Whether you’re consensually non-monogamous or monogamous, it’s very likely that you’ve experienced New Relationship Energy (NRE). That’s the term given to the dizzying excitement of an early relationship – the part where your chemistry is off the scale and you can’t stop thinking or talking about them, where the very sight of their name on your phone as they text you sends your stomach lurching with happiness.
NRE is an amazing feeling, and the capacity to experience it in a way where all partners are aware, involved, and maybe even feeling compersion, is a joyful part of the non-monogamous experience. But as with so many complicated human emotions – and scripts that we’re continually unlearning about our own capacity for abundance regarding them – NRE is not without its pitfalls. Here’s our how-to guide to using this energy for good.
The good and the bad
Few forces are as dynamic as NRE. It can make the whole world look brighter; the sense of communion and connection with another amazing person can give you an energy and happiness that spills over into the rest of your life too (including existing relationships). When we are happier, we feel more ourselves and can give more of ourselves – not just to other people, but to the things that make us feel alive.
On the flip side, NRE can also make us feel anxious, distracted, and possibly alter the dynamics of existing relationships. Not just intimate either; you might have less time for your friends, for your hobbies, and for work.
Being realistic about these feelings, where they come from, and what they can really do for us isn’t necessarily the most romantic thing in the world. We like to think these feelings are magic and unexplainable, when really it comes down to chemistry. However, taking a more pragmatic approach enables us to enjoy NRE in a way that enriches rather than upends our lives. Plus, it potentially allows us to experience it over and over and over (if we’re lucky.) Why pursue the fantasy idea of a one big and all-consuming love when you can experience many versions of love again and again in a consensual and happy way – a way that might open up the possibilities for what intimacy can look like for us throughout our lives.
When your partner is experiencing NRE
This, in a way, is one of the most primal fears of non-monogamy; the thought of your partner having a huge – and reciprocated – crush on someone else. No matter how experienced you are with non-monogamy, it’s bound to throw up some anxieties, including but not limited to: how can an older relationship compete against the excitement of giddying lust? What if your partner has less time for you, is distracted, or would rather be with the new partner?
These are valid anxieties, normal questions to be asked and worked through with your partner, and they are even real possibilities. That’s not an easy conclusion to reach, but we cannot control the behavior of the people we care about, or predict what they might do in the future. All we can do is trust in them, trust in ourselves, and trust in the inherent strength of the relationship you’ve built together.
Non-monogamous or not, there’s always the chance your partner might decide not to be with you anymore. And to trust that someone will return to you and your relationship freely, even when given the opportunity to explore intimacy and desire elsewhere, is not what we are conventionally told about how relationships work. Our understanding of relationships is so often bound up in contractualist thinking; that you will return because you’ve made a vow, a promise, because you are forever tied by forces stronger than wanting to be with the other. But the simple action of wanting to be with someone, and making the free decision to be with them daily, is the most powerful thing of all. Perhaps we’re just not used to it, but it’s difficult to feel worthy of that feeling too; to feel that we, in ourselves, are a gift to be returned to.
To talk through any feelings of inadequacy, worry, or hurt, or ask for extra reassurance when your partner is experiencing NRE, is completely reasonable. It’s often the fears that lurk in the background, or the things that go unsaid, that can lead to panic and bitterness. To be able to be vulnerable with your partner, to tell them how you really feel, and ask for whatever you need from them in that moment – a hug; some extra time together; a verbal reassurance that they still want you – isn’t a sign of weakness, and a good partner will be considerate and compassionate in ensuring that the needs of everyone involved are met.
You might feel the urge to set boundaries without examining where these come from; perhaps by asking your partner(s) not to see a certain person, or not to perform some aspects of intimacy (whether that’s spending the night, specific sexual acts, or more). While boundaries are an integral part of relationships, and you have the right to feel comfortable and safe, it’s worth taking time to be introspective rather than reactive. Will setting these boundaries really protect you, or are they illusions designed to make you feel better? Are they temporary or permanent? Are you setting them because you don’t trust your partner, or trust their new partner – and if so, what can be done about this?
Confronting difficult feelings rather than hiding from them can, hopefully, even see you reach a place of compersion – that happiness for your partner when they are experiencing something so exciting. We love to see our partners happy, and would celebrate other work or personal successes. It might feel difficult, but what if we could re-learn to see the blossoming of a new relationship as an extension for this, and take pleasure in their pleasure?
When you’re experiencing NRE
While arguably the better position to be in, experiencing NRE when you’re in an established partnership or polycule is also not without its challenges.
The passionate feelings of a new relationship are heady; when you’re rushed off your feet with new hormones and emotions, it can be hard to think of little else, especially if this is your first experience with NRE while also partnered. They can be so heady, in fact, that you might find yourself actually questioning your relationship with your partner. As above, the scripts we have been raised with often state that one person should be everything to one person, and that love conquers all. If you’re experiencing feeling something like this with someone else, you can lose sight of the idea that there’s no requirement to choose; that, in fact, the new relationship you’re in can coexist with another one quite happily. But how happily is up to you and your honesty, and how well you keep the channels of communication open with your partner.
It’s helpful to remember that what you’re experiencing is completely natural, and that it’s also a powerful biological imperative. Of course it feels incredible to connect on multiple levels with another person, and of course we want more of this feeling. It’s very likely, however, that you’ve felt like this about people before. You probably felt this way about your more established partners at the very start, too, and that’s why you’re with them now. Be realistic, take a step back, and remember to treat everyone with honesty and compassion. You can enjoy your own feelings while also remaining respectful to the feelings of everyone else involved.
How much your established partner(s) will want to know about your new partner is up to them to decide. You should gently encourage them to set the pace where possible. They might not be comfortable to hear you singing their praises day and night, or want to meet them. On the other hand, they really might be, and they might prefer it. The best way to know is to ask them directly. Striking the balance between sharing too little information and oversharing in this context is inherently difficult.
As a general rule, though, if you have a feeling that you are keeping important information from someone, then you probably are. Be honest about the magnitude of your feelings, rather than downplaying them out of fear for hurting the other person. It can be as simple as “Hey, I have to be honest. I’m feeling very strongly about this human and really enjoying our time together. I want to check in about how this makes you feel, and what you’d like to know?”
Let’s also not forget about the new partner in all of this, who might also be struggling with jealousy themselves, or with the feeling of being a newcomer to an established partnership, or feeling that they can’t truly enjoy the NRE out of concern for upsetting an existing dynamic. Be careful of promising too much or overcompensating.
Embracing the possibilities of NRE
Limerence, love, lust, infatuation – all of what is new and wonderful can make us feel a little unsettled, and a little selfish (or more than a little.) Check in with everyone, and check in often. NRE can lead to a long-term partnership, or it can be a delightful and fun experience that doesn’t have to last forever. It actually doesn’t always have to matter if your long-term needs and priorities aren’t aligned, or if the glorious fire of what seems like such intense energy fizzles out sooner than you thought. There’s no need for expectation or disappointment. Without the pressure of a destination, and with the consent of everyone involved, NRE can be simply enjoyed for what it is.