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10 ways to navigate the beginning stages of a relationship

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Couples move through different stages throughout their relationship cycle. We expect the romance phase of our relationship to continue forever, but this is not realistic. When couples fall in love, they experience a “chemical high” because they have elevated levels of “happy hormones” such as dopamine and serotonin. They therefore feel sexier, more romantic and more attracted to the person they are dating. But the “chemical high” cannot be sustained. At some point they start to move into a committed relationship phase and as trust and commitment increases, their hormone levels will start to normalise, and some of the “in love” feelings and experiences will start to reduce.

When this happens, couples often find themselves frustrated with their partners and they experience regular power struggles. If these “power struggles” become too painful or frustrating they are likely to exit out of the relationship either physically or emotionally. But this is not the only option. If couples are able to i) explore their individualities within the safety of their relationships, ii) express their aliveness and passion within the relationship, iii) understand and express their needs, and intentionally focus on fulfilling the needs of their partners and iv) take responsibility for the baggage they bring into the relationship, then they can move into the next relationship stage of re-romanticising. This stage is characterised by feelings of aliveness connectedness and passion.

1. Settle past baggage

Work on settling old hurts, emotions and pains, so that you do not allow self-defeating thoughts to enter your new relationship. If you have experienced great hurt in past relationships, you might require the assistance of a therapist to help you work through the pain caused by past relationships.

2.       Get clear about your expectations and what you want for your relationship

I suggest to couples attending my pre-marital workshop, to regularly communicate their expectations regarding the relationship with their partners. This can be done early on in a relationship to determine if you are compatible as a couple. After a few months, you can start to develop a relationship vision that addresses the dreams and hopes that you have for your future relationship, as this will be your guiding compass.

3.       Pay attention to the needs and emotions of the person you’re dating

Try to tune into the emotions, thoughts and feelings of the person you are dating. Chances are that they are quite the opposite of you, as opposites attract. And you cannot assume that they think or feel the same way you do. So, the sooner you understand their needs and thoughts, the better.

4.       Have real, face to face interaction

Many couples start their dating journey online. This could be a useful way to meet new people, but it is definitely not a good way to build a good relationship. Though sms’s and emails can be used to send thoughtful message to the person you’re dating, it cannot replace physical connection and face-to-face interaction.

5.       Don’t move too fast…. Take time to build a good foundation

Relationships that start out in a frenzy, often burn out quickly. Use enough time to get to know each other and don’t get too clingy too soon. If you feel that you are moving too fast, talk to your partner about your fears and overwhelming feelings and talk about how you can set up a good foundation by taking one step at a time. Research shows that couples who live together before getting married are more likely to divorce or, if they remain together, experience poor marital satisfaction.

6.       Keep your individuality

Couples that have healthy individual identities, usually have healthy relationships. Symbiotic relationships are usually riddled with feelings of anger, because we expect our partners to think exactly like we do. So, foster your other relationships and interests.

7.       Give each other enough space

“Space” might mean something different to different people. So whether you encourage your partner to spend time with his friends, or draw your girlfriend a warm bath so she can spend time in solitude, figure out what your partner needs to not feel smothered. According to research some distance in a relationship can actually fuel passion, so creating healthy distance can build up your relationship for the future.

8.       Don’t be too lavish with gifts

I had friends who for the first year of their relationship had extravagant celebrations of every monthly anniversary. They would buy expensive gifts for each other every month. The excitement bar was set so high, that maintaining it was just not possible. The trick is to allow the relationship to develop slowly and not for it to fizzle out too soon. Spoiling your partner is a great way to fuel the relationship forward, just do it in moderation.

9.       Don’t push sex too quickly

Couples often leap into the next step in a relationship without looking objectively at the odds of the relationship succeeding because of the rush of passion experienced. Research done by Cornell University has shown that having sex early (within a month of dating) relates to poorer relationship outcomes for both men and women.

10.   Talk A LOT…. Listen more

All relationship experts agree on the importance of communication for any intimate relationship. If you want your relationship to last, talk to your partner about your thoughts, dreams, feelings and fears. If you want it to last and be great, spend even more time listening to your partner.

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