How to Navigate The Ups and Downs of New Relationship Energy in Ethical Non-Monogamy
Let’s set the scene: you have just met a new cutie through the #open app and your first date was lit. Despite your reservations to begin with, you two have really hit it off. You have lots in common, yet have different passions and you find their special interest in horticulture and exotic plants hella sexy! You’re infatuated. Indeed, smitten. Thinking of this person (all the time) makes you smile. Your dates are fun, your communication is honest and open and the sex… is cosmic! You decide that this new partner is perfect for you and you feel high from the rollercoaster of falling in love (or lust). Butterflies have taken up residence in your tummy which encourage your heart to flutter out of your chest every now and then, and you are seeing the world through the blushy hue of rose-tinted glasses.
You, my friend, have a classic case of New Relationship Energy (NRE).
What is NRE?
NRE is a term coined by the polyamorous community which refers to the emotional high and intense attraction that accompanies a new (sexual, romantic or otherwise) relationship. Whilst the term is used a lot in the world of ethical non-monogamy, it can refer to monogamous relationships too. It’s the glowing, exciting, bubbly feeling of being enraptured with a new partner (or friend).
Dr. Nan J. Wise writes about the effect NRE has on the brain in her book Why Good Sex Matters: Understanding the Neuroscience of Pleasure for a Smarter, Happier, and More Purpose-Filled Life. NRE is literally the lived experience of a cocktail of feel-good hormones that are flooding our systems when we connect with someone new. Our brain is producing high hits of dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin which make us feel high as a kite (think of the bliss of rolling on molly without the horrific comedown).
“Sounds great, what’s wrong with that?” I hear you ask yourself. However, as we know, what goes up must come down. NRE can be associated with lower levels of serotonin which can cause the tendency to ruminate and get stuck in a loop of thinking about your new lover. We even produce more cortisol due to the vulnerabilities that come along with falling in love that our bodies perceive as stressors and get ourselves wrapped up in an anxious panic; over thinking about the embarrassing thing we said that one time and beating ourselves up over it. Yep, been there!
How New Relationship Energy (NRE) Can Impact the Polycule
It certainly can be great for you (despite the anxiety and general inner discombobulation that can come along with it), but how does NRE affect your other partner(s), or the polycule as a whole? And how about if your partner is the one all loved up?
NRE can affect the polycule in many positive and negative ways to varying degrees:
1) Ignoring or Neglecting Existing Relationships
Getting swept up in NRE is a classic common mistake people make within the ethically non-monogamous community. One obvious way in which NRE affects the polycule is that we can often get so love-drunk on this new connection that we completely neglect our existing relationships and forget about the partners we already have. Of course we still love our long term partners, and it’s not that the new connection is better or more loveable than our other partners – it’s just the novelty of falling for someone new whose humanness and inevitable flaws haven’t quite reared their heads yet. This can leave our other partners feeling a bit overlooked which can breed all sorts of maladaptive dynamics such as jealousy, control, avoidance or withholding.
2) Ending Existing Relationships
If we get too wrapped up in the lives of new lover(s) and continuously ignore or neglect our longer term relationships, things may crash and burn pretty quickly. If you do not tend to your other partners with love and care it may lead to the ending of an older relationship. Of course some relationships naturally de-escalate and the cracks in our longer term connections may be more visible when someone new is on the scene. However, we don’t always need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yet sometimes the tunnel vision of NRE can cloud our judgment and a longer, more stable relationship might look less appealing compared with this new, passion-filled connection in which there are no (apparent; remember those rose-tinted glasses?) red flags. Comparing a new connection with a relationship that has been steady for a longer period is just not fair and could lead to big decisions you may regret once the dust has settled.
Check out our #openEd episode with Millie from @decolonizinglove on Non-Monogamy, Race and Colonialism:
3) The Sense of Love Flows into all of your Other Relationships
On the other side of NRE distracting you to the point of neglecting your other partners, the positivity and love you feel from this new connection can actually flow out into all of your other relationships having a beneficial impact for everyone around you. When your cup is full of this bubbly energy, your capacity to fully be in the world may also increase, in turn allowing you to give more to your partner(s), your work and other hobbies that light you up. This is a positive self-fulfilling cycle that allows you to ride the high of NRE to be your best self in all areas of your life. When you do spend time with your longer term partner(s), you can welcome this sense of elation and positive outlooks into your connection.
Compersion refers to the wholehearted participation in the happiness of others. It is the sympathetic joy we feel for somebody else, even when their positive experience does not involve or benefit us directly. Thus, compersion can be thought of as the opposite of jealousy and possessiveness. We get it, it can be difficult when the shoe is on the other foot and your partner is the one floating through life with a glint in their eye due to a new connection. And we’re human right? Just because we are non-monogamous means that we are free of valid feelings such as jealousy and insecurity.
When your partner is in the throws of NRE, know that this experience is also benefiting you. It gives you the freedom of not having to be somebody’s everything and time to pursue fun hobbies, nurture friendships, and go on your own dates if that’s what you want to do. Acknowledging this can help you to feel happy for your partner in their new love bubble, which can also give you a boost by enjoying the fact that they are getting needs met by someone who cares about them. Here are some ways to practice compersion with your partner’s new partner.
Ways in which you can ground yourself and navigate NRE
5) Schedule in Time for Yourself
Scheduling time for yourself is a must no matter what relationship dynamic you find yourself in; within the world of ethical non-monogamy or not. Our relationship with ourselves is the most important, and the only one that we will be in for life! So, it’s vital to take some time to ground into your own energy and fill up your own cup so you don’t get swept up up and away in the gush of a new connection. When we’re feeling glittery and loved up in a new and exciting way, it can be a lot easier to abandon ourselves – our needs, wants, desires and other responsibilities. Prioritizing spending time with yourself will only ever support connections that are aligned with your best life.
6) Continue to Reflect on How You Feel in the Connection
Rather than getting swept up in the hormones that make you feel just so. damn. good., continually check in with how else you feel within the relationship. Sometimes when we feel this intense chemistry with someone, especially in a sexual or romantic relationship, we are activating old childhood wounds that literally pull us into a trauma-dance with another. We could mistake NRE for trauma-bonding and get stuck in a dynamic that is harmful to us. Ask yourself “Does this connection feel “good” rather than “familiar?” “Am I abandoning myself to be liked/wanted by another?” “Am I ignoring any gut feelings / red flags?”. Staying connected to your body, and that gut feeling will never steer you in the wrong direction. If you have a niggling feeling that something is just off, trust that! Don’t let the hormonal high cloud your connection to your intuitive knowing of what’s best for you.
7) Know That Habituation Will Happen.
The relationship will naturally change, and that’s OK. As two people get to know each other more, and begin to see the humanness in the other, reality begins to sink in. Things you may have overlooked in the early days become more apparent and our rose-tinted glasses have faded away to reveal the other through a full spectrum of color. Once we foresee this happening and prepare accordingly, we can welcome the shift in the dynamic as a healthy process of becoming secure and stable in a relationship. It’s a really beautiful and intimate gift to witness and accept someone for the fullness of who they are, and with curiosity and growth we will always be learning new things about ourselves and our partners, so the relationship can never truly get boring – just more familiar.
7) Have Patience with and Compassion for Yourself
We are by no means hating on NRE – work that energy of feeling your finest self!! If you get carried away and stray from your center or forget to nourish your existing relationships, have compassion for yourself. If you make some NRE clouded decisions, it’s OK. Cultivate some patience for this journey of growth and learning that you are on cause it’s a never ending one! We have all been there, and we are human at the end of the day. Humans that love and crave connection! The good thing about having a non-monogamous support network is that everyone has been on the NRE rollercoaster, and can laugh it off with you if you disembark the ride a bit fuzzy and confused. Be kind to yourself and your precious heart that just longs to love and be loved.
#open community, we would love to hear some of your NRE blunders. Hearing other people’s stories allows us all to feel less guilt, shame and self-judgment when we mess up. Knowing that we are not alone in our humanness helps us to take accountability and responsibility for our actions in our relationships. Do you have any other tips on how to navigate the highs and lows of NRE? The more tools the better on this NRE high speed train!