Thursday, October 25, 2007

Stages of Relationships

The model that appears in Beebe, Beebe and Ivy’s book, Communications: Principles for a Lifetime, depicting the various stages in relationships has at least one serious flaw. The escalators/elevators depicted seem to indicate that when we arrive at the top level, “Intimacy,” we have reached the top. Since the page is finite the model appears to be finite. But, in fact, the concepts of intensification as well as intimacy are potentially able to build and expand as far as we are willing to take them. They will continue to enhance meaning within you as long as you continue to add them to your meaning.

With that thought in mind we can make excellent use of this Relationships Stages model to think about and analyze our own existence aiding us to achieve our goals (managing relationships.) Somewhere along the way we sense (see, hear, touch and/or talk to) an individual that catches and holds our attention. It could be at work, a party or in some common area that each of you has visited. This first awareness (pre-interaction awareness) of the other is often exciting and filled with anticipation of fun. (And there is a red flag waving here: much of this process is nonverbal and that indicates that you must provide a bulk of the “meaning” that is attached. Put another way, you must project your “meaning” from your own experiences onto the other person. You have no real idea of how the other person means until you can check your perceptions.)

To satisfy your curiosity (desire, anticipation, hopes) you approach the person to find out more about the person. When you introduce yourself (initiation) the other person is beginning to understand that they have had an impact on you (or they have been communicating nonverbally.) As you begin to introduce yourself (self-disclosure) the other person has the opportunity to turn and walk away or hang around and see where this contact leads. Their first impressions will also be what they sense (nonverbal.) They too will project what they hope you are onto to you. This will be the standard by which you are judged to be worthy of continued contact or not. This makes your nonverbal communication extremely important (be aware of your communication with yourself and others.) Keep the conversation/negotiation light and shallow. That way you can watch (listen) for reactions from the other person which will guide you in what you choose to say and do thereafter.

If the two of you are interested in following your interests, then both of you will be ready for the next stage in establishing a relationship, which is exploration. Nearly anything that the two of you choose to do will permit you to observe (listen) the other’s actions and reactions, giving you additional insights into what to say and what to do. There is no reason this process needs to stop. One way or another, the two of you can continue to explore giving each of you additional meanings for the other and yourselves. There is no way to put relationships on “hold” and not have them being to dissolve. If you want the relationship to continue then you must continue to explore. (Here is another red flag. In the American culture we tend to think of many things, including relationships as things which can be set aside under certain special circumstances. For example, marriage may be an indicator that now is the time for you to concentrate on your career and thus leave little of no time for exploration. That may be the beginning of the dissolving of this relationship.)

The next stage is obvious to all our relatives, friends and acquaintances because we are spending so much time with one another that there is no time for them. That is because we are trying to satisfy our curiosity about each other at the highest possible rate and that indicates that we are now in the intensification stage. This stage can be somewhat flexible, but it cannot be omitted without the threat of serious damage to the relationship. For example, if by my nonverbal communication I tell you that I cannot be without you for any extended period of time and then suddenly begin to go back to my old ways and start spending time with my previous friends, you will be upset and want to know what is going on. The change in behavior indicates the potential for change in how they feel about you and how important this bond really is. None of these stages are necessarily discrete, and may overlap. But, it is still a strong indicator of the progress being made in the relationship.

Intimacy, the final stage in the building relationship process involves nearly every aspect of your life or meaning. Certainly it is physical, because of the trust built up over time each of you knows what a touch means and what an appropriate reaction would be. But, probably more important is the awareness of each other’s thought processes and what is likely going on inside their minds. They probably can talk to each other in abbreviated sentences and understand one another. People listening to their conversations will not have enough understanding of what is being said to take any action at all. Now that is intimacy.

Effective communication is tough. It requires thought and action. You can’t ever just coast and be assured that you are going to be on course toward your goals. What changes do you think you’re going to make when you are talking to anyone after you have understood the potential consequences? What actions may now seem to be filled with potential problems? For example, if you’re not feeling well and don’t want to concentrate on your communication, what is it going to cost you when you’re no longer ill?

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