There is so much information out there about marriage, breaks-ups, divorce and being single. But what about the first stages of a new relationship? You know that all-consuming, falling-in-love phase when you’ve committed to seeing one another, deleted the dating apps (hopefully) and may have even said the “L” word?
It’s no surprise that a new relationship is fraught with both excitement and uncertainty. If you look back on the early stages of your relationship, you may find yourself dramatically uttering, “It was the best of times” or “it was the worst of times”. If you’re finding this rollercoaster of Charles Dickens quotes all too much, read on to find out how to navigate the early stages of your relationship.
Your partner is not a mind reader
How many times have you sat with a friend who is complaining about their partner not “understanding them” or saying “they should just know how I feel”? We’ve all been guilty of that, but the reality is no one can know what you’re thinking at all times. Unless you tell them, your partner can’t know how you like to be spoken to, what makes you feel good or how you like to be loved. It’s different for everyone. Expecting someone to guess what you need and want is a sure-fire way for them to stuff it up. Being clear about what you think, feel and want is not unromantic. It will make your life so much easier.
Some people want help cleaning their car out, some want love notes left around, while others just want to sit and binge-watch Netflix with you. You can’t know these things unless you ask.
Sit down with your partner early on and figure out what your “love language” is. Dr Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, says, “The best way to start building relationship health is to better understand yourself.” Have a conversation about why certain things are important to you. Doing so will avoid pointless arguments and hurt feelings.
Getting to know yourself
Understanding who you are is essential to forming a strong, healthy relationship. When you’re first dating someone or setting up an online-dating profile, you tend to emphasise what you desire in the other person. But what about you? What do you bring to the relationship? This is beyond talking about your job or travelling adventures. It’s about really knowing all of who you are, including what you’re proud of what you’d like to work on.
Maybe you have baggage from a previous relationship or perhaps you have an idea of how a relationship should be. Spend some time reflecting on past relationships and any expectations you might have for your current or next relationship. Communicate clearly to your partner. Being more aware of how you react in certain situations (and why) will help you be a better partner.
Getting to know your partner
Isn’t it so wonderful when you’re in your little love bubble? Maybe you’ve been dating a few months, hand-in-hand strolling to dinner and then you bump into someone your partner “used to have a thing with”. The love bubble might briefly burst.
In the first stages of committed dating, you have assumed the role of “most important person” in your partner’s life and yet you’re still in the “getting to know you” phase. It’s weird, right? As you transition to having an identity as a couple, it’s very normal and very likely you will sometimes feel awkward about this. Being in this phase is filled with both incredible excitement and incredible uncertainty. The promise of being closer to this person is exhilarating and yet you still don’t know when their mum’s birthday is. It’s a strange time and one that may even make you feel a little intimidated or threatened as other people around you may know your partner better than you do right now. Simply allow space for these feelings to be there and don’t take them as a sign that something is wrong. Keep getting to know your partner; the awkwardness will pass.
Figuring out what is and isn’t okay
Have you ever been in an argument with a partner and said the words, “I can’t believe you did that” or “How could you think that was okay?” When this happens, it usually means that you and your partner haven’t had a clear conversation about what is and isn’t okay by you. Sure, some people will do what they want anyway, but often a simple chat about this can save a lot of heartache.
In her book Rising Strong, Dr Brené Brown says, “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”
Sitting down and having this conversation with a partner when you’re in a new relationship is awkward and will probably wrack your nerves, but everyone has different versions of what is and isn’t okay.
Is it okay with you if your partner is friends with an ex? For some people, that would be an absolute no-no, while others may not bat an eyelid. Or perhaps you need to talk about how much time you and your partner spend together? Or who pays for what? Defining things in terms of what is and isn’t okay can be a clarifying exercise because it helps you understand what’s important to you (and your partner) – and can help you build a strong foundation for a successful future together.