Jerald Young, Ph.D.
This article answers the question, “What is arguably more important than listening to your heart for determining the success of a long-term, committed relationship?”
Our culture does not teach us the importance of understanding what we expect to receive from a long-term relationship. The pre-committed stage in relationship development is supposed to remedy that oversight. Unfortunately, the pre-committed relationship is the step that we screw up most often. Consequently, our choice of a partner for a long-term, committed relationship is left up to hormones and “what feels right.” No wonder the divorce rates are so high.
(This is the 11th article in a series of articles describing how contentment and satisfaction with life after divorce depends on being able to dissolve the very human resistance to the changes that divorce imposes on our lives.)
For a relationship to culminate in a successful long-term, committed union, a five-step relationship-building process must be acknowledged, understood, and traversed.
The Five Required Steps to a Long-Term Relationship
The path from initial introduction to a long-term committed relationship goes through five separate stages of relationship: (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 of recreational, pre-committed, and committed relationships, see David Steele, Conscious Dating, (Campbell, CA, RCN Press, 2008). For the classic description of a pre-committed relationship, see David Steele, Conscious Dating, (Campbell, CA, RCN Press, 2008, 301-319).
This article addresses the third step in the relationship-building process, Step 3: The Pre-Committed Relationship
The Pre-Committed Relationship Is the Time for Logical Analysis
While the recreational relationship spotlights the contribution of your heart and intuition, the pre-committed relationship highlights the role logic plays in building a relationship.
A pre-committed relationship focuses on systematically determining if your basic requirements for a long-term relationship will be met.
Goal and motivation. The goal of a pre-committed relationship is to decide if someone is a “good fit.” The source of motivation that drives a pre-committed relationship is the question, “Will a life with this person give me what I require in a long-term relationship?”
The roles you and your partner play. Both you and your partner are expected to be a girlfriend/boyfriend who is willing and able to talk openly about what you each need in a long-term relationship.
The nature of a pre-committed relationship. The “feel” in the pre-committed stage is one of focused thoughtfulness and logical analysis. You get crystal clear about what your non-negotiable requirements are for a long-term relationship and determine whether the relationship with your partner can meet all your requirements.
Requirements for a Relationship
The heart of the pre-committed step is knowing and communicating your requirements to your partner.
A requirement is something that must be provided by your partner if the relationship is to work. Steele uses the analogy for a requirement of air, water, and food as requirements for maintaining life in the human body. The absence of even one of the three would result in death. Likewise, the absence of even one thing you consider a requirement for a relationship will sooner or later kill the relationship. (David Steele, Conscious Dating, (Campbell, CA, RCN Press, 2008, p 90)).
Potential Problems with a Pre-Committed Relationship
The two most common ways we fail at the pre-committed step are (1) we either do not know what our requirements are or do not realize how important it is to respect their necessity, and (2) we simply skip this step altogether and go straight to the committed relationship step, as if we can intuit each other’s needs. We can’t.
Failure to identify and test out your non-negotiable requirements. After I got divorced the first time, a friend wanted to “fix me up.” She asked me what I wanted in a potential partner. I told her I needed (1) someone who had been divorced before – so she could empathize with what I had been through, and (2) someone who had kids – so she would not be threatened by my parental love. That list of two requirements turned out to be a good place to start, but it left off another 5 or 6 that I was unaware of at the time and which ultimately caused my second marriage to fail.
Skip it altogether. During the recreational relationship everything feels right. It feels like you are in a committed relationship. It also feels like you are so in-tuned with each other that a discussion of your requirements is not needed and, in fact, raising the issue would be downright insulting to your partner. So you never even broach the topic. You just ride the euphoria telling yourself you have found the perfect partner, your soul mate, and skipping the pre-committed step poses no problem.
This is a dangerous roll of the dice. Occasionally it works out. Most of the time it doesn’t. To never discuss requirements or to jump from a recreational relationship straight to a committed relationship, seriously threatens the success of your relationship.
So, What’s the Point?
Make damned sure you make the time to identify your requirements – all of them. Then be doggedly insistent about both of you sharing them with each other.
Then, and this is the hard part, spend an extended period of time together (often 12 to 18 months) to make sure that you and your partner’s requirements can actually be met in a relationship with each other.
This is where most marriages that fail can trace the cause back to. Take the pre-committed step seriously. Your relationship future depends on it.