Three Things to Do at the Beginning of a Relationship to Keep it Healthy

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.

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