How do you know if you’re in a stepping stone relationship and what can you do to turn a stepping stone relationship into a lasting one? In this episode, I talk about best practices for honestly analyzing romantic relationships so you can learn if you are in a stepping stone or lasting love relationship.
Once you start to work on yourself, you may notice that you begin to attract a different sort of person, so today I discuss ways to break a pattern of bad relationships, how to attract nicer partners, and how to keep love flourishing once you’ve found it. I also explain how self love attracts lasting romantic love and offer advice for couples moving in together for the first time.
Listen in to learn how to ask for what you really want in a relationship, how stress negatively affects intimacy, and ways to beat your craving for junk food relationships.
You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And be sure to leave us a Rating and Review!
- What is a stepping stone relationship?
- Understanding if you are in a stepping stone relationship
- Tips to turn a stepping stone relationship into a lasting relationship
- How to break a pattern of bad relationships
- Ideas on how to attract a nicer partner
- The importance of sharing your needs with your partner
- Reasons why you should share your needs with your significant other
- Benefits of turning shame into a genuine request
- Why you should ask for what you really want in a relationship
- How stress negatively affects intimate relationships
- What is the wave of distancing
What’s a stepping stone relationship and how can you know if you’re in one and what can you do to turn a stepping stone relationship into a lasting one? Stay tuned to this episode, to learn more. Hello and welcome to the Deeper Dating Podcast. I’m Ken Page. And I’m a psychotherapist, author of the book, Deeper Dating and the co-founder of deeperdating.com, an online environment where single people can meet in a way that’s inspiring, safe, and positive.
Today, I’m going to be speaking about stepping stone relationships, how you can know if you’re in one and what you can do to potentially transform that kind of relationship into a lasting one. And in this and every episode, I’m going to be sharing the greatest tools I know to help you find love and keep it flourishing and heal your life in the process because the skills of dating are nothing more than the skills of love, which are the greatest skills of all for a happy life.
And if you want to know more about the Deeper Dating path to real intimacy, just go to deeperdatingpodcast.com. You can sign up for my mailing list, get free gifts, learn about workshops that I teach. And you can learn more about how to use these ideas to transform your own intimacy journey. I also want to say that everything I share in this podcast is educational in nature. It’s not medical or psychiatric advice or treatment. And if you think you need psychological help, please do seek it. And finally, if you like what you hear here, I’d love it if you could subscribe and leave me a review and share this podcast with the people you know and care about. So thank you so much for that. So let’s jump in.
In doing this work for a really long time and in my own life and in the lives of so many of the people I’ve worked with, I’ve developed a lot of kinds of pattern recognition. And some patterns really surprised me and it took me a while to understand them and see them and see their meaning in the whole dating search for love process. And a stepping stone or bridge relationship is one of those things that I just kind of wouldn’t have thought of. And many of us, I think wouldn’t have thought of, but these relationships often happen. So what’s a stepping stone or a bridge relationship? It’s something that can cause a lot of pain and a lot of disappointment, but is ultimately I think really a harbinger of good.Am I running away from healthy intimacy or is this relationship not right enough for me? Click To Tweet
So as we grow and develop, and as we learn to love ourselves in deeper ways and leave that agonizing, slippery, hellish slope of trying to fix and change ourselves in order to find love, but instead choose to honor and treasure and lead with who we are with bravery and goodness. When we do that, we change, our field changes, our attractions begin to change, and that is a powerful and miraculous thing. And one of the ways that we notice it, like the first way that I’ve seen people notice it is just an increased sense of discrimination. Like those people who have been hot and sexy and appealing, maybe they still are, but they’re less so, and that bad taste in your mouth, you can’t ignore it as easily with these people who you kind of know are going to hurt you and disappoint you, but they’re sexy as hell and you’re still hoping.
We lose our taste for those kind of people who can’t love us fully and richly and safely. And as we do the deep work of self love, really, truly, we become more likely to meet and attract and be attracted to people who really love us for who we are. So that is a really exciting thing when that happens. And we start to appreciate healthy relationships and not just junk food relationships, there’s just less of an addictive quality. And the fuel that we find our romantic life operates on more and more is the fuel of inspiration, the fuel of goodness, the fuel of safety, the fuel of generativity. And so that starts happening. And maybe first our dating life doesn’t really change, but we feel these shifts. And my role as a therapist and as a coach in working with people who are having these changes happen is to point them out because it’s like a new terrain that develops really slowly and people usually don’t realize it at first.
So I encourage all of you to notice how the kind of people you’re dating changes, that they kind of get nicer or kinder or more available. Notice how you say no a lot quicker. You say slow a lot quicker. You say I’m looking for a relationship where we can grow together a lot quicker. I need to point these things out often to people I work with because they happen so slowly. It’s like driving south. You don’t all of a sudden feel like everything is warm. It’s this very slow gradual process, but there’s a sense of hope and excitement that comes with that realization. And in my intensives and my work, when those changes happen to people, I tell them, and I say this all the time in my podcast, “your field is shifting, your field is actually shifting.” So go out and play and experiment and explore with these new capacities, this new way of being, this new set of intimacy tools that you have to go out and explore and experiment with.
So at that point, people do that. And after a certain period of time, often, they find a relationship that’s really different. And they say that, they say this is different. I see the change. There’s a kindness here. There’s a decency and availability. There’s a seeing me and I never would’ve noticed it or appreciated it in the past like I am now. So this is exciting. And it’s like, kind of like a new land. And it’s the fruits of the beautiful work that you’ve been doing. So you feel excited. It’s a wonderful feeling. You’re excited about this new relationship, of course, but something I’ve seen in my own life and really kind of through my decades of doing this work is that often that new relationship ends up being what I call a stepping stone relationship.
We so much wanted to be it, but there’s still growing that has to happen. And this doesn’t always happen. So for those of you who have found a new, wonderful relationship, and it’s your first relationship after making these changes, it’s the first relationship that’s like good after a series of bad ones or difficult ones, please don’t think it has to be a stepping stone one because it doesn’t have to be. But something I’ve seen really often is that over time in these relationships, it becomes clear that maybe some of the old patterns are there still too strongly, that it was a step in the right direction, a huge step in the right direction, something to be grateful for, but not necessarily the one that was going to really last. Someone I know had an ending of a relationship and she felt, with her partner, you showed me the kingdom, but you don’t get to keep the crown because the relationship wasn’t quite right enough. Oral patterns come up that ended up being so difficult.
How to Find Love and Keep it Flourishing:
So there’s a discovery process. There’s a questioning process. What do I think, am I running away from healthy intimacy? Or is this relationship not right enough for me? And often in this in between space, the latter is the case. Sometimes the former is the case. But these relationships are tremendous gifts and they’re signs of our growth and development. And they’re harbingers of what’s yet to come, but it could feel really deflating and hard after putting so much into these relationships to say, well, no, this wasn’t the one, but there’s a tremendous power in being able to do that. And something I’ve seen in my intensives a lot, people will come in with that question. They’ll be in a relationship, a new one, and, or maybe not a new one, and it’ll be a relationship of inspiration in many ways, but in some major ways, it won’t be.
And they come in to wrestle with this issue. And sometimes they do the work and they land on the side of this is it. And sometimes they land on the side of this is a stepping stone relationship. Maybe our psyche and our circuitry is just not ready for the Full Monty yet, but we’re getting closer. And maybe these relationships are a plateau on our path up the mountain, and they need to be valued and treated with goodness and decency because they’re good and they’re decent. And they truly do show your progress. Maybe these people become friends, maybe at a later point, they become partners. Maybe you work it through so that a stepping stone or bridge relationship actually becomes a committed, sustainable love relationship.Often the stepping stone relationship issue is not with the other person, it's within us. Click To Tweet
And I’ll talk about that in a minute. But I remember hearing how, when people climb Mount Everest, they have to stop about halfway up because their bodies can’t tolerate the rarefied atmosphere and the lack of oxygen as they climb higher up the mountain. So they have to pause about halfway up until their red blood cell count doubles so that they can hold more oxygen at these higher altitudes. For us, sometimes these bridge relationships are where our blood cell count doubles, where our capacity for healthy love develops and grows, even if finally this isn’t going to be the one.
So I’m wondering if you’ve ever had that experience or maybe you’re having that experience now, or maybe some people close to you are having that experience. So sometimes a stepping stone relationship can be turned into a lasting relationship. And now I want to talk a little bit about some of the things that can get in the way of that because often the stepping stone relationship issue is not with the other person it’s within us and there’s steps that we need to take to accommodate to this new relationship.
For example, let’s say you’re somebody with a really deep need for authentic, warm, intimate interactions. That’s really, really important to you. Like I imagine it is for most of the people listening. And maybe you found yourself in old relationships, either being with people where you were so hungry for that kind of connection, but they weren’t really available for it. Or maybe you were with people that were hungry for that kind of relationship from you, but you weren’t really available yourself. And now you’ve done this beautiful, important work on yourself and you feel like you’re pretty available for that with an available person and the person who you’re with is available for that too. But something comes up where you don’t feel seen or honored or appreciated, or you’re just kind of like starting to share something about yourself that’s really vulnerable and it’s just not met in the way you want it to be met.
And a side note here, and this is one that I really encourage you to think about because I think it’s a really rich and important one. Often when we have a need that we feel embarrassed by, we get preemptively prickly, and we don’t share the need in a way that’s like an ask, like a vulnerable ask. Like somewhere inside, we just are so used to not getting the need met that we either don’t share it or we share it like in a passive aggressive way and it just doesn’t land well.
And this act of being able to share like that really vulnerable place where you need to be heard in a deep way, or you need someone to hold what you’re saying in a particular way, or you just need like their full attention, or there’s something big that you want to ask for, a way that you need support. Something really amazing is that when we don’t ask because of our past history of not having these kind of needs met, our psyche assumes that we’ve kind of asked and we’re being rejected.
Like our psyche assumes this to be rejection, even though we haven’t asked. It’s a self rejection, but it gets projected out as a rejection of the other person. And it’s so understandable because you may have shared this kind of thing so many times in the past and been rejected or walked on. And you just say, “I am not going to risk that again. I am not going to be stupid again, I’m not going to be hurt again.” And these are the rich, rich fears of being human.
How Self Love Attracts lasting Romantic Love:
And I’ll share with you my experience. My experience is when I have those kind of moments with my husband or with other people, but particularly it would be with my husband, when I don’t share that I’m super vulnerable and I need an environment that feels really safe, like maybe sitting on the couch or holding hands or whatever, when I don’t let him know that this is really tender and I’m going to kind of need his full attention for it, I become preemptively irritated and passive aggressive. Or I preemptively reject myself and shut the entire door to sharing this, because it’s just too vulnerable. And then the door is shut. But when I can turn that shame into an ask, when I can honor that this is a vulnerable spot for me, and I’ve got something to ask, it’s going to be a million times less burdensome for my husband. And that’s just something that’s really true.
I remember being with my best friend, it was around my 30th birthday and he was going to celebrate it with me, but he was in a kind of bad relationship. And he was really kind of emotionally not that available. And that was really hard for me because I was going to like, we were going to do my 30th birthday, just like we had done his 30th birthday. And I got really, really passive aggressive with him. And at a certain point I said to him, “This is really not okay for me.” I need you or you and your boyfriend to be with me on my 30th birthday. I was planning on it and it really matters to me. And those were the words that I was totally afraid to say. And I said them and he said, you are absolutely right. I’m sorry. But he also said, “Ken, it is so much easier for me when you really ask for what you want instead of that other way that you were being.”These relationships are signs of hope even if they don't work. Click To Tweet
And I remember that moment. I remember where I was when he said that. And I remember the relief that I felt in my heart, knowing that this kind of shame based response wasn’t going to get me very far and that it’s less burdensome for the other people if you could just kind of unabashedly ask from someplace where you’re honoring what you’re asking for. But anyway, the point that I’m raising here is that this kind of need can come up with the possibility of being met in a healthier relationship. And often we do the old behavior. We shut the person out and we assume they won’t get it preemptively and we don’t give them a chance. And that is a wisdom lesson in intimacy, is actually being able to frame our full ask. It’s a huge wisdom lesson. It’s a huge self-love lesson and it opens up doors and breaks down walls.
And when we do it, it’s scary as hell. And it takes a lot of time sometimes to work up to it. But it’s also kind of really defining because you get to see how your partner responds. And when they respond wonderfully, the relationship deepens. And that’s a time that we can really learn. Maybe if this really does have the potential to be a lasting relationship. By the way the other person responds when we kind of do a naked ask and a naked kind of sharing.
And when they respond wonderfully, we move closer to them and they’re still going be so much more learning to do to decide if this is going to be the one, but it’s one step closer. And it doesn’t happen unless we play with and experiment with our vulnerable asks, with sharing our bigness, with sharing our tenderness, with sharing our outrageousness, our fierceness. And actually when we do that, we increase like the kind of sexual and romantic charge in the relationship because of the fear and the risk of that. And when we’re caught like a trapeze artist that like flings out into space and is then caught by the other person, it builds Eros in a profound way.
And if we don’t do that act of sharing, that vulnerability of sharing our need, or showing our bigness, or our tenderness, or our brilliance, or our fierceness, or our sexual interests, when we don’t do that, we will get kind of shut down. And we’ll never know because we’ll be shut down to the possibilities. And I think that like this has also been true in COVID times for a lot of people because the stressors have been so intense that they make us regress. Like moving in together makes people regress because of the stressors, COVID makes us regress, moving makes us regress, changing jobs makes us regress. And when we’re regressed, it’s harder to activate those beautiful, resilient, muscular, tender, vulnerable, truthful, intimacy skills.
So that’s also something to be aware of in determining, is this a bridge relationship or is it one that has the legs potentially to last? Are there stressors that are making us regress? What would it be like if we didn’t have those stressors? And I often say to couples that get a place together or move in together for the first time, don’t judge the quality of your relationship by like your first three months together in the new place, because you both will probably be pretty regressed.
And then there’s the wave of distancing. And this is really, really important. It’s when someone is, you’re interested in them and they’re available and decent and present and maybe we’re not so used to decent and available and present and we start to get bored or judgmental and we want to push them away. And here’s what I want to say about that. I talk about this a ton in the podcast and all of my different kind of venues, but here’s what I want to say. I was single for decades because of the wave. It would hit and I would believe in it and I would act on it by fleeing. What I didn’t know and what a lot of us don’t know is that it is a wave and a wave hits and it slams you around. It knocks you around and then it passes. And if when this wave thing happens to you in a relationship, you cannot force yourself to be more intimate than you feel ready for. Like that doesn’t work. That suffocates us.
So you don’t pressure yourself. You take space, you notice the things that you appreciate, you lighten up and you don’t flee. And amazingly, almost always the wave will pass. Your feelings will come back for the person and they’ll come back with a clearer sense of if this person is really right for you or not. The wave is like a spasm of fear and it camouflages itself as this person isn’t really good enough for me or I wouldn’t want to become a member of any club that would have me as a member. So when you know the secret of the wave, the first thing to do I think, is to celebrate because the wave hits when someone’s available. So some of this takes so much time, and struggle, and self growth to do this work. And it’s hard. And there’s a story that I just heard that’s from the Alchemist about somebody who was trying to help a butterfly out of its cocoon because it was stuck and it couldn’t get out.
So he kind of cut the cocoon. And when the butterfly came out, it was weak. Its wings didn’t work. It couldn’t thrive, it couldn’t fly and it died. And the reason why was that the struggle to get past and through the cocoon, all that struggle ended up being what pumped fluid into the wings so that the butterfly could fly. It’s a beautiful story. And so I just want to say, if you’re going through this weird, not knowing phase in a newish relationship, I honor that so deeply and I encourage you to be both feet in until you know that either both feet in or both feet out is the right thing to do with some sense of peace, even if there’s a sense of grief as well.
These relationships are signs of growth. They are signs of hope. Even if it hurts if they don’t work, they’re signs that evolution is happening to you. And that’s really wonderful because it’s your growth and it’s the muscle and the capacity that you’re building in your wiser search for love. So even if one of these relationships doesn’t end up working, it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be sad, and it’s going to be a struggle and you might go back and forth for a really long period of time. And I support that because until you know, you don’t know. I support everyone who’s questioning in a relationship.
Beat your Craving of Junk Food Relationships:
Now I want to say if there’s abuse, real abuse, if there’s active addiction, if there’s unstabilized psychiatric disorders that are not being addressed and treated, those things need to be addressed. You could not really know if this could ever be a working relationship until those things are addressed. That’s my bias. That’s my belief about that. So both feet in until both feet out because this relationship deserves that kind of care. And that friend that I mentioned to you with that struggle around my 30th birthday, my best friend, he told me about his and his partner’s experience with a Couples Therapist. In the first session the Couples Therapist said, I am going to fight for the two of your relationship because the world conspires to separate people. Our wounding and our burdens conspire to separate us from our beloveds. So I am going to be a force to fight for your relationship. And I thought that was so beautiful.
So all of you in this situation, I just want to say it’s a big deal to get to a relationship, even if it’s a bridge or a stepping stone relationship, it’s something to be honored. And you’re to be honored and so is the other person. And you’re to be congratulated by yourself for the evolution that led you there because it probably means your field is shifting. Your alignment, your inner construction around the most authentic parts of you is shifting to a construction that is self honoring, self radiating, self-loving more deeply, and that will change your romantic future and it is already. And that’s the work, that’s the task, that’s the beautiful journey that you’re on. So I just wanted to kind of give this frame for this very particular kind of relationship experience that so many people have, and that is a harbinger of hope and growth as disconcerting as it might be. So have a wonderful week and I look forward to connecting with you on the next episode of the Deeper Dating Podcast.