You might have seen several of my past posts about breakup planning, but I’ve not gone back to talk in more details about transition planning. The reality is that many of our relationships undergo transitions from time to time. These are rarely traumatic when they are moving towards deeper intimacy, in fact, they frequently involve new busts of joy and a resurgence of new relationship energy. Unfortunately, when someone in a relationship (or indeed everyone) wants to reduce the level of intimacy there is often much more sadness, grief, disappointment and distress.
Kelli and I talked about why this approach is helpful and brainstormed areas that folks might like to consider a plan for when they work on their own transition plan.
Why make a transition plan?
First and foremost, we are often not the version of ourselves we would most like to be when we are distressed, and a relationship de-escalating is often a point of upset. Having a plan can help us to remember what we agreed to do and to behave in a manner that is aligned with our values rather than reacting to disappointment or upset. It can also give us some certainty or at least a clearer picture of what is likely to happen in the future if something shifted in our relationships. It gives us a sense of the other person’s likely response, and which lets us plan how we would manage our own emotions if something changed. Finally, we both think that it can strengthen our relationships and build intimacy with partners when we work through this planning process. While it is scary and means we have to face some difficult emotions, it can also help us to feel closer and more seen by the people we love.
My desire to make transition plans is all about hacking life to make kind and curious behaviour easier for me when I’m distressed or disappointed. I want to treat my closest people with compassion and kindness, and I’ve not always managed that when relationships have ended or transitioned. I’m also painfully aware that behaviour I’ve historically thought of as kind is not experienced in that way by some of the folks I love. That means I need to know what works for them, and where the overlap is with what works for me. Having a structure for that communication is one of the keys to helping me to think and talk about it, which is why I’m sharing it!
How do you do it?
Initially, it is helpful to list the possible causes of a relationship transition. We thought the following headings might apply:
* wanting less/no sex
* wanting less/no romantic connection
* wanting less time together
* increased geographic distance
* changes in health
* changes in mental health
* changing caring responsibilities
* legal relationship changes (marriage/divorce etc)
* acquiring pets
* reduced desire
* reduced interest in shared activities
This isn’t an exhaustive list – and it is really helpful to think about your own relationship histories and to identify whether there have been big changes for you in the past that have reduced the intimacy in your relationships. If so, these may be areas to consider in your current transition plan. Some people might find this process easiest if they think about it on their own in advance of talking to the partner that they want to work this through with. For others, it is much easier to brainstorm together.
Once you have your areas listed, it is time to get into the gory details of what you think you might need if this happened. In some areas it might be simple – if the other person gets a dog you might have strong boundaries around not being willing to take care of their pet (or desires to have lots of involvement). If someone moves away, you might have a clear picture of how that would change the shape of your relationship. You might find it hard to predict how you’d respond to some things. It is nevertheless helpful to agree on a structure for having these conversations and how you’re going to support each other and yourself if these big things come up. It can be helpful to ask yourself ‘what would I need in order for this change to be as welcome as possible?’.
At its core, talking about how to do break up’s and transitions is all about curiosity and kindness. Breakups and transitions are often painful events, so working out how to communicate in advance of them can help folks to de-escalate conflict. They teach us how to treat people the way they want to be treated (rather than how we might want to in their position) at a point of pain and stress and disappointment. While the planning can be a emotionally difficult, it is also an exercise in kindness and compassion, and there can’t be too much of those in the world!