Naturally enough, there are lots of things to pay attention to at different times in your relationship. This is just a prompt to think through some common things that come up at this stage:
1) Did your chemistry mask poor compatibility?
One of the reasons that the move from NRE to ERE can be challenging is because it is often the point at which compatibility becomes more important than chemistry. Some people talk about this as the ‘rose-tinted glasses’ being removed, others as the bubble bursting. However you think about it, it is the point in time when the other person is not a perfect (or nearly perfect) individual to project all your hopes and desires onto. They are a human with their own desires, needs and limits that might not be all that in line with yours. Outside the bedroom (or dungeon if that’s your thing) do you have shared interests, compatible taste in food and sleep schedules? It’s worth noting the things that you share, and the things that you don’t. These factors are likely to shape how your relationship grows – for example whether you are frequent sleep mates, running buddies, concert goers or lecture attendees. Looking for areas of compatibility and incompatibility can help you to find a rhythm that fits each of you and your connection to each other. Remember, just because you aren’t compatible doesn’t mean your way of doing things is wrong. It just means there is a mismatch here. It may be a perfect fit with another human.
2) Are your desires for the future trajectory of your relationship compatible?
Even if you are compatible in broader terms – for example you both like ‘kitchen table poly’ and love board games – this doesn’t mean that your picture of your future relationship will be. It is hard to know what you might want with another person when you are in the first flush of new love. By the time you get to ERE, most people have a feel for what they want in the short-to-medium term with a new person. This isn’t to say that your future hopes and dreams should line up to the letter, but being able to talk through what you want in your relationship is an important part of creating a shared future that feels intentional.
There seems to be a split here, between people that hope that their relationship will expand in terms of the time together and the intensity of the connection, and those that want the relationship to plateau or even take up less space/time. The same person might desire different things in different connections, I know I have. Desires may even shift over time from periods of escalation to long periods of stability. Nevertheless, it is often helpful to recognise whether your desires are for an escalating, de-escalating or stable connection.
For people that desire escalating connection, a ‘successful’ relationships is often seen as one that is going up the (or their own internal) relationship escalator. This often means that over time they hope to reach more and more of the traditional milestones – getting a label, meeting all the friends, meeting the family, going on holiday together, having shared anniversaries, cohabiting, etc. Within non-monogamy these milestones may be slightly different – they might include meeting metamours, going on a trip with other partners. There is nothing at all wrong with wanting these things, but it is important to share these desires with a partner so you can figure out which if them are shared.
While some people desire escalation, others are most fond of routine or stability. For this group, the shift from NRE to ERE can mean finding a comfortable routine that fits the relationship. Again, there is nothing wrong with this model of relationships, but it bears talking about. If you are most interested in finding a pattern than will feel stable in your connection it is important to share your thoughts about that with a partner. This shift from NRE to ERE is the point at which your desire for a pattern is likely to come to light.
3) Has the shift from NRE to ERE exposed emotional needs that you need to negotiate?
In the heady rush of NRE it is often possible to get through months at a time without talking about the kind of support you need from partners when life puts several spanners in the works. The shift from NRE to ERE is a time when many people get less attention from their sweetie than they have before, and they might start to notice a feeling of deprivation, isolation or abandonment. This can be as simple as having a harder time sharing their attention with another partner or as huge as feeling entirely planned out of their diary. It may be that they haven’t asked about your weekend with your family, or that it is the first day that you weren’t on chat with each other and you feel dropped. The shift can bring you face to face with needs that you never knew you had and it is important to pay attention to these. It is an exciting and terrifying part of learning who you are in this relationship. It also requires patience and kindness. After all, if these needs are surprising or new to you then they are also likely to take the object of your affection by surprise. Treat yourself with some gentleness and try to be curious about the discomfort until you find the need that is lurking under it.
4) Can you have productive disagreements and work through the issues that emerge?
There are a couple of important parts to having a productive disagreement. Fundamentally, you have to be willing to be who you are and express desires, needs and limits. You need to be able to hear ‘yes’ and ‘no’. You need to accept that the other person has a valid point of view even if you don’t share it. There isn’t ‘one true way’ to get to these things. Some folks have heated arguments with raised voices and find them to be productive at getting to where they need to be. Others are mostly avoidant and bring stuff up in tiny dribs and drabs but manage to work their way to shared understanding. Some people are masters of non-violent communication and approach it really directly (often with accompanying tears when things get hard). If you can’t find your way to some kind of resolution and end up feeling steamrollered, overwhelmed or unable to disagree with your partner at all, then you most likely have a problem. Pay attention to the ways in which you feel free to agree and disagree, to how you navigate troublesome conversations and find resolutions that address everyone’s needs.
5) Is the shift changing your relationship to other important people in your life?
I talked about the impact of the start of NRE on other relationships previously, but the shift out of NRE can also cause ripples in your network of friends, lovers and metamours. It can require processing, some disagreements and exposing some incompatibilities between you or in the future you each hope for. If the NRE has been intense, it may be that the other people in your life are simply tired of hearing about your sweetie and they are frustrated by your newfound relationship wobbles. Metamours may be sad about losing the compersion from NRE you were experiencing. On the other hand, people might feel happy about your (or your sweeties) renewed availability for connection with them and excited to share more time and experiences with you. Either way, you might notice a shift in how your relationships with people that are important to you feel. Like with the shift into NRE it can be helpful to pay attention to how the shift out of NRE is impacting your connections with your most important people.