This article answers the question, “Is there a roadmap that lays out the path to finding my next long-term, committed relationship?” Most survivors of divorce would like to find a new, committed relationship. This time around we hope it will be one that actually works and survives. Accepted wisdom tells us to just start dating and when we find Mr./Ms. Right, “you will know it.” So then we get remarried and live happily ever after. Right? Wouldn’t it be nice if it were all that simple! Spoiler alert! It ain’t.
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 own 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 the next stage of development or not. Done right, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and they must be done in sequence.
- 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, for the purpose of easing 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.
- 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 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. Really get to know each other.
- 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 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.
- The Committed Relationship: Pulling Together, Can We Make It Work?
The fourth foundation relationship we must master is the Committed Relationship.
At this stage in your relationship both partners believe their basic requirements can be met. The purpose of this stage is to figure out how they can make the relationship work, despite the differences and conflicts that exist in all relationships.
This is the first time the couple, working together, is given responsibility in the developing the relationship. Up until now, the issue has been up to the individuals to do the work separate and apart from their partner
The focus is on you as a couple and the driving question motivating this relationship is: “How can we make this work?”
- The Marital Relationship: Can We Help Each Other Change and Develop?
The fifth and final foundation relationship we must master is the Marital Relationship.
Now that the relationship has matured to the point of making it public and formal, attention shifts to allowing and encouraging each partner to grow, develop, and change. People change, whether you expect them to or whether you want them to. To demand that your partner stay the same as when you met, is a guaranteed way to cause resentment, and a good bet that a broken relationship is in your future.
The purpose of this stage is to keep the relationship alive by encouraging growth and development.
The focus is on you as a couple and the driving question motivating this relationship is: “How can we help each other change and fulfill our dreams?”
So, What’s the Point?
We do not have to be a slave to pressure from our culture. There is an alternative to “listen to your heart” as a way of selecting your next committed relationship.
Treating relationship development as a process that encompasses each of the five foundation relationships snatches the control over your relationship future away from some imaginary roulette wheel in the sky and places it firmly in your grasp.
Now you can create the union you have always wanted without having to resort to myth, mystery, and luck.
1 David Steele discusses recreational, pre-committed, committed, and marital relationships in his book: David Steele, Conscious Dating (Campbell, CA: RCN Press, 2008).