Being in the midst of a new relationship can almost feel like hibernating: Lost in each other, you and your new love hide away from real life, flush with the euphoria of falling in love and—this is the amazing, unbelievable part—being loved back. Is there anything better than the little world you’ve built together, just the two of you? The problem: Although that wonderful, dreamlike place can sustain you though the winter, spring always comes eventually (regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil says), and, with it, all of the complications of real life. New love is the most incandescent phase of a relationship, but it is also the most fragile—eventually the bubble you’ve been living in will burst, and either you and your partner will move on to a deeper, more honest relationship, or the relationship will simply fall apart.
Because the stakes are so high, these transitions can be really frightening, and it can be tempting to simply hibernate in your little love-cocoon forever. However, if you face your fears and meet the challenge head-on, you can make the leap from winter to spring, keep your love intact, and create a bond that can truly last. Here’s how.
1. Be honest about who you are
When you first meet someone who you really, really, really like, it’s natural that you edit yourself to present the best version of you that you can. That’s not to say that you’re lying; rather, you’re putting your best face forward. But as the relationship progresses, it’s important that you be open about who you are and what you want. I know it’s terrifying to think that your new love might not like the person you are down in your core, but as painful as that would be, you have to take the risk. If it works out, the reward is pretty great: being loved for your real self.
2. Keep an open mind about the other person
As you transition from a new relationship to an established one, you and your partner will both strip away the fantasies with which you entered the relationship. This is the time when you will separate who your partner really is from the ideal of him or her that you’ve built in your mind. This process can be awkward and painful, but—if you let it—it can also be wonderful. If you can make yourself keep an open mind, then the moments that your new love departs from what you thought you wanted won’t be disappointments. Instead, they’ll delightful surprises.
3. Don’t make assumptions about what your partner wants
After spending the last couple of months hanging out in a blissful, new-love cocoon together, you might feel that you know everything there is to know about your partner. Not true! Don’t make assumptions about how your partner is thinking and feeling; by really listening to what your partner is telling you—both verbally and nonverbally—you can avoid painful misunderstandings.
4. Bring friends and family into the mix
You lovebirds can’t stay tucked away in your little bubble forever! Eventually, you’re going to have to go back to your real lives and find a way to integrate your new romantic relationship into the relationships your share with your friends and family. So have your new S.O. hang out with your other loved ones, and make an effort to return the favor. On the one hand, if your S.O. doesn’t get along with your friends and family, that’s a real problem. (I’m a firm believer that if all your friends hate your boyfriend, you need to reassess your relationship, but I know everyone feels differently about this.) On the other hand, if your family, friends, and partner all get along like gangbusters, that’s a wonderful sign that you should keep this one around for the long haul.
5. Spend time alone
When you’re newly in love with someone, it can be tempting to spend every waking minute with that person. However, that kind of togetherness just isn’t sustainable in the long run, and you run the risk of either getting sick of the person you thought you couldn’t live without, or you end up losing your identity entirely. It may seem counterintuitive, but spending time apart will make your time together happier and more stable.
6. Keep having fun
After the initial excitement of falling in love, it can be easy to stop making an effort to try new things. Make an effort to keep the fun going: plan adventures, meet new people, and go on real dates. Magic isn't self-sustaining—you have to continually create it. If you work at creating new magic before the initial burst of magic has burned out, you'll never have to experience a lapse.
7. Pace yourself
Remember that these are still early days in your relationship. Although things are moving forward, there is no need to jump from “brand new relationship” to “getting married” in a single bound. There are lots of steps between the first blush of new love and a lifetime commitment. Take the time to fully enjoy each one.
8. Go on a (short) trip together
Traveling with a new S.O. can be both amazing and terrible. The stresses of traveling—driving/flying, navigating a new place, being a tourist—can add strain to a relationship, but they will also tell you a lot about how you relate to your partner. Plan a short trip together and see how it goes. If you go in with a relaxed attitude and are willing to compromise, it will probably be really fun!
9. Don’t take each other for granted
The initial hurdle of getting together and falling in love is over, but don’t assume that the work is over. Maintaining a relationship (at any stage, really) requires effort and time. Be willing to work hard to make your partner feel loved and wanted.
10. Be willing to argue—but be nice about it.
New love is so great that many of us are willing to do whatever we can to avoid messing it up—including refusing to speak up for ourselves because we’re afraid to start a fight. But you can’t go through a whole relationship without ever arguing, so you might as well jump in and stand up for yourself. Just be sure to begin as you mean to follow: yell if you need to, but treat your partner with respect and compassion.
11. Keep communicating
The most important part of transitioning from a new relationship to a not-so-new-but-still-really-happy one is to communicate. If you keep talking to each other about what you want and—this is very important—you keep listening to what the other has to say, you can find a way to make it across the bridge. Enjoy the spring, lovers!
Images: Hunter Powell/Flickr