How do we open our minds and our hearts to willingly let someone new into our romantic lives? How do we know if the person we choose is actually genuine, loving, and respectful? How can we assure ourselves that we won’t get hurt?
Well, we can’t. I decided to write this blog after many discussions regarding the uncertainty and fear of starting a new relationship. Many of my patients come in anxiously waiting to hear that things will be “just fine”, but unfortunately this is not the answer that they often get. Instead, we explore how much control we hold in relationships and conclude that we only have control of ourselves. In order to begin this process you have to start by being honest with yourself, acknowledging your wants and needs, so that you can have a foundation off of which to build a relationship. Here are some tips to think about and explore as you are starting a new relationship.
1. Recognize what type of commitment you are willing to invest in.
- Casual sex: This is the type of sex that stays in the bedroom only – no outings. You are satisfying each other’s sexual wants and that’s it! It is extremely important not to start a sexual relationship hoping that it becomes an emotional/intimate relationship. It does not work!
- Sex and outings but no tomorrow: This type of relationship goes beyond sex, but it is important to gain some clarity in regards to what each one of you wants and is willing to accept. If this is just labeled as “friends with benefits,” you can’t hold this relationship to higher standards.
- Open – nonexclusive relationships: This is the type of man or woman that can’t have just one! You may feel a higher level of emotional and sexual intimacy, having met others in their lives, such as friends and family, going out on frequent dates, generally experiencing what one considers a stable relationship. However, you both understand that there is no monogamy in your relationship. Your other is not ready for any time of exclusive commitment and wants to have the capacity to sleep around without requiring any further explanation. It is not your job to figure out why that is the case or to work over time to try and change how they feel. If you are comfortable hearing or knowing about other women or men, then most likely you are not ready for an exclusive relationship either. If it bothers you, recognize it and get out!
- Exclusive dating: This is the type of relationship where you discover certain clarity that you are both ready to invest in a monogamous relationship. Notice that I used the word “invest,” this basically means that you are both interested and curious and want to know more about the other
2. Know what you want as much as you know what you DON’T want!!
- It is important to be emotionally dependent on yourself, know what you want on an emotional level, and be honest with yourself so that you can communicate and be honest to the other person. Think about the things that you can tolerate or things that you are willing to work through. Also, be mindful of what you would consider unacceptable for you in a relationship. This will take some self-exploration and awareness. Often, we begin relationships expecting that our partner is aware of what we want, but how could they know? Unless we provide them with the information, they will not know how to proceed.
3. Slow and steady
- Emotionally: It is very exciting to start a new relationship and emotions may peak and flow quickly and suddenly. Sit with these emotions, observe them, and label them. We often act with our emotional mind and end up in a roller-coaster, expecting for the other to go along for the ride. Think about the sources of these emotions, be aware of associations that are influenced by past relationships, and ride with caution
- Intimately: A common mistake that we make in relationships is equating sex with intimacy. Intimacy comes in many forms, verbal, physical, emotional. Define what intimacy means to you and notice when it is happening in your relationship. Avoid using sex as the only means of finding intimacy with your partner.
- How much you share about yourself: When meeting someone new, our desire to connect can take priority over the actual connection. Though most of us find different ways to connect with each other, at times, we tend to think that if someone knows everything about you, they will be able to connect with the “real” you. I have heard, time and time again, I hear about oversharing. This can happen via email, face to face conversations, texting, etc. Ask yourself what is the purpose of my sharing this information? Am I looking for approval? Validation? Or do I want them to accept me and consider me the “perfect” person? Saying too much all at once can be off-putting, and take away from the excitement and curiosity that is part of getting to know one another.
- Social media: Nowadays with a click of a button you can find out 10 years worth of information! Sit with that for a minute, think about the times when you looked at the other person’s Facebook and found out more than you wanted to know. Think about how your mind was bombarded with questions that you can’t exactly ask because you will be labeled a “stalker.” So why do it? Is it that our anxious mind wants to know all the answers before we even invest in the relationship? My suggestion is to hold off on social media, let the curiosity of getting to know one another be an integral part of the relationship. Having an overload of information might cater to inaccurate assumptions about the other person. You might also run into previous relationships, consequently unhealthy comparisons might rise, and this can result in increased anxiety.
4. Avoid rationalizing or justifying the other person’s behavior in order to fit your idea of a “perfect” relationship.
- The idea of having someone to share your life with is full of wonderful possibilities. However, it is important to be aware of who you are doing this with. Re-visit your values and identify what you want from a companion. If respect, loyalty, and consistency are important to you, make sure that they are setting the basis for your relationship. If your new mate shows a lack of respect early on, question it! Avoid justifying his or her actions. A good predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so be mindful of what you want and always advocate for yourself!
5. Don’t sit with assumptions, JUST ASK!!!
- In my work with individuals and couples, I have discovered that assumptions contribute to a significant amount of conflict in relationships. We tend to make our own predictions based on the others person tone of voice, nonverbal communication, sudden associations with past experiences, or our own misinterpretations. It is important to test the evidence right then and there, talking openly about it with your other. Ask yourself what would I tell my friend if she/he told me this same scenario. This may help you think more flexibly about what is going on. More importantly, why not just ask your partner? Isn’t this part of what getting to know someone actually entails?
- Remember that the trusting relationship starts with you! Avoid being a passive part of your interaction, and recognize that being honest with you involves being active in creating a relationship that satisfies you.