There’s nothing like the rush of a new relationship. The butterflies. The lost sleep. The giddiness. The unknown.
It’s easy to lose ourselves in it.
These feelings are intoxicating, which is why we often lose sight of our more rational, forward-looking concerns during the honeymoon phase of a relationship. Let me put it this way: there have been so many times when I've plunged right into a relationship without stopping to ask myself some important questions about myself, as well as the new dynamic, and the other person.
And sometimes, a few months into these relationships, I find myself wondering if these partners were who I had originally thought they were. When the excitement and infatuation wears off, the last place we want to end up is realizing that we had been wrong.
In hindsight, I wish I had asked myself some critical questions towards the beginning of the relationship — and more specifically, questions about myself, and how I was showing up in and experiencing these relationships.
I'd like to share with you four critical questions I now ask myself when I begin dating someone, (as well as throughout a more developed relationship). I keep these questions in mind just to make sure I'm staying grounded in my truth and navigating the relationship from the best possible space.
1. Am I being fully authentic in this relationship?
Let's face it: being ourselves is sometimes harder than we think it should be. Oftentimes, we are afraid to hurt someone's feelings or be judged incorrectly, so we guard ourselves by not showing up authentically. This can take very subtle forms — not speaking up about a dislike of a certain restaurant — or more serious forms — not being honest about our past relationship experiences because we're afraid they make us unlovable.
Ultimately, we all want someone who loves us for our true and unfiltered self. It is our responsibility to bring that self into the relationship from moment one so that our love is based on that and not on pretense.
Navigating love from this true space might also prevent the disconnect that happens later in relationship when we wonder why our partners are so different from who we thought they were. You know, that Who-are-you-and-what-did-you-do-with-the-person-I-fell-in-love-with? moment that so many couples have experienced.
Imagine finding love while in your absolute authenticity. What a more powerful, grounded love that would be, right?
2. Am I putting this person on a pedestal (or am I requiring that this person put me on one?)?
I often see my clients (and, way more often than I'd like to admit, see myself) put their partners on a pedestal. When we do this, we are deliberately un-leveling the playing field, even if that's not our conscious intention.
But as a result, one person is situated in a position of more power than the other, and often precipitates self-destructive, toxic dynamics in the relationship. Specifically, this can cause us to over-give, over-prove, or over-compensate when we're on the "lower" end of the pedestal, and it can cause us to play aloof and disconnect emotionally if we've placed ourselves above our partner.
This imbalanced relationship dynamic leads us to be anything but our authentic and vulnerable self. It also leads to unfair expectations of the people we're with. If we've placed them "up there," we often expect perfection; if we've placed ourselves "up there," we expect them to prove their worth.
I propose that you make a committed choice to see your partner and yourself as equals. At all times, you are equally beautiful and worthy of love ... but also equally and perfectly imperfect.
3. How do I feel in this relationship?
Sometimes, the list of qualities we want in a potential partner is so elaborate and specific that it could fill pages. Why? Because it's easy to fantasize about all the things we might want to see in another person. Because we can uncritically focus on the surface qualities we desire and, in the process, neglect how we actually feel in the relationship.
When we focus too much on the wants and needs list, we can ironically end up keeping ourselves further from connection. Our stringent list of "requirements" may cause us to pass up potentially deep relationships because the other person is missing one or two items of our checklist, or we can't identify them as "our type."
And, on the flip side, sometimes we stay in a relationship with a person who has all of the boxes checked even though the emotional connection just isn't there.
Here's what I propose: when you find yourself in a relationship (at the beginning and in the middle), check in with how you feel in this relationship. How connected do you feel? How safe? How cherished?
Of course, to be connected, safe, and cherished, you must feel these qualities inside of yourself as well; you must be able to give them to yourself before you can fully experience them with a partner.
4. What’s triggering me in this relationship and what might that be showing me about myself?
When we have emotional reactions (positive and negative) in relationship, these are golden opportunities to learn about ourselves. Since emotions are so powerful at the start of a relationship, this is a time rich with potential insights.
When you’re experiencing any sort of peak in emotion during this time, ask yourself what part of you this might be pointing to (old emotional wounds, different parts of your personality, your needs and wants); or see if you’re stuck in stories or in protection mode. Just being aware that your reactions are learning opportunities will allow you to retain your groundedness in your relationship because it becomes a way for you to become more connected with yourself rather a chance to lose yourself in another person.
Try asking yourself these questions the next time you find yourself falling for someone. Reach out and let me know what comes up for you. I'd love to hear from you!