Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
I started a relationship with someone I met recently and things are moving quickly. It’s only been a couple of months and we’re already talking about marriage. I like how things are going, but I’m nervous that I’m jumping into something too soon. What should I do?
First of all, I’d like you to know how impressed I am that you’re asking this question while you’re in the beginning stages of your relationship. This is a critical time for you to gather information about the person with whom you plan to spend the rest of your life. Perhaps I can explain a few concepts about forming healthy relationships that can help you keep a strong connection between your brain and your heart.
I’m going to structure this answer around a recommended sequence to forming a healthy romantic relationship with another person. Dr. John Van Epp, author of “How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk,” suggests that the proper sequence begins with getting to know the other person, then developing a deep trust, followed by learning to rely on one another, and gradually increasing your commitment to one another. Due to the fact that physical intimacy accelerates the attachment between two people, Dr. Van Epp recommends that the level of physical intimacy never exceeds the level of commitment in the relationship.
The danger of an accelerated attachment to another person is that the brain gets hijacked by the heart, even when there are clear indicators that the relationship isn’t very healthy. Following a sequence can help even the most love-struck individual avoid “over-attaching” to another person before serious commitments are made to each other. I will now explain how this sequence can help you think more clearly about the health of your developing relationship.
Getting to know another person happens over time and in a variety of settings. You may learn a lot about your partner on the first few dates, such as their preferences in food, entertainment, and hobbies. However, please note that not all information is weighted equally.
For example, knowing their favorite movie isn’t the same as knowing how they relate to their siblings and parents. As you get to know this person, it’s critical that you spend time with them, preferably face to face, so you can take in as much information about them in a variety of settings and situations.
If you’re interested, I can send you a list of 99 questions to answer in this phase of your relationship to assess your depth of knowledge about the other person.
Increasing your knowledge about your partner can happen much more quickly than the next two areas: trust and reliability. These two areas can only happen over time. You’ll want to know if this person can keep secrets, if they keep promises, if they blame others, if they run away from their problems, and so on. You can only assess these over time. If your partner breaks your trust or acts unreliable early in the relationship, it must be addressed and discussed with them.
Commitment is a natural outgrowth of increasing levels of knowledge, trust, and reliability. If these three areas are growing in a healthy way, commitment usually makes sense. If there are concerns in these areas, commitment should be delayed until there is resolution. As mentioned earlier, physical touch should be kept consistent with your level of commitment. Over-attaching through physical touch will prevent you from paying attention to the “know, trust, and rely” steps, which are crucial building blocks to the future of your relationship.
As you follow this sequence, you’ll have guideposts to measure your progress so you can check both your brain and heart as you find your way in this new relationship.