The 6-Step Relationship Strategy

WHOLE-relationship-strat

Two years ago, as I was waiting for one of the “women with potential” to show up, I wrote this Relationship Strategy list. Just like I would for an online marketing project I was taking on. Here I was, getting ready to hang out with this woman, and I’m designing the strategy for getting beyond dating and into relationship. I knew this wasn’t really just about her, it was a framework, that I was hoping our passionate overtures would rip right through. She turned into a dud, but I’m still hopeful.

Here’s the whole list:

relationship-strategy

Let’s put these in text where you can read them.

1. Establish mutual connection
2. Spend time together
 - learn + listen
 - experience life
 - be yourselves
 - how does it feel?
3. Learn each other's relating style
4. Define love language
5. All good? Add kissing if you want to
6. Kissing may lead to lovemaking

That’s it. Pretty simple. And while it hasn’t produced the next relationship for me, it has helped me dodge some non-starters. Why spend our time pursuing someone who may be attractive but has nothing in common with us. It happens, beauty is hard to deny. But beauty can also be a trap. We can pay too much attention to the fitness and beauty of a person and miss the inner-connection. If they’ve got rock-solid abs but no substance underneath, well… Relationships are long. At least that’s my goal, the next long relationship. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on fluff (discussions about television, working out, or work stress). I want contentment, happiness, and a mutual admiration that we can build upon.

The heart of my relationship strategy is number 2: Spend time together. Let’s parse this strategy out a bit.

learn + listen

If your partner isn’t worth listening to you have a deep problem. I am fascinated by women, and conversations that teach me a little bit about their hopes and dreams are pure gold in terms of getting to know someone. The question, “What’s your dream?” can reveal a lot about a person. When their answer is, “What do you mean?” then I get a quick snapshot of their creative inner life. And being a creative person, I want a creative and aspirational person to be engaged with. I want to learn from her. I want to listen to her. I am continually fascinated and intrigued by her thoughts and expositions.

experience life

What do you like to do with each other? Sunday brunch at a Mexican food cafe with good coffee, can be the start of a perfect morning. When I am with someone I care about, the experience is even more ecstatic. Reading in bed. Playing tennis or walking around the lake. Cooking a meal. Taking a nap. Spend time in ordinary life with each other. You can’t really get a sense on a person on a “date.” We’re too buttoned up. We’re performing a little bit, to put our best persona forward. But what do you “do” together after that? What are you going to do with this person, if you begin to spend more time with them? Sure, sex might be awesome, but after…

be yourselves

Can you really share all of yourself with this person? Sometimes we share only the positive and hopeful side of ourselves. And in the early “dating” phases this is what gives us more of a romantic glow. We share only the best of ourselves. And the person we are dating is doing a dance of their own, we are seeing their optimal self. But life is a bit more rough around the edges. After you begin to spend non-dating time together how freely to you share your vulnerability? Can you talk about times when you weren’t doing so good? Are you okay telling them about some of your pet projects, unafraid of their judgement? Do they *get* you when you try to share your hopes and dreams? Are your dreams in sync? Could they change enough to get them in sync? (Again, you can see how, if they don’t *know* their dream, this process of seeking affinities is more difficult.)

how does it feel?

And finally, can you let your self be natural and easy? Are you happy just seeing the face of this new friend? What is the tone of the weekend when you stay together? Are their harmonies or discordances? Is there a balance of give and take? Are you both fascinated with the other person and their ambitions? Do you share values and daily activities that can carry you forward even in the difficult times?

Don’t get too far ahead of the process. If you jump from initial spark to lovemaking, you could find yourself in a relationship that’s less of a relationship and more of a fling. I’m not interested in flings at this point in my life. If I’m looking for a mate, I need to be focused, patient, and easy-going about it.

While this list has not produced the next relationship for me, I have used it to successfully navigate several relationships both into and out of intimacy. You need a plan. And you need to keep checking your experience against the plan. This one has worked for me.

Spend time together. Keep checking in with each other and with yourself. “How does it feel?” Let the answer to that question guide your relationship decisions. And remember, kissing can lead to lovemaking, if you both want to head in that direction. But don’t start with that as the priority. You’ll find yourself it a lot of relationships that don’t work at all, even if you have great sex. What I’m looking for will start the other way around, the good sex will be a finale in the symphony of courtship.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

back to Dating After Divorce

image: journal sketch, john mcelhenney, cc 2014

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