Dating can be fun, thrilling, and uncertain, all at the same time. It offers the opportunity to explore not only how you and your new partner engage in a relationship, but also, to explore yourself and your emotions, vulnerabilities, boundaries, and self-image in new ways. Here are five things to consider when entering a new relationship or thinking about it.
1. What is your relationship with yourself like?
This sounds like an odd question in a post about dating relationships; however, reflecting on your relationship with yourself is a potent source of information about your expectations for not only a partner, but for the relationship itself. How do you experience yourself when you’re alone…with you? Consider the following questions:
- What three words would you use to describe yourself?
- How do you handle challenging thoughts and emotions?
- What do you do when you’re bored?
- What thoughts and feelings are triggered by a compliment? A criticism?
- What is your strength in relationships and what’s something you’re working on?
- Do you have passion for a goal or a lifelong dream?
- What would you like to have said about you someday?
When two individuals with unique qualities interact purposefully, they create something new – a relationship. Knowing what qualities you may bring into the relationship to some extent can be a useful tool to understand how you may be inclined to contribute to the relationship in both good times and conflict, and what qualities you may find especially important in a partner. Going to therapy can also be a great way to explore your relationship with yourself.
2. What expectations do you have for this relationship?
You may not know what expectations you have for a relationship until you’ve spent some time exploring your relationship to yourself. What do you need, and what’s important to you? It may also be useful to reflect on your experience in past relationships. What did you want from them, and what happened? What did you learn from those experiences? Were they satisfying or disappointing, and why? What would you like to experience in this relationship and what do you expect to contribute? Are you looking for a long-term relationship in which you can safely share vulnerabilities and have them reciprocated, or are you looking for someone to engage with for the time being, but do not have expectations for deep vulnerability or long-term commitment? Knowing what you’re looking for in a relationship can help you not only express your needs to your partner, but also keep you and your partner from spending time in a relationship that doesn’t fit your/their needs, and/or recognize a relationship that does.
3. What boundaries have you established for yourself?
Relationships require give-and-take, and will undoubtedly raise conflict. Conflict doesn’t have to be a negative thing, and for lasting relationships, is often a great opportunity to build an even stronger bond, done effectively. Establishing boundaries for yourself is essential because you need to know what is negotiable for you personally, and what is not. If you want exclusivity in a dating relationship, and your partner is still active on dating sites, is this negotiable, or is this a deal-breaker? Smoking or drinking? Employment? Emotional reactivity or availability? If it’s negotiable, then to what extent are you willing to negotiate, and is there a line where it becomes a deal-breaker? Thinking about your personal boundaries prior to the situation can help you have clarity in moments of conflict, and it can also help you express your thoughts and feelings more clearly and engage your partner in a more fruitful conversation.
4. How will you respond when boundaries are tested?
Meeting new people while dating means that your boundaries will likely be tested in one way or another. This is why deciding what issues are negotiable and non-negotiable is an important conversation to have with yourself prior to engaging in dating relationships. What values must you uphold regardless of circumstance, and what issues may be more based on personal preference and negotiable within the relationship? If a partner expresses that they disagree with a fundamental boundary you hold, then you can consider the possibility that this relationship may not be a good fit for either of you. Or, If you or your partner open up a conversation over a negotiable boundary, this is a great opportunity to discuss each other’s viewpoints, learn more about yourself and your partner, and model what conflict resolution may look like in this relationship.
5. Communication is Key
It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of dating and avoid difficult conversations that might “push” a partner away. It is not uncommon for people in dating relationships to feel fearful of establishing or maintaining boundaries, choosing instead to “tolerate” breaches of boundaries than be single or break up with a partner. This isn’t to say that healthy relationships don’t have their fair share of conflict and challenges, but respect cannot be negotiable on either side. Patterns of resentment, mistrust, and secrecy lead to an unhealthy relationship. Having conversations about what’s important, negotiable and not negotiable for both you and your partner, can help you spend time and energy with the right people, and make the most of your dating experiences!