Stage 1. Forming
Stage 1. Forming
At this stage, the couple have just met. They are generally two individuals who have lived their own lives by their own rules, with consideration only to those elements of their respective lives that are important to them as individual people. This is a time of meeting, greeting, and getting to know one another, and in some cases getting to know oneself better in the context of having your own behaviour reflected back by a new person. During this phase, the individuals involved are ‘checking out’ whether this new person in their life is potentially a suitable partner. (You know…do you have the same interests and values. Do you enjoy doing the same activities? Is there any chemistry between the two of you?) You are two separate entities who are potentially forming a bond, but you are yet to develop individual or collective roles and responsibilities within the relationship.
During the forming phase of a relationship, many questions are asked with the purpose of ‘getting to know’ the other. Also required is an ‘opening up’ of oneself such that the other can ‘get to know’ you. There is a reciprocal exchange of information. Hopefully, the exchange is open and honest. If not honest at this stage, and if later found out, trust is broken. Trust is one of the fundamental elements of a relationship. Trust can be lost down the track because of dishonesty or a white lie at this phase and if not managed appropriately, this can destroy the potential for a good relationship. So, it is best and necessary at this stage of a relationship to be as honest and open as possible. A word of caution however, it is best to be somewhat discerning about how much information you provide to your potential partner at this stage. It is best not to bombard them with an overwhelming amount of information about yourself and your past (particularly past relationships), or they may well feel smothered. This is also protective, particularly if the relationship ends badly at an early stage or the other person is not as they may originally seem.
Nonetheless, many boundaries are tested during this phase such that each individual can ascertain the fundamental nature or essence of the other. This phase is about how the personalities and lifestyles of two individuals fit and whether they complement each other or clash.
This is a high energy and, in some cases, exhausting (in a nice way) phase of a relationship. This is the blind love stage of a relationship when the rose-coloured glasses, are well and truly, covering your eyes. Your new love is the most wonderful person in the universe. You are not aware of their faults or any negative attributes. It is a time that should be enjoyed and relished; because sadly, it does not last forever, and reality will eventually impose on this lovely phase. If you enter into a long-lasting relationship with this person, this will potentially be the last time you will experience this type of enjoyment. As wonderful as it may be, it will ultimately end so our advice is enjoy it to the max!!!!
The ‘forming’ phase of a relationship is about learning about the other person and your own response to them. It is also about learning about how you engage in a relationship with this person, and sometimes whether you really do want to be in a relationship at all. This learning curve sometimes brings up a number of issues, which may be unexpected in the early phase of a relationship. Some very personal issues that can be unexpected at this stage of a relationship include:
- The realisation that you really are not as ready for a relationship as you thought you might be;
- The realisation that your value system and beliefs do not match those of your potential partner;
- The realisation that you don’t enjoy being ‘alone’ and the other person is ‘better than nothing’;
- The realisation that you need a relationship rather than want a relationship and anyone who is ready, willing and able, will do; and
- The realisation that you are more stubborn or rigid in your attitudes and behaviours than you might have previously thought.
These are but a few of the realisations you may experience when beginning a new relationship and they are very personal. If you identify any of these issues or anything that is similar, then you really do need to sit back and reflect on your reasons for beginning a new relationship, and whether you in fact really do want to be in a committed relationship.
It is important to know such realisations have little to do with the other person except that they may have acted as a ‘mirror’ of your behaviours, and attitudes. As such, you are seeing yourself in a new context. If this is the case, then do not blame the other person for your discomfort. Observe your reactions to the other and seek out an internal explanation for what you are experiencing (perhaps with the assistance of a trusted friend or family member or psychologist). It is only after you have ‘dealt with your stuff’ that you can appropriately negotiate the forming stage of a relationship with a person with whom you connect thus allowing you to successfully move on to the next stage.
With respect to your perceptions of the ‘other’ person however, it is at this stage that it is important to observe their behaviours and attitudes. Doing so will provide information such that you can make an informed decision as to whether this is in fact a person with whom you can connect, and with whom you can spend a significant proportion of your time. It is important to observe such things, and they might show early warning signs of unhealthy behaviours. Some questions you might like to ask yourself include:
- Does she drink heavily?
- Does she have a driver’s licence? If not, has she lost it because of drink or drug related driving offences?
- Where and how does she spend her leisure time?
- What are her hobbies and interests? Are they similar to yours?
- Does she gamble?
- Does she have employment or another source income?
- Do you get on with her friends and family?
- Is she predisposed to making negative comments about your friends and family or their behaviour?
- Do her manners match yours?
- How is her personal hygiene? Does it match yours?
- How does she keep her house/living space?
- Does her behaviour and living space match your expectations of cleanliness and tidiness?
- Is she needy?
- Is she jealous of your time and friends (particularly female friends)?
- Is it possible that she is looking for a meal ticket? and
- If you are sexually active, does she use contraception? (Check this out very carefully!)
It is important to observe such behaviours from a non-judgmental stance, but it is also important to get a sense of whether this new person in your life has similar values, attitudes, and behaviours to yours. If you do observe behaviours that do not match yours at such an early stage of a relationship, then it is probably good form to avoid getting involved with this person quickly or too deeply.
With these things in mind, imagine if you were buying a new house. You would not only be looking at the outside or external appeal of the new purchase, but you would also be considering the facts related to this purchase. For example, you would consider the price, location, number of rooms, construction, age, local amenities, etc. Well, the same thing applies to choosing a partner. Apart from the external qualities (e.g., appearance, hair colour, age, height, weight, sex appeal, etc), there are the internal qualities to consider (e.g., honesty, sense of humour, values, etc). Remember you would be putting a lot more time, energy, money, and commitment into a relationship — more than you ever would into a house. So consider choosing wisely with your heart, as well as your head. The ending of a relationship can cost a lot more than the price of a house, and so deserves more consideration. Some men with whom we have spoken with, were very confused (and somewhat cautious) about making a sensible choice, after their previous experience in an unhealthy relationship. So, we devised a Criterion for a Mate to help them keep a balance between head and heart considerations. (See Appendix A for an example you can modify to suit yourself and help you to choose wisely.)
As a result of both ‘personal’ and ‘other person’ factors, many relationships do not get past the ‘forming’ stage. We have met some men who have told us about meeting women for a date, and who left “even before the coffee had finished” and/or wanted to leave “even before the coffee was ordered but thought it would be rude to leave then”. On the other hand, if the coffee leads to a dinner date, more contact and perhaps an overnight stay or a weekend away, and if both parties are seeking a committed and ongoing relationship (i.e., a sense that you are now moving towards being a couple), then the next phase ‘storming’, will be the next challenge for these two individuals.