motivation that drives a transition relationship is the question, “Can he/she help me release my attachments to my ex and my relationship with my ex?

Roles. The role of your partner is to be a helper, listener, intimate partner, and truth-teller. Your role is to be a willing listener, learner, and to be amenable to changing those beliefs and behaviors that make a new, positive relationship impossible.  Your partner wants to  “Help you feel good/single again.” Your job is to pay attention to your partner’s observations and make the necessary changes that will make it possible to feel good about your life again.

The Nature of a Transition Relationship

Two things distinguish a transition relationship: (1) A euphoric sense of hopefulness for the future based in having found your soul mate, (2) Constant discussions about your ex and your marriage to you ex.

I’ve found my soul mate! A transition relationship is a heady, euphoric experience with seemingly unlimited hopefulness. You have found the “perfect” partner – someone who can give you everything your spouse couldn’t or wouldn’t.

You conclude, “At long last I have found my soul mate! I am in love and we should be together until death do us part.” No you haven’t. Hold on! This is too much too fast. You’ve only found someone who can validate you in ways that your spouse couldn’t or wouldn’t.

My ex still lives in my head! Another common element of a transition relationship is the tendency of the divorced partner to hold on to and talk about memories of the ex, especially memories of the recent drama around the divorce.

Even though there is just you and your new partner in the room, you are never completely alone as a couple. There is always a third person with you. Who? Your ex who still lives an active life in your head! Your ex is there with you all the time when you eat, shop, watch tv, make love.

As result, you talk about, even obsess over, your ex and the drama of your marriage. Your brain’s death grip on your ex is leading you to disaster. No new relationship can thrive as long as you continue to invite your ex into your life.

Your transition partner is there to help you usher your ex out of your head and out of your life. One client likened his transition relationship to a life-preserver; it kept him afloat and alive until he could reach the shore and solid ground and wipe his ex from his brain permanently.

So, What’s the Point?

The point is, if you are in an early relationship, that is, one that began before or shortly after your divorce is final, chances are you are in a transition relationship. First, you must acknowledge that fact, even though your new relationship feels permanent, not “transitional.” You also must acknowledge that your marriage and subsequent divorce has left you with some things that are broken and need fixing. Be open to your new partner’s suggestions that some beliefs and behaviors need to change, even though you may not agree.

Also, the habit of talking about your ex needs to end. Your ex is part of your past. Like someone said, “The past is history, the future’s a mystery, and today is a gift. That why we call it the present.”   Your challenge is to leave your marriage and your ex in the past so you can enjoy and thrive in the present.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. The prescription is to dissolve your resistance to your new changed life situation. Only then can you have confidence that your life after divorce will be happy and successful.


This is the 9th article in a series of articles describing how contentment and satisfaction with life after a breakup depends on being able to dissolve the very human resistance to the changes that such a traumatic life event imposes on our lives.