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The Three Stages of Relationship Building by Jennifer Parker, LPCMH

I have simplified the relationship building process into 3 stages: interest, assessment and commitment. Each stage is different, unique and progressive.

The first stage is interest. Perhaps the most exciting part of building a relationship is establishing the initial connection, mutual interest, feeling a “spark” and/or noting “strong chemistry”. However, a lot of mistakes are made during this initial stage, i.e., too often, it is powered by blind trust; believing almost everything that is told; trusting without question. When you aren’t asking any questions, for the most part, you are sending a message of agreement; it’s another way of stating that you are okay with what you are being told. It’s likened to when a teacher asks if there are any questions after giving a lesson; when no one raises a hand or responds, she moves onto the next lesson assuming everyone has understood the material she just presented. When this happens during the initial stage of building a relationship, it can cause a person to move too quickly into the third phase, skimming through the second phase, dismissing or minimizing “red flags” of caution. Again, it is likened to a child wishing they had asked their question in class; now they are faced with moving onto more advanced material without understanding the preliminary material. However, once interest has been established, you want to move forward into the assessment phase, using the “Trust but verify” rule.

The second phase is assessment; it is perhaps the most important phase of the entire relationship building process. Evidence based trust is the key marker during the assessment phase. You need to give yourself permission to ask for proof or assurances, “How can I be sure?” And remember when asking for assurance, you are not asking them to make promises to you. You are asking for the evidence to support what they are telling you is factually true; because verbal statements do not equate to evidence. The verbal statement is what you are scrutinizing. In this phase, you don’t want to blindly trust what you hear is true; instead, you want to verify what you are hearing. This is the phase where trust or lack of trust is being established. If the person you are interested in tells you that they have a lot of respect for their family members, but you observe them being disrespectful and using harsh, demeaning language with them, you would note that as a discrepancy between what they told you and what you observed, and move forward with more caution. You don’t want to go through this phase too quickly; you are assessing whether or not this is a trusting relationship where you can make a commitment. Near the end of this phase, you will ideally transition out of evidenced based trust to “blinder” trust.

If the relationship survives the second phase, then you arrive at the third and final phase of the relationship, the commitment phase. This is the phase where you should feel more comfortable with what you are being told by your partner; you can let down your guard; they have earned your trust. The focus is not verifying information, it is building connection and strengthening your commitment to each other. If blind trust exists, it exists in this final phase as evidence of a healthy relationship and strong commitment.

Take the next step. Call for an appointment.