Relationship model teaches trust before touch

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Dating isn’t always easy, and often people wish they had a guide they could follow to help them through the difficulties.

Megan Thorley, family life educator at USU, teaches a relationship class called “How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk or Jerkette,” which acts as one such relationship guide.

The class teaches that healthy relationships follow the Relationship Attachment Model, which focuses on five bonding areas: know, trust, rely, commit and touch.

“The RAM shows that there is a logic to love,” Thorley said. “As you get to know someone, you can start to trust them. As they prove they are trustworthy, then you invest more into the relationship and start to rely on your partner and the relationship a little more. Once you are able to rely on your partner, then you can become more committed and add romantic touch.”

Thorley explains that there are two rules that go along with this: 1) Each area should be reciprocal, and 2) Stay in the safe zone.

Megan Thorley teaches students about the Relationship Attachment Model during one of her classes to help students make better dating choices. (Courtesy Megan Thorley)
Megan Thorley teaches students about the Relationship Attachment Model during one of her classes to help students make better dating choices. (Courtesy Megan Thorley)

“The safe zone is where no level is higher than the one that comes before it,” Thorley said. “You shouldn’t touch more than you are committed; you shouldn’t commit more than you rely; you shouldn’t rely more than you trust, and you shouldn’t trust more than you know.”

According to Thorley, partners are in an unhealthy relationship when any area is higher than the one that comes before it. Then they have left the safe zone and become more open to being hurt, having regrets and overlooking problem areas in their relationship.

“People put their best self forward in dating,” Thorley said. “They hide the bad and emphasize the good. It takes three months for many subtle but serious patterns or behaviors to begin to surface. This doesn’t mean that after three months it is safe to get married; it just means that it takes at least three months to really start to see the red flags.”

The biggest mistake Thorley said she sees people make is giving too much too soon, especially when it comes to trust, commitment, reliance and touch.

“You wouldn’t trust a stranger with your money, yet people trust an important part of themselves with the people they date,” Thorley said. “You open up, become attached and sometimes share personal things without knowing how your partner will respond. You depend on your partner, or the relationship itself, to make you happy or to fix your problems. You get caught up in the romantic touch, you enjoy the hugs, kisses, companionship.”

Thorley warned that once people get physically close to each other, it becomes difficult to make logical decisions about whether or not their partner is actually right for them. Talking is the most important aspect to having and maintaining a healthy, positive relationship.

“Talk about anything and everything,” Thorley said. “Learn as much as you can about your partner. Take the time to see your partner in many different situations and give the relationship enough time to see patterns. People have bad days and do silly things, but pay attention to see if this behavior appears over and over again.”

Natalie Haines, a BYU student studying musical performance, knows the model and said she believes it is a good idea and relates it to a card analogy her dad taught her.

“Lower cards are like getting to know a guy, hand holding, etc., … and your higher cards are like kissing, making out, getting intimate, etc.,” Haines said. “You have to play your cards in order, otherwise you’ll lose. And, if you play out all your high cards at once, you force people to fold.”

Haines said she feels this advice is important because it has kept her from becoming vulnerable in her relationships and helped her avoid bad breakups.

Caroline Chauncey’s bishop introduced her to the model one Sunday during her ward morality lesson. Since then she has used the relationship model to help her judge her relationships and decide whether they are following the healthy track or not.

“The RAM system is the best,” Chauncey said. “Right now, with my current guy, I’m probably at the know and trust stages, so it would be stupid for me to mack face with him. (But) because I really care about him, I have to go through the system and realize I need to develop friendship first before I hook up.”

With her success using the model, Chauncey said she definitely thinks the classes are something she would benefit from attending. Since learning about this model, Chauncey has come to the realization that she might have damaged some past relationships by jumping to later steps too early.

“It’s helped me realize that intimacy is different for guys and girls,” Chauncey said. “Guys are all about the touch, and girls are all about the dating, time-spending experience. I used to think you could get to know someone on the first date, but now I know you can’t. I’m always sharing this with my friends. It’s something that I wish I had known before ruining some of my past relationships.”

To learn more about the RAM relationship model.

Take a quiz to find out if your relationship is healthy.

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