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The Three Month Probation


“I always gave a relationship three months. After that, I knew whether it was going somewhere or not.”

These words ring in my ears as if it were yesterday. I was in college, working part-time after classes. My boss and I exchanged witty tidbits in the evenings and she shared insights about how she achieved her happy marriage and family.

This one caught me off guard, though. Three months? That seemed rather arbitrary to make an evaluation on a relationship—was it too short? Was it too long? I must admit, I was skeptical.

Fast forward a few years. I find myself holding a book that would cause blatant stares in a subway car, for good reason: How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk. (Nevermind the circumstances surrounding how I came to own or read this book for now.) In it, psychologist Dr. John Van Epp made the case that the real tone and behavioral patterns of any new relationship begin to emerge after 90 days.

What’s that? Three months? My old boss' theory just got a lot more intriguing.

Dr. Van Epp posits that after 90 days, the walls and masks that people wear initially begin to come down. At this time, the patterns of interaction become apparent. It is these patterns that offer a clue about the health of a relationship, beyond the rose-colored glasses we can put on when a relationship is beginning.

In my experience, a healthy relationship provides an opportunity to build and foster authentic intimacy. This is more than a search for a connection, and goes beyond the rapid-fire exchange of facts, vollied back and forth like a ping pong ball; intimacy is a result of knowledge between persons, rooted in shared experiences. These can only occur over a process of time to develop real understanding and closeness.

So while I thought the three month theory was a guideline worth overlooking, now I remind myself of the childhood story about the tortoise and the hare: “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Take some time. Think about it.