There is a classic story amongst dating adults. It was depicted in 9 ½ Weeks, with a little pizazz and lot of soft-core bondage. It is the story of the rapid rise and fall of the steamy adult relationship. It starts with a bang and fizzles out with one last confusing text.
Oh my god! I haven’t seen you in forever! I have to tell you about Josh. Holy shit, he is the best. No seriously, I think he’s the one. I mean, it’s just this feeling I get when I’m around him. It’s totally perfect. And you’ll never believe this. Our mothers have the same name. Seriously, and get this. He got married on the same date as my birthday. How weird is that! And wait for it… it is literally the best sex of my life!!
No… yeah, no, I mean it is going really well. We went to a really good concert last night. I met his kids last weekend; that was weird. A little reality check but I really, really like him. He lives in Yarmouth and wants to stay there. There is no way in hell I am moving out of Portland. But it’s way too early to think about all that, so no biggie.
I do, I really enjoy our time together. I don’t quite get why I need to hear about his ex so much but whatever. I definitely don’t want to deal with another crazy ex. Get this, he left his toothbrush at my house. It just sits there staring at me in the morning. What’s up with that? What? No, definitely, the sex is still pretty good.
We’re on a break, I mean, just a short one. We really like each other and really want this to work. It was just feeling like too much work. Should it be that much work? He was weirdly defensive the other day and I still don’t know what he was mad about. I felt like I was right back in my last relationship! I might have to get out of this.
We broke up. No, this time for good. I miss him, but I love being alone.
48 hours later
Well, we’re trying it again. No really, I’m feeling good about it. We had a really good talk. Well, and a little sex too. He said everything I was waiting to hear. I’m really excited that we’re back.
Oh, right, we broke up a week ago. I meant to tell you. I mean, we tried as hard as we could but it just wasn’t working. I loved that first month we spent together. We just couldn’t get back there.
What’s up with that?
Month 3 is when the mask we wear is no longer comfortable and starts to break off. We have an innate knowledge that to feel truly safe in a relationship we must be known and be vulnerable. In trying to reach that place of safety, we have to go through the field of fear. Fear pushes us back to our core emotional patterns learned oh so long ago. Automatic pilot kicks in. If we are a runner, this is when we run. If we are a fighter, this is when we fight. So how do we get through the field, with the relationship, and ourselves, intact?
1. Learn your patterns.
Pay attention to yourself. What do you do when you feel backed against a wall? And, what puts you there? Is it the mere mention of commitment or a vacation together that gives you cold sweats? Does talk of wanting to merge families put you on edge? And how do you react when you feel uncomfortable: do you turn off emotionally, back away from the relationship physically, return to former girlfriends, feel anxious, and/or begin to cling and text overly long sentiments? Does jealousy or anger creep in?
2. Learn to be vulnerable.
Your patterns are your defense. They keep you from having to feel real feelings, which emanate from that sense of vulnerability. Step 1 to being vulnerable is believing in yourself and understanding that we all, every single one of us, have (many!) beautiful imperfections. Being vulnerable takes an act of courage. It is believing in yourself, not clinging to past stories, past beliefs or things past partners said about you. Start by taking a breath and repeating “I’m okay, no, not just okay, but good. I’m good”.
3. Know that discomfort is a good thing.
You may have heard the suggestion to “lean into your discomfort”. Leaning in is a signal that you are open to doing things differently this time, that you know that learning new emotional patterns takes work. When you feel uncomfortable, it is a signal to your brain that you are on the precipice of learning something new. When you feel the discomfort in your body, stop, breathe, and stay with that discomfort. Do something differently. Instead of turning away from the person in front of you, turn towards her and say, out loud, “Wow, I am glad we got to this point. I feel uncomfortable. My usual tendency would be to back away from this relationship and start acting weird, but I am choosing not to. I am happy to be here with you.”
4. Stop trying to get back to the first month.
A long term relationship has a different feel to it than the early, dopamine-laden days of that first month. The trick to the longer term relationship is to aspire to feelings of attachment rather than the quick hit of cocaine (cocaine has the same impact on the brain that touch, love, and sex have during that first month). Attachment, the feeling in a longer term relationship, feels like a comfortable blanket wrapping around you while you sit in front of a fire with your favorite book. You don’t have to give up the quick rush when you are striving for a longer relationship. Picture sex on the couch before you grab your book! But know that aspiring only for the quick rush will not result in sustained joy or a sustainable relationship.
5. Or just break up.
Because you are showing your true self around the three month mark, you should recognize the other person is too. You are getting new insight into what she is like, how she deals with conflict, and how she feels about herself. This is an ideal time to step back, ask lots of questions of the other person, and assess the relationship with a calm, objective eye. It is always possible that the person in front of you is not a good match. Breaking up and trying again with someone else is always an option. If you decide you want to stay in the relationship, take a breath, and get ready for the ride.
Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.
Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator. Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships. She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world. Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years. She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective. She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well. Contact her now at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-200-3970. More information here. localflamesmaine.com