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Relationship Building as Tender Research

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

New relationship energy (NRE).

That’s the term coined by the polyamory community to describe the experiences and emotions felt in new relationships. In particular, the term speaks to how we tend to be more excited about the positive aspects of our new partner/relationship (someone to kiss, do fun activities with, get cute little texts from, etc.) and less open to noticing what about our new partner/relationship will be challenging for us down the road (differences in values or relationship goals, not being able to stand their best friends or other partners, etc.).

Polyam or not, we all experience NRE on some level. And while the term was coined to describe the positive feelings that come with new relationships, I know from experience with clients that some of us experience more “new relationship dread” than we do “new relationship excitement.”

So consider this for yourself: Do you tend to rush into new relationships? Or do you dig your heels in to your independence and avoid any semblance of commitment?

What I notice in clients (and myself, if I’m keeping in 100) is how often these impulses to rush in or out of new relationships operate on the predictions or assumptions of our parts. And while we can get a pretty good base idea of who someone is or how they are in relationships early on, it takes time to truly assess compatibility.


We are not simple beings. We are all complex, multiplicitous. This is the reason parts work speaks so clearly to some of us. We have multiple emotions, motivations, interests and experiences. And at the same time, those multiple aspects of our identities weave together over time into noticeable patterns.

In new relationships, it’s important to give ourselves time to notice patterns in our partner/relationship, as well as reveal patterns about ourselves. This can be really scary for us sometimes because time means we have to wait. And in that waiting, we might have to cope with some uncertainty and subsequent anxiety.


I’m not saying that in new relationships you should just sit back and watch. We also have to practice engaging in our relationships, talking about them. Getting to know one another means sharing insights into our needs, wounds, and desires and seeing how our new partners receive that information.

Do they listen with curiosity? Do they seem disinterested? Do they put words in your mouth? Do they change their behavior in response to feedback you’ve given? Do they ask follow up questions if they feel confused?

It’s true that by being so honest we can make ourselves tremendously vulnerable here. Intimacy is always a risk, but without embodying our truth we can’t actually have it.

The Data Dance

Overtime, what we experience in our new relationships becomes useful data. Not in a way where we are keeping score or nit picking, but just to be honest with ourselves about what's happening and how it works for us.

Relationship building is an experimental dance. While the goal in relationships is generally to move two (or more) bodies in synchrony with one another, occasionally unexpected movements will deviate from the flow. It’s up to you and your partner(s) to decide whether you like and can agree on the different shapes added to the mix.

And when these unexpected bits of data show up, is your impulse to rush in or out, or can you sit back and say, huh…now that’s an interesting piece of data?


Are you and your partner ready to do some tender research together? Learn more about couples therapy

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