New relationship good practices
April 13, 2016 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Please give me your best practices for starting a relationship off on the right foot.

I'm in a new-ish relationship that I hope will turn into something long term, and the other person has the same hopes. Please give me your best practices/rules to develop and maintain a healthy, loving relationship.

Some background: I think we're both relatively well-adjusted and healthy - well within the realm of normal, in my opinion. We both have had our lives affected by the alcoholism and substance abuse of people close to us (family and previous relationships). Neither of us is a drinker as a result. Both of us are caring and generous towards other people and we both are fairly empathetic. On the flip side, we both struggle at times with anxiety due to our backgrounds and having been with volatile partners in the past. Both of us have some trust issues as well, for similar reasons. We are both in our 40s and we both have been married before. One of us has a young child. Both in stable careers.

We care about each other and would like to do everything possible to build healthy habits/boundaries which will provide a good foundation that will hopefully carry us far into the future. Advice/tips/hacks would be much appreciated. Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Make your relationship an environment where needs are voiced openly and honestly.

Maybe this means you specifically schedule a regular slot on the calendar to talk about your feelings (could be helpful since both of you are prone to anxiety re: volatile exes), or maybe you guys naturally start doing it over breakfast in the mornings, I don't know. But 100% I can tell you it's easier to establish your relationship as a safe space for talking and sharing early and often. You'll be able to meet issues as they arise, and you'll have the hashing-out-problems-together coping skills to deal with whatever comes up. Waiting until one of you is at the exploding point to discuss things is a recipe for disaster, and it's really hard to create an open dialogue where one has never existed before when you're a year+ in.

tl;dr talk to each other
posted by phunniemee at 2:01 PM on April 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

Take it slow. This means don't abandon your friends, your activities, your normal schedules and suddenly make this person your whole world. Keep in touch daily (if you're at that point), see each other a few times a week, but be respectful of essentially being a guest in each other's lives. Give the relationship time to progress comfortably.

Enjoy the excitement and limerence of being in a new relationship, but try to maintain a realistic perspective and don't get carried away. There's more at play than just you two, it's your emotional baggage, the other people in your lives, etc. So even if things are working out great between you two, sometimes something else may end up happening that you can't control, and it might put limitations on your relationship or end things entirely. Don't let it get you down, just be aware - don't let yourself get blindsided.

This is a new person, a new relationship... they deserve a clean slate. Yes you both have baggage from previous relationships, and that's worth being aware of. But that does not mean it is okay to project attributes from your exes onto each other, or make assumptions of intentions. Give each other the benefit of the doubt, and choose to discuss when something comes up. It will take time to learn how you respond to each other in this new relationship. Also try to control your reactions - if it is automatically geared towards freaking out or shutting up entirely, those are bad habits you MUST break for this new relationship to work. Work together on this, it is not you vs. them, it is you together vs. the problems.
posted by lizbunny at 2:29 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Someone here asked a similar question last July that I'd like to point you to - lots of great answers! I also think this thread about "marriage hacks", while intended for maintaining happy long-term relationships, also has a lot of great advice that applies to new relationships. I have convened the electoral college before; it is good.
posted by capricorn at 3:04 PM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Connecting the sharing and openness with automatic reactions, talk about how you respond to certain situations, and how you best deal with that. Do you have a tendency to let things slide until they build up and explode? Can you get so upset that you have no patience to describe your frustrations? Or are there times you need the other person to make a decision because you have no patience for indecision but you don't like any options enough to pick one yourself? You could develop short-hand for some scenarios and feelings when you don't want to communicate more details, for whatever reason. Sometimes you're just over everything, and it's not about the other person, and it can help to communicate that without having to say it all.

Good communication is a mix of openness and each-others understanding cues.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:06 PM on April 13, 2016

phunniemee nails it, as usual.

The #1 thing that kills relationships is not being open and honest with yourselves and with each other.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:00 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The best thing my ex and I did was to establish regular Sunday morning after-breakfast discussions about anything that might affect us as a couple. If there wasn't anything to discuss, we talked about other things, or made plans for the upcoming week. Having that regular talk date was great, partly because it gave us time to calm down if we were upset about something (non-emergencies) and discuss whatever it was the following Sunday with little drama and lots of good will.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:33 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Since you had mentioned that one of you has a child, I'd advise you both always try to put the child's needs before your own relationship needs. It should always be in the back of your mind and the front of your actions, and sometimes requires being brutally honest with yourselves (and sometimes even ending the relationship if it's not working out for the kid.)

I'm not saying the child has to dictate all that happens in the relationship but the partner who's not the parent will have to be OK with their needs taking second fiddle in many major decisions. I'd make sure you're both on the same page with your roles in parenting; I'd work to establish an open and respectful relationship with the ex/the child's other parent so you can all work together as a team. Of course, this is ideal but not always possible.
posted by smorgasbord at 5:03 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

1. Be honest
2. Ask for what you want
3. Balance everything in your life including friends and family
4. Have fun
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:10 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Basically, communication, as mentioned before. What helped me was taking a little time here and there to "check-in" on how things are going (say, once a week). This can feel forced, formal, and awkward at first, but getting over the awkwardness early on is the best way to ensure you'll continue communicating things that aren't working so well. Even if you're comfortable around one another, you can't expect that the communication will just happen organically once things are going bad if you haven't forced yourselves to establish it before.
posted by giizhik at 10:06 PM on April 13, 2016

I think, particularly at the beginning when you don't know each other that well and don't have a shared history yet, it can be hard to interpret some of your partner's behavior. When they do something that hurts your feelings or frustrates you, it can be hard to know why they acted the way they did. And, given that lack of information, you have two choices: you can choose to believe that your partner was acting deliberately and maliciously, or you can choose to believe they weren't doing it on purpose and they just made a mistake or you two weren't communicating clearly.

I think it's important in those situations to choose to believe that your partner wasn't being deliberately malicious. Doing that positions the two of you as a team with a problem to solve, rather than putting the two of you on different sides: accuser and defender.

The one caveat is: this system only works if you're in a relationship with a decent person.
posted by colfax at 1:08 AM on April 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

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