The beginning of a new relationship is a great time. High on NRE, or New Relationship Energy, you feel like everything is perfect, and the other person is perfect for you. Usually little to no conflict, and the sex is amazing. What could possibly go wrong?
A lot, it turns out.
NRE is the phase in which hormones are raging and making you feel like you’re in love and in lust with this person. On average, it lasts around six months, but it can last anywhere from a couple months up to a couple of years, depending on the people involved, the type of relationship, and how often they see each other. In this time, you’re often feeling the thrill of a new romantic and sexual connection, and usually have great chemistry besides that. The majority of long-term relationships go through an NRE phase, and it’s not in and of itself a bad thing. The problem arises when some very common mistakes are made that can end up costing you the new relationship, or more.
Moving Too Fast and Early Commitments
This is by far one of the most common mistakes people make when wrapped up in NRE for the first time. Most people got through this stage in their first relationship in their teens, but seem to go through it again when they start practicing polyamory. Especially if they’re in an existing long-term relationship, it’s easy to forget what those first few months of raging hormones feels like. Because of this, it’s easy to get lost in the feeling of being head-over-heels for each other, and forget about reasonable time frames.
For example, there’s no rule that says you can’t say “I love you” a week into a new relationship, but you might want to consider what you actually mean by that. Part of moving too fast is thinking that you’ve instantly fallen in love with someone, and feeling like they’re your long lost soulmate. In truth, you’re swimming in hormones that make this person seem like the greatest person on earth, and they may well be, but you don’t actually know that yet. You have yet to meet the real person, including their flaws and scars. Even if they tell you about them, you’ve yet to see it for yourself.
Similarly, you don’t want to make promises you probably can’t actually guarantee that you can keep. Don’t promise your new partner that they can move in soon (especially if you already live with a partner that would need to consent to this as well). It seems like a great idea, especially if money is tight and you can justify it with that. But more often than not, it’s a recipe for disaster. You can be great partners for each other, but could make terrible roommates. Don’t assume that relationship compatibility means that you’re compatible for sharing a living space. Also, consider that you still don’t know if your relationship is actually compatible until the NRE has blown over.
Generally, my rule of thumb is to not make any big decisions for the first six months of a relationship. “Big decisions” is a broad and fuzzy term, but I have set further guidelines for myself. I don’t make permanent decisions regarding a relationship, or make long-term commitments, for the first six months. This especially includes financial and material commitments that entangle you together in a way that could make you feel obligated. From moving in together to sharing a cell phone plan, these are things that make it messy if you want to take a step back, even if you don’t want to break up.
Making It All About the Sex
Conversely, some people go in the opposite direction and make it all about the sex. Good sex is great and all, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be compatible life partners. Take all aspects of the relationship into consideration, not just sexual chemistry. There are many other areas of compatibility to consider – moral, political, life goals, whether you want to ride the relationship escalator, and so much more. Having a relationship that’s only sexual can still be fun, but don’t mistake that for overall compatibility.
Making Agreements You Can’t Keep
A lot of the time, newly poly people decide on rules that aren’t realistic, or are even problematic. When you’re starting out a new relationship, it can be easy to agree to rules without thinking them through, or even thinking that you’ll get them to change later. Never agree to something in the hopes that you can convince the other person otherwise later, that’s deceptive at best. Even if you think that you’re completely fine with the rules, take time to think them through and think of the actual consequences. If the rule is that you can’t spend the night with your new partner, are you prepared to truly never spend the night with them, or are you hoping that rule will change over time?
Another thing to consider is agreements you’ve made with your existing partners. Don’t break rules just because you want to, and don’t violate your partner’s boundaries. Especially consider agreements you’ve made about how much you’ll communicate about the new relationship with your partner. Don’t agree to overshare, but also trust that your partner wants to hear what they said they want to hear. Don’t hide things in order to protect their feelings. Keep safer sex agreements in mind, especially if you’re having unbarriered sex with anyone. And again, don’t make rules you want to break.
Letting Jealousy Take the Wheel
Jealousy and envy can be strongest during NRE. Because of this, it’s extremely important to keep on top of it, and not to let it take over. It’s also very easy to conflate jealousy with caring, especially with the way popular culture treats it, but the two couldn’t be farther from each other. There are a few ways to combat jealousy and envy, but the short version is that you need to be extremely introspective to figure out what exactly the jealousy trigger is telling you, because nine times out of ten, the trigger itself isn’t the problem. Often the basis is an insecurity or fear of loss, and that’s something to be dealt with individually, though your partner can help with support and reassurance.
Ignoring or Neglecting Existing Relationships
When you’re in a shiny new relationship, other relationships can feel or look dull in comparison. It’s extremely important not to neglect these existing relationships just because you have someone new. You have history and connections with these other people that shouldn’t be thrown away. Those relationships will likely still be there after the NRE fades (if you don’t make all of these mistakes), and you don’t want to try to patch things up when you realize you’ve been neglecting them for months.
Also, consider that this means friend and family relationships as well. You can’t neglect those, even if the romance or sex is more enticing. You don’t want to disappear for months only to come back and assume that everything will be the same, because it won’t. This can especially be a problem if you’re not out as poly to these friends and family, and they could get worried if you’ve suddenly fallen off the face of the earth.
Ending Existing Relationships
Going a step further, some people will end their existing relationships because they look less exciting compared to the shiny new relationship. Sometimes, relationships do need to end, but more often than not when someone is deep within NRE, they’re not able to make a fair evaluation of where their existing relationship fits in their life compared to the shiny new one. Maybe there’s less sex, maybe the passion isn’t there, maybe you don’t text every single day. Those things can add up and if you do have all those things in the new relationship, it can be hard to look at the old relationship fairly.
This falls under my “no big decisions” rule as well. I don’t end relationships when I’m in the throes of a new one unless there are clear signs that I should, like abuse or manipulation.
Ignoring Red Flags and Abuse
This is an extremely common problem in any type of relationship. Abusers take advantage of the NRE period to make you more connected to them, so that you will ignore abuse and red flags. This isn’t true of all NRE, of course, or even most, but it’s common enough that I need to share a word of caution.
One advantage of polyamory is that you often have multiple people that are close enough to you to observe your relationships and raise concerns if they have them. Don’t dismiss your partners’ concerns as just jealousy. Take time to examine the concerns and see if they have a basis in what’s going on, or if they may be influenced by jealousy, or both.
Coming Out Too Soon
On another note, people tend to want to share what makes them happy. That’s just the way we work, but this can be a problem when it comes to new relationships. This is both a new-to-poly thing and an NRE thing. When you’re so happy in your new relationship, you want everyone to know. That’s fair! But you also have to keep in mind that coming out as poly isn’t always warmly received. Not everyone will share your happiness and some people will be downright aggressive about their disapproval. You should plan on coming out to friends and family at your own pace, and though it can be hard to keep a new relationship secret, it may pay off in the long run for your relationship’s health. Instead, try to find a local or online poly community that you can share your joy with, so that people that understand will be able to listen.
Poly Evangelism and Thinking Polyamory is the Solution to Everything
Poly evangelism is another related problem. If you’re so happy polyamorous, why wouldn’t everyone be? Well, not everyone can be, for various reasons. Some people are just wired for monogamy, and even some people that might be wired for polyamory may be in a relationship with someone wired for monogamy.
It’s easy to feel like polyamory is the solution to every relationship problem, but it really, really is not. Polyamory is not a solution to any problem, actually. If your relationship is in trouble, you don’t want to add more complexity to it by opening it up. “Relationship broken? Add more people!” is a sarcastic mantra given by seasoned poly people, and for good reason; the more people that are involved, the more complicated any problem will be. If you’re opening up a relationship, it should be in a healthy place to work off of before you start adding the exponential complexity of other people.
Thinking The NRE Will Last
This is one that’s guaranteed to be false. Sure, some people move in together after knowing each other for a month and live happily ever after. Maybe they did find their soulmate. It’s rare, but it happens. But NRE never lasts. It’s based off of hormones and other brain chemicals, and it wears off eventually, whether you want it to or not.
This isn’t to say that you won’t be happy in your relationship after the NRE wears off. Far from it – I’m generally happier in my relationships after six months (or longer) because I’m more confident in the direction that relationship is going, and how close and compatible we actually are. Long-term happiness doesn’t come from the intense feelings, that would be exhausting.
Thinking You Need to Find a Partner for Your Partner
If your partner is sad, anxious, or jealous about your new partnership, it can be easy to feel like you need to make things fair. It’s important to remember that fair doesn’t mean equal, and trying to find a partner for the sake of having a partner is a bad time for everyone involved. Even if your partner thinks it’s your job to do this, it very much is not, and it will only end up hurting everyone in the end.
Lastly, if you’re afraid of all the mistakes above, you might make another common one: Fighting against NRE and not being willing to enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun! It’s a feeling you’re meant to enjoy. Just because there are common mistakes, it doesn’t mean that you have to make them. Keep the warnings in mind, and enjoy the feelings. The first part of a relationship feels great, and you should take advantage of this.