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Dating From the Inside Out
by Susan S. Davis

The “R” Word: Understanding Relationship Levels

Relationships, like anything else in life, either grows or declines. Few things in life – whether physical, mental or spiritual, ever stay the same. It’s possible to “maintain,” but eventually, things tend to deteriorate over time, especially if they are not properly nourished. Stop feeding your body, and you starve; stop taking care of your car, putting oil and gas into it, and it breaks down, sometimes irreparably.

So, though it really should be no surprise that if any of the foregoing is applied to a relationship of any kind, the same things will occur, many people still don’t seem to grasp the concept that all things, including relationships, need to be nourished in order to stay vibrant and alive, just as a plant, a human being, and some inanimate objects. Sadly, many people take much better care of their cars than they do the people in their lives.

This is why, after a time, any relationship has to be addressed as to validity, type and goals in order to continue, lest someone begin to feel slighted. If both parties understand where the relationship is at and/or headed, a union can continue to flourish. If, however, there is any question, if not confronted, confusion and/or resentment can set in for either or both parties.

It goes without saying that sometimes, while one person may feel ready for a commitment, the other party may not. It could be that one person is quite satisfied with exactly where a relationship stands and is happy with what he or she is getting out of it. That’s all fine and well, if both parties agree. But if there is any question on the part of either party, it’s time to communicate about it.

Many women, in particular, are squeamish about bring up the “R” word. It’s really not surprising; given the amount of attention the media seems to give the issue, and the way that social mores have changed through the years. In the “olden days,” it was unheard of for women to become physical with a man before some form of commitment, usually marriage, was promised. Today, just the opposite seems to be prevalent.

People’s expectations have changed such that some men have even adopted “rules” of their own concerning sexual involvement, sometimes utilizing a “three date” litmus test to determine if they will continue seeing a woman. After three dates, if there is no sex, it’s over for them. Because of this, some women have found themselves becoming intimate with men before they are ready, and thus, regretted it as they find the possibility of the relationship they desire just never happening as a result. The reality is that giving in to someone’s whim, on any level, should not be done out of “fear” of someone losing interest. If someone truly is relationship material and really does care for you, they will respect your boundaries and be more than willing to invest the time it takes for you to become comfortable with moving to the next level, whatever that may be. In fact, that’s a very good way to determine who may be worth the time and effort and who may not.

From a common sense standpoint, no one should do anything they are not truly ready to be doing. Just as both men and women should not commit to someone if they are not ready, neither should they become physically intimate, unless they are comfortable with it, and the knowledge that there is a good chance that the relationship may never develop into what they desire.

So, how does everyone get what he or she needs and wants on a satisfactory level in a relationship? If there were a pat answer to that question, this would be a very boring world. Part of the intrigue of relationships is getting to know people, really know them, below the surface. To sacrifice that opportunity is to squander one of the most enchanting parts of humanity.

In essence, there are relatively five stages in a romantic relationship:

1. Dating, seeing and spending time together (does not include sexual intimacy).

2. Dating each other only (dating exclusively and some intimacy, perhaps sex).

3. A form of commitment to making the relationship permanent. Generally, physical intimacy works out best on this level, because there is a mutual respect, trust and understanding between you.

4. A relatively strong bond or form of agreement exists; a type of marriage (whether traditional or not), is usually the goal of a committed relationship.

5. Supporting, maintaining the commitment, growing and working on the bond.

It is very important to go through each of these levels and to spend time in each, while recognizing the needs of your partner, along with your own needs. While it is tempting, and often happens that people advance to physical intimacy during the first stage, there are enough countless examples of people who give in to sex before this stage, and wind up paying the emotionally devastating price of feeling as though they’ve “lost” a partner that they never really had in the first place.

While there is risk involved, it’s better to talk it out than to advance to a level that you are not comfortable with. Pushing can often result in the exact opposite of a goal. On the other hand, it’s important to establish a guideline for yourself on how long you believe you can realistically “wait” in any given situation, to advance to the level that you believe you should be at in a relationship. Either way, discussing it out in the open can establish a map for the relationship, taking the pressure off of both parties, which can be a very important step in developing a long-term relationship.

It’s also very important to utilize the “gradient scale” approach when developing a relationship. One of the reasons why it is so important for both parties to be comfortable with sexual involvement is that often, sex creates a level of vulnerability. Having a good emotional foundation before embarking upon physical involvement makes it much easier to be comfortable to advance to that stage.

In any case, both parties need to realize that the risk always exists that if one party is not satisfied with where the relationship is, there is a chance that it will dissolve. That’s the reality of relationships and why it’s so important that each person’s reality is not drastically compromised for the sake of keeping someone’s interest. It’s critical that one’s feelings on all of these issues is articulated succinctly so that each person feels as though their intentions and desires are implicit, and a mutual understanding exists.

The bottom line in a healthy relationship is to proceed at a comfortable pace, while respecting the boundaries and desires of both parties. The pace of a relationship needs to be discussed and contemplated in order for both parties to understand where the relationship is and where it is headed.

While it does take time to create a solid relationship built on trust, age is also a factor. Theoretically, the older people get, the easier it is to determine what one’s needs are and to recognize whether or not they are being met or if it is a possibility to meet them in a relationship.

Those people who are already in a successful commitment and/or married understand that maintaining a relationship involves continual courtship, for the life of the relationship. The more prosperous relationships depend upon both parties putting their partners first on their list of priorities.

Whether you are seeking to create a new relationship, strengthen the one you have or maintain a long-term situation, the most important thing to remember is that to keep love alive, it needs to be tended like a garden – with plenty of care and nourishment on many levels. Just as in a garden, the results of those efforts will show in the fruit that it bears.

Susan S. Davis is a published book author and writer, currently doing research for a romantic screenplay she is writing. Her Dating From The Inside Out column is published every Tuesday.

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