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The Three Gears of a Relationship

Like driving, relating has gear-like phases. To move ahead smoothly together, we need to learn to sense when each gear is needed. If we fail to do so, our relationship will stall or, worse yet, come to a screeching halt which, sadly, can devastate lives and careers. Relationships start in 1st Gear: We begin slowly getting to know each other; spending leisurely hours to learn what we each like and don’t like; what we each want and don’t want so that hopefully we can become good friends, or even mates. We’re eager to spend time together, to experience things together and dream about future possibilities. For months we’ve been so obsessed with each other that “the regulars” in our lives, the people we usually socialize with, have called and left messages to see if they did something to upset us, if we’ve moved out of town or fallen off the planet. Where exactly have we been? We’ve been in the preoccupying, all-absorbing, all-time-consuming 1st Gear of a Relationship! (Thankfully relationships don’t stay in 1st Gear all the time. We’d never get anything else done.) Once committed, we shift into 2nd Gear, de-focus on each other and re-focus on the rest of our lives… projects, deadlines, promotions, appraisals, bonuses. We make time to straighten our homes, and reconnect with friends. Productive and competitive again, we work long and hard to plan our wedding and pay for it, to rent an apartment or buy a home and furnish it, to move in together, to plan for children, fund IRAs or 401Ks, buy stocks and put away money for our life together. We’re accomplishing so much together! Or are we? No, now we’re accomplishing more and more apart… taking care of our new home, maybe raising our family, taking on greater responsibilities at work and in our communities, dropping kids off and picking them up from daycare and school, babysitting for each other so we can attend meetings or take clients out to dinner separately, developing new friends in new circles. We’re doing more and more separately so we have less and less in common. Division of labor is what we call it but loneliness is what it feels like from time to time. And what about our plans and dreams, the unique contributions we want to make? There’s no time or energy left for them now. Increasing pressure, longer hours, arguments, disappointments, heartache and blame… until we reach a pivotal point… the choice to shift to 3rd Gear - creativity and renewal together, or not! Do we still love each other? Should we stay together? Or should we part ways and find someone we’ll have more in common with now? (Ironic, isn’t it… all relationships shift up and down through the same three gears. So if we start in 1st Gear again with someone new, sooner or later we’ll end up in high 2nd Gear in that relationship too - at the same decision point. Here are the questions we need to ask ourselves: Do we begrudgingly stay together and move into anger and disappointment? Do we divorce and start over again with someone new? Or do we shift into 3rd Gear together and find solutions? Honey, we love each other dearly, what can we do to re-create our relationship? To make time to talk for hours again like “the good ole days”, to get to know each other again, to plan and dream again. Can we find a regular sitter and set up a date night? Or take a class or start a project we can enjoy and share? A quick review of the gears: 1st Gear is for starting to learn about each other. 2nd Gear is for getting things done, for making money and being productive. 3rd Gear is for dreaming, for creating and innovating, for renewing, redreaming and recreating. Yes, from time to time we’ll be in the same gear at the same time… learning together, producing together, or creating together. But sometimes we won’t and there will be Mis-Gear-Matches, or Upsets. It’s essential for us to not only recognize which gear we’re in, but which gear our partner is in too. Now that we know more about the Three Gears of a Relationship and when each is needed, it’s time for us to begin shifting up and down, at the right time, so we can have more fun and romance!

About Susan Ford Collins

Susan Ford Collins is a sought-after speaker, trainer, and the founder of The Technology of Success. She began her career as a young researcher at the National Institutes of Health with a radical idea: to focus her research on healthy, highly successful people (HSPs) rather than dysfunctional ones. With more than two decades studying HSPs and two additional decades working with them, she now shares what she has learned about leadership and management. Susan and her husband live happily in their tropical Miami home, surrounded by lush gardens, koi ponds and an indoor/outdoor aviary filled with exotic finches. Find Susan at


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