These heady moments we all encounter at the start of a new relationship mean that our general caution and common sense suddenly abandon us. People who have been single for a while talk of taking their time when they find someone new, only to proclaim they have found the elusive “one” after two dates. Online dating apps have not helped this rather fast process and inevitably, the “one” usually turns out to be akin to the “many” before.
The concept of our “soulmate” or “the one” is something we sell ourselves but can we really bandy those words around so soon after meeting someone in a phase that is largely driven by hormones and biology? This is before the factor of codependency and “essential connection” is brought into play. Let’s talk about these phrases after years together surviving through difficult times, seeing each other‘s point of view when you least want to and having established a foundation for a fruitful relationship.
The initial phases of a relationship allow us to be the most perfect form of ourselves. In this phase, there is more attention, understanding and physical and emotional intimacy. (If you are not seeing this, the chances are, it won’t get any better after this initial phase is over and is actually all the information you need). It is a time designed for attraction and matching, an essential phase in the life of a relationship but often a time where major decisions, that might be left until the relationship becomes more stable, are made in haste.
Just as children use their right-brain activity to connect with parents, so adults do the same. A BBC Programme aired a few years ago highlighted the chemical process that takes place when two people become attracted to each other. In an interesting experiment, eight people (four men, four women) were put together in a room for two hours. As attraction inevitably occurred between some of the participants they mimicked, without consciously knowing, facial gestures and body language of the other person. One said that he agreed with opinions held that he would not have agreed with before. This is how our mind is set up to attract a mate.
What we need in this phase is a balance of the logical left brain and the creative right-brain that looks for connection and this is based on values. Relationship values are the very thing that will help us to judge compatibility of a new partner and whether they can fit into the value set we have. Values should be defined but not over rigid and be created around how we want to be treated in a relationship. Too often, we are good at setting these while single only to throw them aside when in a relationship.
What are relationship values, one might ask and why are they important? They are important for the very reason highlighted in the BBC documentary earlier in that in the early phases of a relationship, we are all right-brain, hardwired for connection. That leaves us sometimes unable to see the wood for the trees, so to say. Values are the healthy left-brain balance that we need. There are obvious values that everyone should expect in a relationship like honesty, respect, consistency and the willingness to meet reasonable needs. These are universal but others can be more personal like punctuality or communication frequency (especially in a world of dating based on texting). Above all, it is important to know what your dealbreakers are and stick to them. Any violation of your values would mean a discussion opening up to express feelings and thoughts and to reach a compromise, if possible.
This is why the unromantic idea of treating a new relationship like a job interview becomes a good one. Have fun in the early stages but be aware of how this new person matches with your chosen values. They usually either do or don‘t but that grey area in the middle is the one that often causes the most issues. This is where healthy discussion and communication helps, taking the time to get to know someone fully before committing to anything. Our values can also help us to see if a relationship is worth pursuing or whether it is better to move on.
We are at our most vulnerable at the start of a relationship and despite warnings from friends and family, embark on disastrous ventures with totally incompatible people and try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Codependents, especially, are masters of adapting their attitude and personality to fit others and are often abused by people willing to take advantage. While it is true to generally say that opposites attract, it is not easy to see that maintaining a relationship without both being totally aware and willing to work hard on the relationship. All it takes is for us to keep our heads at the start and apply our values to perhaps what is the most right-brain activity we will ever engage in.