In my work as a relationship therapist, I help clients overcome a variety of relationship challenges by helping provide insights into their experiences and strategies for overcoming common roadblocks.
A challenge I often hear about as a relationship therapist is that the beginning of a relationship felt “easy” and months – or years – later, one or both partners are now trying to understand why things are challenging as the relationship progresses. Along with that ease, the couple experienced a notable “spark” early on, accompanied by an all-consuming feeling. Some clients assume that this ease, intense attraction, and chemistry are indicators of a sustainable relationship and they continue to enthusiastically move forward with the partnership.
If you can relate to this situation, especially that a new relationship feels easy, which may be a relief from previous ones, read on to understand why this might actually be a red flag. You may be surprised to learn that the feelings you often experience early in a relationship, like the fog of infatuation and “ease”(several months without a disagreement or any challenging feelings) might not be the best indicators of a relationship’s potential.
In my work as a psychologist, I often use a tree as a metaphor of a relationship. Each tree is unique, has individual strength, maturity, and a specific root system.
When things are easy in the beginning of a relationship, and neither party brings up grievances, the relationship or tree might be poorly rooted. This is most likely due to one or more parties in the relationship not knowing fully who they are or lack of understanding and communicating relationship needs. These circumstances result in little tension, and one or both of the partners is overly flexible trying to accommodate the relationship without also creating healthy boundaries. Without having difficult conversations in the first three to six months or disagreeing and recovering from conflict, the relationship may fail to grow roots and mature, as a tree would lack deep roots and therefore topple in the wind. With too much ease, harmony, and a focus on the feelings of infatuation, a relationship might not be firmly rooted in shared values and understanding, and not be built to weather the natural ups and downs – or winds – of life. The metaphorical tree would be more likely uprooted in strong winds (future conflict or intense change) rather than firmly rooted and flexible as the natural winds of relationship instability blow through.
When one party bends and adjusts to accommodate the relationship too much, which can feel like “ease” early on, the foundation of the partnership isn’t built with authentic stability within one or both partners. In order for the relationship to grow strong roots, the individual partners must also have their own core strength and individuality. Having strong individual roots allows each partner to assert their needs and desires from day one, and while the relationship may have more conflict initially, they have deeper roots from which to grow from.
If you are unsure whether your initial relationship dynamics feel as they should, or question whether the partnership feels too “easy” to have long-term potential, take steps to ensure you’ve prepared for a sustainable long-term partnership with deep roots. Consider these important behaviors during the initial stages of a relationship:
Sometimes in the beginning of a relationship, you fear making your partner upset, especially if you have an anxious attachment system. Therefore, you might tolerate more in their behavior and let the little things go. You may be overly flexible and accommodating, indicating a less developed inner root structure. You mistake this for the relationship being “easy” at first when in reality, it’s simply because you feel it’s important not to disrupt things early on.
The truth is that these little things will eventually become the big things and resentment can easily build over time. It’s important to speak up in the initial stages when things don’t feel right, to recognize your preferences and needs - separate from your partners -and communicate them. Perhaps the challenge lies in having enough time to yourself, or your partner being chronically late, or something as significant as he or she making disrespectful comments. Speak up, express what is on your mind, and don’t be afraid of having the difficult conversations right away. This will help your relationship form deep roots.
Spend “Real” Time Together
Sometimes, the beginning of a relationship is filled with lots of activities – dinners, movies, and other nights out. These outings can actually be distracting to the core of the getting-to-know you phase and cloud judgement about the relationship as there is more focus on activities than one another. Overtime, dating evolves more into hanging out and spending time together in one another’s homes and with friends. The initial relationship might feel easy because it’s a bit like Disneyland, filled with so much stimulation and fun that there isn’t room for disagreement. When you authentically begin to enjoy doing the everyday things with your partner, like running errands, cooking meals, working out, and simply relaxing – and do these behaviors with ease – you can trust that the relationship has the potential to be sustainable over time.
Be Leary of Intense, Initial Chemistry
We are conditioned to think that early relationship dynamics should include an initial all-consuming feeling, a fog, or a certain “hot spark”. These feelings are aligned with trees without deep roots as they can create a more superficial bond that will wear off along with the decreasing hormones from the initial attraction phase. Instead of looking for non-stop butterflies in your stomach, look for a warm, sustainable, and healthy initial connection. Look for things moving at a reasonable pace and milestones unfolding in a healthy way. This initial bond should allow for plenty of time outside the relationship too, so life stays balanced with time for self, friends, family, and hobbies. Treat the hot, overwhelming initial feeling in a relationship as a red flag. Instead, look for warm and comfortable. Notice how this can also create easy initial relationship dynamics, but for different reasons.
Trees with deep roots have most likely endured challenges to gain strength and resilience. A relationship is the same. Too much ease and complacency in the initial phases of a relationship can seem like an indicator of compatibility, but usually the opposite is true. Don’t be afraid to assert your needs from day one, spend time together without the distraction of over-stimulating dates, and take notice of overwhelming “hot” chemistry or infatuation from the beginning – and question whether such feelings can lead to a healthy relationship long-term. Strive for relationship health vs. ease.
The team at Center for Shared Insight helps support your greatest relationship challenges by helping you recognize patterns in your relationship behaviors. We work with you to overcome these limitations and help you find more relationship success and happiness. To speak with a member of our therapy team, request a consultation.