We often spend so much time and energy working on finding someone to date that once we get into a relationship, we want to just sit back and bask in the glow. Although we know relationships take work, we don’t necessarily want to map that knowledge onto our lives at this exact moment; we want to continue enjoying the new relationship energy and the honeymoon period of the first few months. While this is a very reasonable human desire, the fact is that the first few months of a relationship are also key times to set precedents and expectations that will keep it healthy and strong when the honeymoon period ends. Here are some of the practices you can maintain even in the early days of a relationship to set you, your partner, and your relationship up for success.
Say no early and often
This one sounds counterintuitive, but can be life-changing in practice. At the outset of relationships, and when we’re crazy about a new person (especially if we’re worried we like them more than they like us), we want to say yes to everything. In many instances, this is a positive instinct and can open us up to the exciting new kinds of growth and development that are possible in a healthy relationship. Saying yes to a new hobby, new levels of emotional intimacy or new relationship patterns can all be really positive, and you don’t need to close yourself off to them.
However, those things are healthy and positive specifically when they’re in the context of a healthy and secure relationship — and a healthy and secure relationship is one where it’s safe to say no. The best way to ensure that you’re in one is to make sure you are saying no – even at the early stages when you want very badly not to ever come across as ‘difficult.’ Most of us have been conditioned to have a hard time saying no ever; your most intimate relationships are a place where you should be able to. To address this, make a point of saying hard and soft nos regularly.
- “Sorry, it doesn’t work for my schedule to do dates on weeknights; can we do Saturday instead?”
- “I don’t actually like butter on popcorn; can we get it without?”
- “I’m not comfortable with letting dates meet my kids until I’m sure it’s going to be a long-term thing; let’s table that for now.”
In a best-case scenario, your partner responds well to all these disclosures and is grateful for the chance to better meet your needs. It will also do the important work of setting a precedent for your relationship as it continues; you won’t have constructed a persona of a perfectly easy-going fantasy with no needs that you’ll eventually have to collapse when you do have to say no to something. It creates a strong, healthy dynamic from day one where both of you know you can express your needs and say no without punishment. In a worst-case scenario, if someone gets angry, defensive, guilt trips you or tries to cajole you into changing your boundaries, you’ll be able to recognize a red flag and end the relationship before you are at any further risk.
Commit to keeping your life and routines
Similar to our desire to be as agreeable as possible early on, we also tend to want to accommodate our new paramours in less explicit ways – adjusting our habits, routines, and lifestyle to fit into theirs. Again, to a certain degree, this is a healthy development – there’s nothing wrong with developing a new Friday night pizza-and-a-movie ritual with your boo when you used to spend that night of the week home alone.
But we often go further than this in practice – we may give up most or all of our solo rituals like exercise classes, hobbies, and time alone either because we want to spend all our time with our partner or because we can’t bring ourselves to say no when they want us to. Along the same lines, it’s very common to see relationships with friendships and family suffer in a new relationship even if everyone supports it; if you’ve ever seen a friend get a new girlfriend and then disappear off the face of the earth, you know it’s true. Again, to a certain degree, this is inevitable, but it’s also dangerous – if a relationship turns out to be unhealthy, being isolated from your friends and family is a huge risk factor. Giving up your entire solo life prior to your partner is dangerous in a different way – it can lead to resenting your partner months later when you miss those parts of your life and blame them for taking up that space, or to conflict when you want to return to them later.
The best way to prevent those outcomes – and to create a healthy balance between your relationship and the rest of your life, where your partner doesn’t have to be your everything – is to try to avoid this slippery slope happening at all. Create new routines and life events with your partner as much as you can, but think about what’s important to you and how you can make sure it still has space in your life, whether that’s your Sunday brunch with your best friends or your boxing class.
Be clear with yourself and your partner about what you want
It’s easy to tell new dates what we think they want to hear — but it’s easy to tell ourselves what’s convenient, too. Your new sweetie is perfect in every way — shiny hair, adorable laugh, loves dogs, makes a great breakfast — except they say they don’t want anything serious or long-term. And since you want to keep seeing them, it’s easier, for now, to tell yourself that you don’t either, even though you’ve started taking note of what kind of house they say they want to live in one day and are imagining names for your kids.
Sometimes this habit comes with some internal rationalizing and storytelling; we tell ourselves that this person will want the same things as us too, they just don’t know it yet, or that this is okay even though it’s not what we’re looking for because it’s just to pass the time until we find it. Other times, it’s less conscious; we don’t even let ourselves fully realize the disconnect or notice what’s happening. Sometimes we aren’t aware there might be a disconnect because we haven’t done the work on our own to even know what we want; we became one of those people whose bio on a dating app reads “not sure what I’m looking for here.”
All of these stances are totally understandable, and most of us will be on both sides of this dynamic at one point or another — which is how we know how this ends. If your goal is to continue the relationship as long as possible under any circumstances, this strategy to keep the ball in the air will likely work for a while. But it will also inevitably lead to resentment and a loss of trust when it can’t be sustained and one or both parties has to be more upfront with what their real desires are. The only way to prevent this is to be honest with both your date and yourself from the beginning – it doesn’t even necessarily have to mean breaking up, but it does mean everyone can make informed decisions with their eyes wide open, which may mean the relationship could end.