Stages of a Relationship
In today's world, relationships can be a confusing and often emotionally hazardous situation. Models of relationships in TV Land are usually sexual in nature - catch "That Seventies Show" on ntv7 where currently even the most mature couple (I'm not sure what age they are suppose to be, but certainly pre-college) are now dealing with the pressure of "doing it", partly because they wanted to but mostly because they are expected to. Parents' view of relationships usually begin with the word "don't" and end with the phrase "until after your studies". And peers? I'm not sure (you people out there have to advise me on this) but I suspect that the TV model is pretty influential on how teenagers view relationships.
What I wish to do here is to outline what I think are the stages of a relationship with the hope that you can think through and have a clearer view of your own relationships. I write from a Christian perspective but I think that the ideas can be applied to people of all faiths.
Ground Zero: Friends / Best Friends
I do not call this a stage because it will otherwise imply that one has to progress. It is a state. All relationships start here and may forever remain here. Friendship is commanded by God, in that we are called to be kind to one another. Therefore, we should be confident and expect "friendly treatment" from one another. Of course there are varying degrees of friendship and we often have "best friends", usually of the same sex, with whom we spend more time, share more and expect more. Who we consider as our best friends may change over time.
Friends are a blessing and there is great value in a friend. I say this because we tend to put greater value on "boyfriend or girlfriend" and think that we have little or nothing if we "only" have friends. Our focus should be on friendships (i.e. develop friendships and deepen friendships) rather than on "coupleship".
Stage One: Special Friend
Out of the pool of friends we have may come someone of the opposite sex whom we are attracted to. The attraction is mutual and by agreement the two of you become "special friends". (Sorry-ah, this sounds like a dry scientific report of a laboratory observation). The language is deliberate. There has to be mutuality and agreement. And I prefer to avoid the phrase "boyfriend or girlfriend" at this stage.
The emphasis here is on friendship and it is akin to being best friends with someone of the opposite sex. Here is the person whom we spend more time with, share more with, and expect more from.
We enter the "special friend" relationship in order to have greater opportunity to get to know the other person and to deepen the friendship.
What do "special friends" do? They talk a lot. They spend a lot of time together, but not necessarily alone. In fact, special friendships is best developed in the company of other friends. They take a deep interest in things that the other is interested in. They do things for each other. They ask each other to do things for them. And they do many things in each other's company. They talk about their thoughts, their feelings, their ambitions....
What's the point in Stage One?
The key point is that this is a FRIENDSHIP. We are not "only" friends, though. But still friends. So the focus and the activities revolve around deepening the friendship. The sexual element should play only a small role here.
The mutual agreement and understanding is useful because it frees us from misinterpreting each other's actions and allows us to be more forthright and open with our thoughts and feelings.
Because the relationship is based on mutual agreement (I use this in contrast to the word commitment) both parties should be relatively free to "break" the relationship and return to "normal" friendship.
Generally, I think that if you are 21 and below, you cannot go beyond stage one.
Stage Two: Couple
Generally, I would prefer to reserve the terms "boyfriend or girlfriend" for this stage. In coupledom, the goal is marriage. This is how I would contrast stage one and two.
Since in Christian teaching marriage is for keeps (and since it is a rare couple who marry with the view that the union is temporary) couplehood is a time when two persons explore whether they are ready and willing to enter into a lasting commitment with each other, and whether they are willing to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage. Thus it makes sense to enter couplehood only after you know each other very well and have become deep friends. And only after you are somewhat in the "marriageable age bracket".
In marriage, the two key elements are commitment and responsibility (they are two sides of the same coin), and sex.
When two people agree to become a couple, there is a certain degree of commitment in that agreement. This means that one should not back out easily but commits to explore the relationship until it is clear either marriage should take place or it is clear that they should break up.
In this context of commitment, and because the couple is working towards marriage, the sexual element has a greater role in stage two.
Stage Three: Engagement/Marriage
Actually marriage is not a stage, but a state, in that it is permanent. The engagement is meant more for the public than for the couple. Of course it can be a "last chance to back out" safety valve.
Most of you who read this are probably nowhere near stage three so I don't have to say much about it now.
The intention of this article is to help you to think through relationships. It would really be helpful if you comment/ask questions (which I will post on this page) so that we can all learn from each other.
You may also wish to use this article to discuss with your "friend" as to where you wish your relationship to be (assuming you can talk about these things... :-).
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.