When your relationship tree was just a sapling (and other sappy metaphors)
June 18, 2012 3:33 PM   Subscribe

What do the first few months of a healthy, promising relationship look like?

Being someone who's never been in a relationship that's really lasted, I'm not sure I know the hallmarks of a good beginning. So, for those of you who are in what you'd deem healthy, long-term relationships: what were things like, say, in the first 3 months?

How long did you date before you became exclusive? What were your "boundaries" with your partner? When did you first have sex? How affectionate were you both towards each other during the early stages? Was there a lot of limerence on both sides? What were the things your SO did that endeared them to you vs some difficulties you had to overcome to be together? How often did you see each other? Were you friends first? When did you meet your SO's friends and family, etc etc. Obviously, both feeling good about the relationship is the key here and I know everyone's mileage varies on this score. But what were the things that were necessary for you to stick with your SO, and vice versa?
posted by Miss T.Horn to Human Relations (16 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I'm getting married next month, after dating for three years. Prior to that I never dated anyone longer than six months. Honestly, I'm not sure there were any differences between the first three months of my current successful relationship and the ones that didn't work out - it's just that at some point in the previous relationships it became clear we were bad matches, whereas in this one it became clear we were a good match.
posted by pombe at 3:56 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing -- it's all very, very easy. It is super easy to talk to each other, about anything. It is fairly limerence-free as there is no need to worry about reciprocated feeling. You see each other as often as you can and you find yourself talking on the phone even if you don't like phones when you can't. Everything is more fun with the SO. These things don't go away after 3 months -- they are still part of our relationship 16 years later.

As for what endeared my husband to me . . . I actually felt my heart crack for him when we were smoking together outside the smoke-free B&B in which we were staying, and while listening to me blabber on about something he gently corrected my pronunciation of a word. I still love how literate he is.

All the rest of the topics you raise don't invoke the planning, obsessing, worrying and problems that often occur in relationships that don't work. It's all -- easy.

The hard part comes later, but all the subjects you raise should be easy as pie, no problem, if this is really THE relationship. That sense of ease is the giveaway that you've stumbled on exactly the right path.
posted by bearwife at 4:04 PM on June 18, 2012 [31 favorites]

The answers to your questions are extremely variable. I've had successful relationships where we always were exclusive, or never were exclusive; where we didn't have sex for 1.5 years, or had sex the first day we met; where we saw each other pretty much every day, or were long distance and only saw each other every 3-4 months; where I met their family pretty early on (within a few weeks), or only met their family much later (6 months in, at New Years). I've also had shitty relationships that shared any of these qualities.

The key to me has always been communication and feeling like my partner is open to communicating about difficult things. I know the relationship is headed to a good place if I'm not scared to bring up my worries, to hash things out sooner rather than later. More importantly, I'm not scared of them; I know their reaction will be something that we can handle. This is hard to pinpoint because, as bearwife said, you're more likely to notice that it's fun and super easy.
posted by buteo at 4:33 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think it might also depend on age. My spouse and I met when we were 21, and we were instantly together practically all the time, and we've been together 17 years now. I can't imagine having something that intense that quickly when you're in your thirties (but what do I know, I quit dating at 21).

I will agree with bearwife though, it was really easy.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:47 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience, I wanted to talk to them all the time, and found it very hard to run out of things to talk about. Limerence was there and very strong, for me at least, but I worked hard to control it and ride it out and they didn't encourage it with games. We were friends first for a good amount of time and grew to trust each other and expose most of the potential dealbreakers before getting too involved. I never felt disrespected or belittled. There was a lot of reciprocity and interest in my life which hadn't always been there in other relationships.
posted by quincunx at 4:49 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not all the different from the beginning of a really good friendship in some ways. For me, it was that every time I voiced an opinion or an observation that would get silence/puzzlement/dislike from 99% of the people I knew, he would just get it, without me having to explain. He laughed at my weird jokes. He was proud of me for being smart, not intimidated by it. He loved me for myself, even with my bizarre and completely uncool tastes in music and other stuff.

I initially met him when we worked together but was fixated on someone else, so we never spoke much. We dated almost accidentally a few years later, and bam. We had a whirlwind courtship, and honestly, it scared the shit out of me; I knew what to do if I never found someone I wanted to stay with (I had my life as a single lady all planned out), but now I had met someone awesome, and I was going to have to deal with it! I was completely freaked out (and ecstatic) during the first few months we dated. He actually spontaneously (in that he didn't know he was going to ask) asked me to marry him 2 months in, but I made him wait for another year in case I was actually losing my mind and making a mistake falling for him.

So I can't tell you any rules for boundaries (ours fell fast) or meeting families (I met his at his grandad's funeral [awkward]; he met mine two months after we got engaged.) He and I were both kind of solitary, so the friends thing was not a big issue. Neither of us was good at casual dating so it was exclusive from the get-go.

I don't know what parts, if any, of good relationships are universal. Laughter is mandatory for me; sweetness; strength of purpose; and honesty.

Been married 13 years last April. So far, he's still one the person I could spend hours talking to or doing nothing with. We know all each other's stories but we still find each other interesting.
posted by emjaybee at 4:57 PM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]

A good indicator is: How healthy are you? You tend to attract equally messed up or healthy people. Where do you meet guys? Bars are, generally speaking, not the place for LTR. My rule of thumb is no sex until yall are at least committed, and 3-6 months of good dating.

Our love language is touching (there is also gifts and services, quality time, words of encouragement) so there was a lot of that, but not in a creepy pervy way :) Oh, be sure to try to love them in THEIR love language, not just yours.

I think she feels safe and calmed by me. I'm amused by her spazzyness. Shes incredibly kind n big hearted.

As for sharing/touching/sex/etc, make sure you are going at a pace you are comfortable with... AND COMMUNICATE!

Just keep an eye out for red flags, be understanding of mistakes, but be prepared to leave if he really isn't for you. Its usually a delicate compromise between 'not perfect' and 'not healthy for me'

And, of course, my #1 suggestion, like and love yourself!
posted by Jacen at 5:10 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

It will be different for everyone. First six months of dating for my wife and I were marked by conflict, largely because I am an argumentative jerk. She and I are both happy, and we still argue. For some couples, that would be miserable death, but it reflects who we are, and she and I are both aware of our weak spots and do our best to be patient with the other around them.

What worked was that we cared enough to keep working, and are old enough to not toss that particular baby out with the bath water of "it should be easier/sexier/whatever". We broke up once, years ago, and it lasted for a day. We never did that again. now, we have room to be angry at times, to say that things aren't cool, and to find some way to fix them. That we were able to do that early on was a good sign, for us.
posted by ellF at 5:18 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

There were no red flags. And both of us had these moments of "holy crap, there are no red flags" and were weirded out. You know how there are all these little bitty things that in the beginning you're like "ah, no biggie" but then drive you apart (or crazy) later? Yep, none of those.

It wasn't a whirlwind, Romeo&Juliet excitement thing, but a calm, fulfilling, but greater than anything else I've ever felt type of thing. None of that teenage "will he call?" "what did he mean by that?" none of that crap. I knew what he meant when he said it, and vice versa. And although I was nervous as all hell on our first date, soon spending time with him just felt right. It was comfortable (not awkward or nerve-wrecking or boring). I never had to over-think anything like boundaries, etc. It all fell into place just right.

You know how different parts of you connect with the different people in your life? Well in my case, it seemed like the best (IMHO) parts of me connected deeply with him.

The rest of your questions vary a lot from person to person. But we were exclusive from Day 1. Not "in a serious, committed relationship" from day 1, but it was understood that no other people were in the picture.

on preview: I also get tired of spending lots of time with the same people. In fact, it's exhausting. Except with him. The two of us could be stuck in my tiny apartment during a snow storm and it doesn't bother me at all.
posted by Neekee at 5:22 PM on June 18, 2012 [12 favorites]

Every relationship is different, and the start of every relationship is different. Some are super sexy, some are passionate, some are argumentative, some are just... comfortable. There aren't really any predictable markers of a successful relationship.

But there are warning signs of a unsuccessful one. Sometimes they're not obvious or easy to pick up on. But when some small part of you is telling you "this isn't going to work." at the same time that the rest of your body is telling the little voice "Shut up, I want this one! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" that's when things are going to go bad.

Within the first few weeks, the little voice has always prophesied exactly in what way my new ill advised relationship is going to end badly. I've never listened to the little voice. Instead, I've always ignored it and given it the chance to say "I told you so." It's always been exactly right. Word for word. Every single time.

Don't be me. Listen to your little voice.
posted by yeolcoatl at 5:23 PM on June 18, 2012 [28 favorites]

Apparently, you're "not supposed to be arguing every minute." I was also told it was supposed to be "easy," and this went over my head. Needless to say, it lasted about a month. So yeah, the opposite of that.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 8:47 PM on June 18, 2012

Other than things being easy and natural, I think mutual respect is the main ingredient in successful relationships.

If there is anything about them early on that you don't respect, or if you feel that you are settling in any way, this feeling will grow like a cancer and ultimately consume your relationship.
posted by timsneezed at 10:14 PM on June 18, 2012

Think things get more complex with same sex relationships, in particular if you haven't come out yet or, maybe, newly out. Boundaries, especially, become tough to navigate in close friendships that develop romantically and fulfill emotional needs while never turning into something physical. One of the most intense loves of my life, in which mutual limerence was acknowledged, never became sexual. The other guy was only physically attracted to women.

Basically, it really does depend on the couple, but I have a hunch that LGBT couples face different obstacles and stressors.
posted by chyeahokay at 10:59 PM on June 18, 2012

Another vote for the ease of things but note that I don't think that this means that you don't have arguments or even some significant obstacles. But for me (married, together 6 years) the communicating/relating part was easy. We communicated well and we were both very into it from the beginning. There were not games and few insecurities. So very refreshing.
posted by jojobobo at 1:08 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Echoing everyone else who says it's just easy, but that doesn't mean that there won't be bumps in the road or arguments. I've only been dating my boyfriend for six months, but this is by far the healthiest relationship I've ever been in. As others have said, the most refreshing thing is that there has been no game playing, no anxiety, no wondering if he's committed or interested. We've both laid everything out on the table. I never worried about if he was going to call in the early days.

I also feel like I can talk to him about anything that's bothering me, whether it be about us or my life. The other day I told him how nice it was that I felt okay disagreeing with him. In my past relationships, I held back on how I felt about certain things, especially if I knew that my partner would disagree. I didn't know what their response would be. With my boyfriend, that's not the case at all - in fact, I kind of enjoy disagreeing with him because I want to hear his opinion, I know he wants to hear mine, and we will have a rational discussion about the issue.
posted by anotheraccount at 6:00 AM on June 19, 2012

Seconding everyone who says easy does not mean no arguments! Some topics are now off limits for us because we know we both feel passionately and we really don't agree. (E.g.: Israel/Palestinians.) But I really have never worried that the arguments would end us. And I too have enjoyed hearing my husband's contrasting views.
posted by bearwife at 3:03 PM on June 21, 2012

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