The beginning of any new relationship is usually a lot of fun: Someone out there thinks I'm funny! And cute! And smart! (Ain't love grand?) Once we find ourselves deep in the throes of new-relationship bliss, we easily become consumed with the other person, and all but convinced such feelings will last forever. (Um, have you even seen Netflix's Love Is Blind series?)
During this stage, anything your S.O. does, thinks, or says, is seemingly beyond reproach. Nope, you're not the least bit frustrated by questionable temper flare-ups, annoyed by sudden pangs of jealousy (what red flags?), or creeped out by even the most intimate (aka weirdest) confessions. And while you both might admit that you simply have zero chill when it comes to the new love of your life, there are still some right and (very) wrong ways to begin any new relationship.
Couples starting new relationships will naturally experience a psychological phenomenon called social penetration theory (SPT), explains the psychologist and relationship expert Kelly Campbell, Ph.D. SPT. She explains that initial discussions of trivial, non-intimate topics of conversation will gradually—via revelations of personal desires and experiences—lead to those with deeper meaning. “People often make the mistake of disclosing too much, too soon, which can be disastrous for new relationships," explains Campbell. "At the start of any relationship, exchanges should be reciprocal and gradual—not one-sided and too-fast.”
This advice might be a bit of a buzzkill when all you can think about is what your new lover is up to (and eating, wearing, working on, and thinking about), but taking things slow out of the gate is actually beneficial. At any relationship's outset, Campbell says it's quite natural to feel intense passion and attraction, but being so enraptured can cause us to ignore potential red flags, such as the misalignment of our core beliefs and values. "Long-term partnerships require matching on fundamental traits,” she adds. "Partners who are most alike usually have happier and longer-lasting relationships.”
To ensure your dreamy opening scenes turn into a feature-length romance, follow these easy tips from a certified relationship expert.
The 5 Dos
Add Variety to Your Dates
“Don’t see each other in only one context," Campbell says. "Mix things up.” Instead of the usual Netflix-and-chill scenario, she suggests taking morning walks together, scheduling tandem lunch dates, and enjoying the company of friends and colleagues. "It can be illuminating to see your partner navigate different situations and relationships," she adds. "Maybe they’re always nice to you, but they turn competitive around friends. These things are good to know before you become too involved.”
Spending every waking moment with a new partner puts us at risk of losing ourselves, and our friends, too. "In the most long-lasting relationships, partners maintain their sense of independence,” says Campbell. "See family and friends, continue to exercise and work hard, and prioritize alone-time; balance is important."
Watch Out for Red Flags
Campbell says that ignoring red flags only prolongs the inevitable demise of the relationship. If, say, your new love criticizes you, makes plans and repeatedly cancels, you catch them in a lie, or you see them treating other people poorly, "they're probably not worth investing in for the long-term,” she notes.
Treating yourself well sets an example of how your partner should treat you—and signifies what you will and will not tolerate. “There's nothing wrong with being principled, knowing yourself, and being yourself,” Campbell says. “Do things for yourself, too, such as taking time for self-care.”
Communicate Often and Well
“Say what you mean and mean what you say, be direct and considerate, choose battles wisely, treat your partner well, and avoid destructive things like yelling, insulting, and judging,” she explains. “The start of a relationship can lay the foundation for the future, so pay attention to how you communicate. If you don’t have the skills to communicate effectively, get professional help or a self-help book written by a psychologist—John Gottman has great books on this topic—and work on this vital relationship characteristic.”
The 5 Don'ts
Don’t Blow Up Their Phone
“Keep things reciprocal and gradual,” Campbell notes. “If they initiated plans the first time, you can initiate the second time and so on, but don’t always be the person texting first, calling, and initiating plans.”
Don't Skip the Sexual Health Conversation
“If you aren’t comfortable asking them about STDs and STIs or telling them about your own sexual health, it’s not yet the time to have sex,” she says. Wait until you're both comfortable having an honest conversation about health before becoming intimate.
Wait Until You're Comfortable to Be Intimate
“Having one partner who is ready is not enough,” she says. “The amount of time to wait before having sex differs for every couple; there is no such thing as too soon or too long. The right time is when both people are 100% ready.”
Don't Be a Debbie Downer
“Try to remain open to trying new foods and participating in new activities,” Campbell advises, “and don’t discuss topics that are controversial or depressing. The start of a new relationship ought to be light and fun, and things can become more serious with time.”
Don't Denigrate Yourself
“If you have things in your past that you consider less than ideal—for example, if you just got fired or your previous partner cheated on you—then find a way to discuss or disclose these things in a positive light,” she notes. “Rather than saying I got dumped because my ex wanted someone better-looking, say something like My ex and I weren’t a good match, and this became more evident with time.”
Bottom line: A new relationship is a lot of fun, and you should enjoy it. But also, don’t ignore your own needs or any red flags. “In the early phases of a relationship, people are often wearing rose-colored glasses—they minimize or ignore their partner’s faults and exaggerate or only see their partner’s positive attributes,” Campbell says. “My advice is to balance out the emotional component with rational thinking. If you’re having a hard time being rational and weighing the pros and cons of this person as a partner, ask your family and friends for their opinions."