I’ve talked a lot about the impact that NRE can have in previous posts – but a lot of the issues that I see people dealing with are really about NRE affects someone’s ability to maintain existing relationships. This post is all about how you can tend your existing connections while you’re in the middle of NRE. If you’re not sure what NRE is, you might want to go back and read this post.
So, if you’re reading this you are probably encountering issues in your relationships with partners feeling unimportant, unloved, or you’re worried that your relationships might be negatively affected by your desire for a new sweetie. Let’s be honest, NRE is really consuming! Our brains are on drugs and ignoring that reality is unhelpful. This means we are less likely to be attentive to existing relationships, including friendships and family connections. We get such a lot of delicious dopamine in our system every time we contact the object of our affection that it can be hard to pay as much attention to other important people because our internal reward system is wired to chase that rush. This all means that you need to pay more attention than usual to ensure that your nearest and dearest are tended to and feel important to you.
There are some really effective ways to do this. Some of them are very simple.
1) Adopt a relationship gratitude practice (if you don’t have one already)
Our brains tend to over-focus on threats and things that are problematic, and under focus on things that are going well. Gratitude practices correct for this negative bias. They help you to think nicer things about your partners and your relationship with them. If you sleep in the same bed it can be nice to end the day with something you’re grateful for about the other person. If not, sending regular messages that identify things in your relationship that feel really good to you and that you appreciate about the other person is an effective way to increase appreciation. This is particularly effective if your partner’s love language is words of affirmation.
Gratitude prompt: What has your person done today/this week that has made you feel good?
2) Catch them doing things right
This is a bit like the gratitude practice, but more immediate. It is all about noticing the things that the other person does in the moment that feels good to you and commenting on them. This might be them making your lunch, picking up your favourite hot chocolate or taking out the rubbish. Whatever it is, catch them doing something that you like and tell them so. If acts of service are important to you then this is likely to be particularly helpful.
Doing it right prompt: How can I notice the things folks do for me each day to make life easier?
3) Find opportunities to turn towards your partner
The Gottman’s came up with the idea of ‘turning towards’ and ‘turning away’ from partners. The idea is this: we all make bids for our partner’s attention at times, from ‘look at that rainbow’ through to ‘can you help me make this bookcase’. We can turn towards or away from these bids. Turning away doesn’t just mean saying ‘no’ to something – it can also be ignoring what they have said or not responding to their request. Each time you turn away from a partner it is a tiny betrayal. Of course, sometimes it is not possible to turn towards a partner – perhaps we don’t have time to give the help they want or we are too caught up in our own thoughts to respond in the moment. That’s life! Nevertheless, paying attention to the moments when you have a choice to turn towards or away is an important part of maintaining relationships. Finding ways to turn towards your partner (and friends, and family members) in everyday ways can help you to stay connected.
Turning towards prompt: How can I notice bids for attention? How can I prime myself to attend to these bids?
4) Create some time with no new relationship talk
One of the things that NRE drives us towards is talking incessantly about the new person as if everyone in the world is just as captivated by them as we are, or perhaps they would be if they just knew this extra fascinating thing about them. Unfortunately, what counts as fascinating to someone in NRE can be really mundane, boring and repetitive to everyone around them – even if they don’t tell you it is! That said, you also don’t want to keep people in the dark and be constantly censoring yourself. That means finding a middle ground which includes some time when you can gush about your new sweetie, but also some time when you can focus on existing relationships and resist the urge to bring them up every time they pop into your head.
Relationship talk prompt: How can I set aside ‘no new sweetie’ time? When would this work best?
5) Build on the boundless curiosity about your new sweetie
Lets face it, we are all very very curious about people we are in new relationships with. That curiosity tapers out after a while, we think we know everything about the other person. But we don’t! Even if we have been close to someone for 30, 40 or 50 years there are going to be things we don’t know about them. It is harder to come up with questions about existing partners and other folks in your life, but not impossible. Indeed, there are really handy lists of questions available, like this one or this one. There are loads of them so if you’re not keen on these ones then google is your friend.
Curiosity prompt: what questions could I ask the most important people in my life to create new moments of connection?
If you’d like to learn emotional & relationship skills to cope with difficult stuff that comes up in non-monogamous relationships you can sign up to my next course just for non-monogamous people. Find out more here…