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Using New Relationship Energy (NRE) to Open Up rat...

Using New Relationship Energy (NRE) to Open Up rather than Close Down

I thought I’d write a bit about New Relationship Energy (NRE) here (no particular reason, nothing to see here). It’s a topic that the wonderful Sophia of Love Uncommon has been writing some very useful posts on recently. She covers what NRE is, and what to watch out for when you’re in it. I’m going to summarise her points here for people new to the concept, and then explore another theme of how we might use NRE to open up to our other love/s rather than closing down.

What is NRE?

Sophia describes NRE as ‘the emotional experience at the beginning of a sexual and/or romantic relationship (which) includes heightened emotional and sexual excitement, and sometimes obsessive thoughts and urges to be intensely connected with the other person’. In her first post she talks about where NRE comes from in terms of chemicals and emotions.

I particularly appreciated Sophia’s reflections on how profound it is to be seen by a new person. In the new edition of Rewriting the Rules (out now people!) I reflect on how, in the past, my relationship pattern was to try to shape myself to fit what (I thought) other people wanted me to be. My last few experiences of NRE have been perhaps even more profound then, as they have involved an intentional revealing of myself – even the vulnerable parts. To be seen and found loveable in those places is an intense and wonderful experience indeed.

Sophia also draws on Esther Perel and Barbara Carrellas to explore eroticism in NRE: how that can be much easier with new partners who we haven’t established patterns with, than with older partners with whom we might not have the spaciousness needed for eroticism. Sophia suggests that erotic encounters often need a balance of risk and safety which can be easier to find in NRE.

What to watch out for

In her second – hugely helpful – post, Sophia comes up with nine things to watch out for during NRE. I love the idea of balance between embracing NRE (which, let’s face it, is an incredible feeling and offers so much in terms of the potentials of this new connection) and approaching it intentionally, or consciously, in this way.

The nine things Sophia lists to watch out for are:

  1. Losing interest in our passions
  2. Spending less than half the time we used to with our other close people
  3. Stopping doing things we need to function (e.g. eating, sleeping, washing, physical activity)
  4. Massively changing our life to accommodate the new person in a way that interferes with things like our work or sleep
  5. Using the majority of our productive and creative energy on the new relationship instead of things like work, study, hobbies
  6. Spending most of our conversations with other people talking about them to the point where it receives desperate eye-rolls rather than fond teasing
  7. Making non-negotiated changes to how much time we spend with other close people
  8. Making life-changing commitments to the new person even though we’ve only known them 3 days/weeks/months
  9. Lying to our close people about the degree of connection we have with the new person

 

I encourage you to read Sophia’s post for the details on each of these – but what a useful checklist right?

Opening up and closing down

If you’ve read my other stuff you’ll know that opening up and closing down is a big thing for me. Whatever I’m talking about I’m always asking ‘what does it open up?’ and ‘what does it close down?’ Most things have the capacity to do both.

Reading Sophia’s list I was struck that I’ve definitely had the experience of NRE doing those things, but for many of the items I’ve also had the opposite experience. There have been times when NRE has left me feeling way more creative and energised about my projects, for example, or making life changes which have been part of an ongoing trajectory that’s taken me closer to what – and who – I want to be, not away from it.

However, there’s certainly a big risk with NRE that it does result in us spending less time and energy on our existing relationships and/or feeling the love that we have in those places diminished in comparison to the new shiny love feelings.

So I got to thinking, how might we intentionally draw upon our NRE to open us up to the other relationships in our lives rather than to close us down? Here’s a few ideas I’ve come up with so far.

  1. Looking at other people with our NRE eyes

There’s a Buddhist meditation where you imagine a friend, a stranger, and an enemy and cultivate feelings of loving kindness towards them, perhaps by picturing each of them from the moment of their birth through to the moment of their death, and touching on the things that are meaningful to them in the same way that the things you value are so meaningful to you.

I thought that we might use NRE in a similar way. One common experience during NRE for me – and I suspect many of us – involves waiting in stations. When waiting for the heart-stopping sight of my person walking towards me I’ve started to do a type of loving kindness practice. I try to look at each person coming towards me with those NRE eyes, imagining that I’d connected with them in the same way: that it was them I was about to spend the afternoon with them finding all about each other. It’s a great reminder that each of those people is a precious, complex human being, worthy of love.

  1. Being present to all of our people

Turning to the close people in our lives, a similar thought experiment can be helpful. How can I be present to this person and see them anew, rather than only seeing them through the lens of everything I already know about them and all the assumptions I have based on this?

Our delight in learning about the new person can exacerbate a sense of stuckness around older relationships, or it can be a helpful reminder that – like the new person – everyone in our lives is constantly shifting and changing, and has many facets to them. Can we take this opportunity to connect in older relationships in new ways, and/or to open up to new aspects of each person.

  1. Bringing all of ourselves to older relationships

Relatedly, one thing that’s easy to do in NRE is to bring newly emerging sides of ourselves out in the new relationship because it’s less risky to do it there than it is in existing relationships where we could face surprise, or rejection, if we start acting differently.

A useful challenge here is to reflect on the sides of ourselves that we’re bringing to the new relationship – perhaps more playful, sexy, or vulnerable sides – and intentionally try to bring them out in our older relationships too. We might notice when we struggle to do that, and withdraw. We could talk about this openly and/or deliberately cultivate situations in other relationships where we can most easily bring those sides of ourselves.

This is not to say that all sides of ourselves need to be expressed in all our relationships, but it can be useful to think about which sides we express and where, especially if we’re tending to bring out newer, shinier selves in NRE only (more on this in my Plural Selves zine).

  1. Appreciating older loves for what is precious in them

Cultivating appreciation is another useful practice that can follow from some of these other suggestions. What is it about our existing close relationships that are so precious? Looking at them through NRE eyes can help to remind us of those things. For example, it is wonderful and intense to be seen and met by somebody new, and how utterly wonderful that this person who has been in our lives for X many years still sees us and loves us even though they’ve probably seen us at our worst.

We might also appreciate, for example, comfortable companionship, the capacity we have to be vulnerable with this person, the conflict intimacy we’ve developed through getting through tough times together, or caring and being cared for. We could reflect on how each relationship in our life has changed over time and appreciate ourselves, and the other person involved, for supporting each other in the people we’re becoming.

It can be great to share these appreciations with the other people in our lives when we have them, and also perhaps reassuring for those who may have fears around our NRE and the impact it will have on our other relationships. Also we might consider having some of the conversations of the ‘how are we going to do this relationship?’ type – which we’re having with our new person – in our other existing relationships too, given that relationships change over time and ongoing consent is always a good idea.

  1. Appreciating different kinds of love

Something I write about a lot is the value of different kinds of love – beyond sexual and romantic – in our lives. I’ve just finished reading Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton, which includes some great reflections on the tendency of people to prioritise partner relationships over close friendships in NRE, and how painful that can be. I love how the book calls into question what we even mean by romance, in the intensely romantic descriptions of some of Dolly’s friend relationships.

I think it’s worth reflecting on the NRE we can experience when connecting with all kinds of love (friendships and collaborations, and relationships with companion animals, great new authors, and new projects are some of the ones that jump out at me as having similar features).

Also, again, can we draw on this NRE to cultivate appreciation of all our relationships? One thing we might share with our new person is a description of all the other important relationships in our lives. That can be a great time to remind ourselves what’s so precious about those people and to tell the stories of those relationships. Again we might then go back to those relationships with new appreciation.

  1. Loving ourselves

Finally, NRE offers a brilliant opportunity to cultivate love for ourselves. Check out this amazing person who is finding us hot and exciting and delightful and wants to make space in their lives for us. We must be pretty awesome right?

The closed down version of this, as Sophia points out, is where we get into craving that feeling and believing the new person is the only person who can give it to us, so we close down to other relationships and place all our energy in the NRE.

But the opening up option is available to us as well. If we can draw on the NRE to challenge ourselves to really start believing that we might be loveable, or at least acceptable and deserving of love, then that can make us more able to give and receive love in other relationships as well. If the new person is loving us even in the places where we’re vulnerable, maybe we can feel a little safer sharing that vulnerability with other people in our lives, and so build greater intimacy with them.

Of course part of this love of ourselves is self-compassion. That means not beating ourselves up when we do make mistakes, close down, or flail around a bit in the intensity that is NRE. Sometimes we’ll surf it like a wave and sometimes we’ll fall off and find ourselves underwater for a while, and all of that is okay. It’s a good time to check in with yourself about your preferred self-care practices and to put them in place to help you through.

 

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Meg-John Barker is the author of a number of popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including Queer: A Graphic History, How To Understand Your Gender, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and IF You Want To), Rewriting the Rules, The Psychology of Sex, and The Secrets of Enduring Love. They have also written a number of books for scholars and counsellors on these topics, drawing on their own research and therapeutic practice.

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