Five stages of mentoring relationship development: Stage 4 – Decline and dissolution

Decline and dissolution is the fourth stage of a mentoring relationship between the mentor and mentee.

This series from Michigan State University Extension explores the five stages of relationship development in mentor-mentee matches. All matches will eventually reach the decline and dissolution stage. Unlike most relationships in life, people enter a formal mentoring relationship knowing that it will come to an end. The goal in mentoring is for the relationship to last a minimum amount of time, usually one year or one school year. Sometimes matches last longer, and sometimes they end sooner than desired. Premature closure can happen for a variety of reasons, both internal and external to the match. Regardless of when or why closure occurs, it is important for all parties to work towards a positive and healthy closure.

Talking about closure from the beginning of the match helps prepare youth for the inevitable closing of the formal relationship. Program staff will share the expected length of the relationship when the match is introduced. It is wise to talk about closure on occasion throughout the match. Youth handle closure best when they know it will come, have some notice and when they do not feel responsible. Often times, mentors who need to close a match will wait too long to let the program staff, parent and mentee know. It is understandable – it can be difficult to admit when you are not fulfilling a commitment, particularly when you care about the people involved. Unfortunately, this can lead to a sudden and abrupt closure which is the most damaging way to end a match.

Whether the closure is occurring within the expected time period or premature, there are things that can be done to make it positive.

  • Communicate early and often with program staff. Staff members can help you develop a plan and will have a variety of ideas to share.
  • When possible, allow closure to be a process that lasts for a few weeks to a few months. By picking a date, everyone involved can begin planning. Having multiple visits after the date is set allows the mentor and mentee to celebrate their successes and grieve the closing of the match together.
  • Do not mistake children and teens for mini-adults. What is obvious to an adult might not be obvious to a mentee. If a match is closing early, it is important to explain why and ease concerns that the young person is at fault.
  • Whenever possible, plan a celebration for the final formal match meeting. What is done isn’t as important as doing something that will be special for the mentee and mentor. Include some time to reminisce and laugh.

The final stage of the relationship is redefinition. The final article in this series will address this stage where the mentor and mentee determine what is next after the formal relationship.

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