There’s nothing quite like the beginning of a relationship.
You’re smitten as a kitten and about as terrified as a mouse all at the same time. Do they like you as much as you like them? Do you even like them or are they just tall? No, no. You definitely like them. Ok, but is it going anywhere? And if it is, are you ready for that? Are you? ARE YOU????
While, yes, you are probably ready for this next phase of your life, there are things you need to remember in the beginning of a relationship no matter what. This might be brand new territory for you, or it might be your seventh relationship this year. Regardless, it’s prudent to keep in mind a few pointers that will keep this relationship in a happy state for as long as possible.
1. CREATE HEALTHY PATTERNS EARLY AND OFTEN
The first six months of a relationship can arguably be the most important months outta the whole enchilada – but not for the reasons you might think. Of course this phase is typically when you’re meeting each others’ friends, parents, and family. It’s also when you’re sharing your first kiss and first date, when you see each other’s apartments for the first time (that can be scary, just FYI) and it’s most likely when you realize that this could be your person for the foreseeable future. It’s all very exciting.
But it’s also exceptionally crucial for setting the tone for the rest of your “firsts.”
The beginning phase of any relationship is full of both of you subconsciously (or even consciously) setting the patterns and boundaries that will define your union in the months or years to come. And once those patterns are set, it’s really difficult to change them out.
It’s critical to be mindful of the dynamics you are setting when you are still getting to know someone. You can easily fall into patterns that you didn’t think would be permanent – or worse – that you didn’t even agree to in the first place. These patterns can be as harmless and doing certain favors for each other – e.g. one partner always doing the laundry while the other always cooks. That particular pattern may be exactly what works for the relationship. But let’s say one partner is too afraid to admit that they hate doing laundry and they only did it as a favor that ONE TIME to be nice. But somehow…six months later…it’s expected.
Changing it up now would be weird! You’ve been doing laundry for SIX WHOLE MONTHS – so now you’re basically a liar if you admit that you hate it way down the line! And I mean come on, you don’t want to be a bitch about it.
And *that’s* where we get ourselves into trouble. Y’all, this is a small pattern that is easier to break than others. Think about the power imbalances, social habits, time division, and any other critical element in your relationship that could be off balance if you don’t watch it carefully. It’s easy to get into a lopsided situation if you’re trying to impress each other early on. So be mindful of your values. Don’t bend over backwards doing something out of the ordinary, because it could easily turn into the relationship norm if you don’t correct it quickly.
Stick to doing nice things for others when it also makes you happy.
This will decrease any frustrations and increase a charitable nature between you two. And, above all else, communicate EARLY and OFTEN. You do not need to hold back your voice because you are afraid of sounding inconsiderate or demanding. It will save you and your relationship from feelings of resentment, bitterness, and burn out. Which brings me to my next point…
2. BE HONEST ABOUT DEAL BREAKERS
Ok so before we get into communicating deal breakers, there’s something we gotta cover.
I’m comin at ya hot: DEAL BREAKERS AND ULTIMATUMS ARE NOT THE SAME THING.
However they are supes easy to get confused. So let’s go over them.
Ultimatum: “a final demand or statement of terms, the rejection of which will result in retaliation or a breakdown in relations.”
Otherwise known as, if you don’t do what I say I am going to burn your whole world to the ground and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Dealbreaker: “a factor or issue that, if unresolved during negotiations, would cause one party to withdraw from a deal.”
Otherwise known as, if you don’t agree with something I really need, I cannot continue forward.
One has *manipulation* smeared all over it, and the other is full of honesty and authenticity. There is a major difference between you saying, “If you don’t propose to me by the end of the year I am breaking up with your stupid ass so you better march your dumb self over to Tiffany’s and get this show on the road” and “Marriage is important to me. If you do not hold marriage at the same priority level as I do, this might not be the best relationship for either of us. We want different things.”
One is a threat, and the other is a conversation.
And, if you are a human being, you are probably going to arrive at a situation in your new fun-loving relationship where knowing the difference between these two will help you out significantly. Of course, it might not have to do with marriage at all, but it might have to do with professions. Or finances. Or location. Or family. Or friends. Or social activities. Or pretty much any other thing you can think of. And you might clam up and not speak your truth because you’re afraid by doing so you are presenting an ultimatum and you’ve learned that those hardly ever work out. So instead you keep silent and hope everything goes away on its own but your soul dies a little every time said topic comes up.
Instead, learn to talk about your deal breakers in a healthy manner. Discuss how quality time is important to you and you truly need it in order to sustain a connection in your relationship. Get the courage to talk about your expected timeline for marriage and babies (or lack thereof). And definitely do not hold back when it comes to religion or finances. Sharing your values does not mean you are threatening the relationship. And the earlier you can get these “oh no-no’s” out in the open, the sooner you can decide if this relationship is worth putting your time and effort into.
3. WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET
Everyone knows that we’re all on our bestest behavior in the early stages of a relationship. But while some might consider big milestones to be meeting the parents or traveling together, I like to look for the “oh crap” moments.
When you start being yourself and forget that you’re trying to impress someone.
Like when you order an entire pizza and stop feigning the to-go box routine (Girl you know you’re gon eat that whole thing – don’t even play).
Or when you accidentally let a little toot out and you don’t run to the nearest airport.
Or when you snap out of irritability and forget that you’ve told him you’re SUCH a positive person, and like, NEVER have bad days.
Or when you own up to hating baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse, rugby, soccer, and any other kind of sport that involves a ball.
That’s what I like to focus on.
Because in those moments, you’re finally seeing the real them. And you’re finally seeing the real you. The question is, do these two people match up together?
If you are not loving a lot of the fundamentals of your significant other in the early stages of the relationship, things are not going to get much better. There are always “growing pains” in every relationship – you are learning how to share your time, space, feelings, and thoughts with another human being and that’s rarely seamless. But if you are seeing qualities that give you pause, explore them. This is the time when both of you are pushing your best selves forward, so any hint of smoke NOW could end up being the start of arson later.
Do your due diligence and listen to your gut. If something seems off now, I can almost guarantee you’re right.
4. DITCH GAMES ASAP
Admit it: you have played games in a relationship before. All of us have.
And while I absolutely loathe game playing when the object of the sport is another HUMAN BEING, I kind of get it.
Dating prompts anxiety. Dating prompts insecurity. Dating prompts a lot of self-doubt. We’re putting ourselves out there with such vulnerability, so our defense mechanisms are charging to the frontline ready to protect our fragile egos. We build desire for ourselves by not answering right away or by acting uninterested. We make sure they know that they don’t mean anything to us (lie) and that we weren’t looking for anything serious, anyway (another lie).
But when we actually start a full blown RELATIONSHIP with somebody – oh, man. Our defense mechanisms go bananas. They are telling us to do everything.in.our.power. to hold on as tightly as we possibly can! We found a human who likes us! This is magical! DON’T BE DESPERATE DON’T BE CLINGY DON’T LET THEM KNOW YOU’RE THAT INTO THEM BE COOL OK?
And thus begins the self-sabotage.
If you genuinely want an authentic relationship, you’re going to have to put those games on the shelf and just be yourself. Games attract other game-players. They instill a culture of deception and a floor of eggshells until one of you breaks. Because trust me, one of you will break. Games are not meant to be permanent; they are meant to hook someone. And ideally, once someone is deeply hooked, they’ll stay even when you’ve left your games behind.
But do those relationships actually work?
Not in my experience. And not in most of my clients’ experiences, either.
You cannot keep up your games forever. At some point you’re going to want the freedom and flexibility to answer a text in a timely manner. You’re going to want to know if you actually have plans on Friday night. You’re going to be exhausted from thinking of clever comebacks. It’s. Not. Sustainable.
Plus now you’re intertwined with someone who actually LIKES that behavior from you! And the second you stop that behavior, the game is over, and you have to start all over.
So leave the games behind. Just be yourself. If someone doesn’t like the fact that you don’t throw your phone into the toilet after receiving a text and then fish it out five days later to respond, then for the love, move on. We have way too many marketing tactics thrown at us everyday, can’t our relationships be the one pure thing we have left? Put your vulnerable self out there and do what feels authentic, and in return, you’ll attract someone who has also benched their games.
5. BE VULNERABLE
Ah, the mother of all wisdom.
Vulnerability. Brené Brown’s claim to fame (love her). This is where all the good stuff comes from. And this is where you need to make yourself comfortable.
Being vulnerable is the life source of your relationship happiness. It’s also scary AF.
In order to be vulnerable, you have to 1) consider yourself worthy of love, 2) forgive yourself for any imperfections, and 3) overcome your fear of rejection by opening up those imperfections to another human. Your partner can’t truly know who you are until you accomplish those three things – and it’s a process.
Practicing vulnerability early on in relationships will build security and resilience for future obstacles together. You will have to be honest with yourself and honest with them. You will have to face parts of yourself that you really didn’t to deal with and have been avoiding for quite some time. It requires strength to then uncover those dark sides of yourself and present them to a person you like, and maybe love.
What if they run away? What if they reject you? What if it’s a deal breaker?
I can’t guarantee it will go smoothly every time.
But I can say this for sure: you are not a deal breaker.
You will always be worthy of love, and there are plenty of people out there who would feel honored to be with you. But you can’t know who those special people are until you share yourself with them. It takes trial and error, practice, and a shit ton of work, but it’s worth it.