Most of us are too busy feeling butterflies or planning outfits or composing text messages in the early days of new relationships to consider much else. But there are certain things you should do at the start of every new relationship — things that will help to ensure that the vibe between you and your partner starts on the right foot, and continues in an orderly and fabulous fashion.
I asked experts for the one thing that they would suggest that you make sure to do at the outset of a new relationship, and the results were varied. One thing is for sure, though: Strong, healthy, long-term relationships don't just happen: They take diligence, awareness and a definite sense of being present and in the moment.
When all else fails, a smart dose of honesty and open-mindedness goes a long way when you're first getting to know someone. A nice pinch of vulnerability does wonders too. But in the end, whether you follow this expert's advice or that one's doesn't matter so much. Just find a suggestion that works for you, and give it a try. It certainly can't hurt, and it might make your new partnership just a little more smooth-sailing.
1. Lay Down Your Dealbreakers
"I believe at the start of every relationship, you should try and find a way to work deal-breakers into the conversation," BetterHelp telehealth counselor and psychologist Nikki Martinez tells Bustle. Of course, it's not that fun to talk about all of the things you don't want when you're trying to dive headfirst into something that feels amazing, but it's best to get anything that could gum up the works later off your chest immediately. A few choice deal-breakers? "You never want to have kids, you are a virgin, you don't ever want to be married, you are not close with your family," Martinez says. Whatever your list looks like, we all have them.
And it's not fair if you wait until much later to bring them up. "It is better sooner than later to mention dealbreakers, so that you are fair to the other person, and so that you are not wasting either of your time. What if you both missed meeting the perfect person because you did not address these incompatibilities head on?" Though I would never suggest that you bring this kind of thing up on a first date, if it becomes clear that one of you is champing at the bit for kids and the other never wants them, it'll be easiest for both of you if you pull the plug at the beginning.
2. Take A Cold, Hard Look At Yourself
"The one thing I would advise everyone to do at the start of a new relationship is take inventory of yourself," Rob Alex, who created Sexy Challenges and Mission Date Night with his wife, tells Bustle. "I would even go as far as to tell them to put that inventory into a journal." Alex doesn't just stop there, though: He adds a list of things you should include in your self-reflection. "The things you should take inventory of are your feelings and how the relationship makes you feel," he says. "Also, are you being your true self?" Does this person encourage you to be you, and show up authentically?
By writing it down, it'll become crystal clear whether the new endeavor is a wise plan or not. And don't forget to write down where you see your new relationship heading, he says. "[This] could help you when it comes time to move forward in the relationship or move away from the relationship, by comparing the way you felt at the start of the relationship to the place you are when you look back." If nothing else, it'll be a helpful guide for going forward, and will get your thoughts out of your head and on paper.
3. Be Real
It can be so tempting to try to be a better, sparklier version of yourself when you first meet someone. But that will never work out in the long run. "Cross-check to make sure you are both looking for the same things," Caitlin K. Roberts, founder of To Be a Slut and cofounder of I'd Tap That, tells Bustle. "This is heaps easier to do online when you can see each other's dating profiles. My previous relationship went totally askew because we failed hard to talk about the fact that he was monogamous and I was not early on." But if you fall into that trap, you're not alone: "New relationship energy blinds you to tackling controversial issues because you think love will concur all. Which is stupid," Roberts says.
She gives a personal illustration of what she's talking about as an example. "Last week I gave this spiel to my newish partner after he had upset me one evening, which might be relevant to setting up expectations," she says. She told him, "I want you to know something: I am very good at being single. I have absolutely no problem being single. The only reason I would be in a committed relationship with someone is if that relationship is directly benefitting me and my life. I don't want our relationship to become complacent or under-appreciated. I will give as much love, time and energy as I can to making sure that our relationship is something that is fulfilling to both of us." Bravo, sister! What a speech.
4. Open Your Ears
"Listen," New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. In the beginning, that's it: Just listen. "Too many people get swept up in romance and excitement, and they forget to listen and learn about the person they’re dreaming about and fantasizing a life together," Masini says. "If he says he’s got seven kids, and you’ve sworn off them, reconsider the whirlwind romance. If you are tired of dating men with no money, listen when he says that he’s between projects or in transition."
In other words, don't let romance cloud your judgment — or clog your ears. "Sex and romance are wonderful, but using the beginning of dating to really learn about the person and to decide if you’re compatible is a better use of your time and energy," she says. If it's a good match, there will be plenty of time for that later.
5. Be Honest
As Roberts mentioned, honesty is the best policy. "Be honest," life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. "It's totally normal to want to display the best version of ourselves early on in a relationship, but that can also lead to white lies, or straight-up lies," she says. So don't try to front like you're down with something if you're not, or like you've got everything together if you're still working on parts of yourself. "If you hate skiing, don't pretend like you do just because he's outdoorsy. If you're allergic to cats, don't say they're your favorite pet because she has two," Rogers says.
If you lie, they'll find out — and then they'll know you're a liar, too. "The truth will come out eventually, so might as well face your disagreements now. It will not guarantee the end of the relationship — promise!" And if a fling does end as a result of being transparent about your needs, it's for the best anyway.
6. Don't Try To Make A Good Impression
Instead of trying to be super perfect, what if you were your natural, imperfect, cutely flawed self? "The one thing you should do at the start of every relationship is be who you are from day one," relationship coach Chris Armstrong tells Bustle. "People often talk about the honeymoon phase and how quickly it fades away, but what they do not realize is that most of the fade is attributed to what I refer to as a ‘false start,'" he says.
The false start can look many ways, but one thing it doesn't do is make things go better as time goes on. "We get into relationships and communicate more often than we otherwise would because we want to make a good impression," Armstrong says. "We get into relationships and we show interest in things that otherwise would not interest us. Why? You guessed it, we want to make a good impression." Like Rogers and Roberts, honesty is the only way to go, and Armstrong stresses that trying to make a good impression is just another form of dishonesty. "Be who you are from the beginning so that you will not disappoint or set false expectations for your partner going forward," he says.
7. Tell Your Partner If You're Looking For An LTR
"If you're looking for a committed relationship, then let the other person know that sooner than later," relationship coach and psychic medium Cindi Sansone-Braff, author of Why Good People Can't Leave Bad Relationships , tells Bustle. She doesn't mince her words here. "You can do this by asking the person to put two feet into the relationship," she says. "State that you don't want drama and you don't want disease, so if you want to be with me, then be with only me." If you're worried you'll scare someone off, that's totally legit: "You might scare off the commitment-phobics, but it's better to know who and what you're dealing with from the get-go," she says.
Of course, it's worth waiting until you know what you want with someone — all LTRs are not created equal, and it takes some time to know that you want commitment. "By putting your cards on the table right up front, you can eliminate the cheaters, and get rid of those people who aren't looking for a serious relationship," she says. "Keep in mind that you're a good catch, and you only want to be with a person who recognizes your value and who is so thrilled with the prospect of being your one and only that he or she does cartwheels down the block the moment you state what you're looking for." If that happens, awesome; if not, keep looking. That is, assuming that you want a committed relationship to begin with. If not, skip to the next tip.
8. Don't Compare
"The one imperative at the start of every new relationship is leave your past relationships behind," dating expert Noah Van Hochman tells Bustle. "Too many times I have seen relationships with potential go bad as you compare a past partner to a new one." Newsflash: This new person is not your ex. And this is a good thing. Though he acknowledges that this can be done consciously or unconsciously, he says that the outcome is never good. "This goes for often referring to a past partner and your experiences with him or her as well," he says. "Always start fresh."
9. Meet The Friends
The way you jive with your new partner's pals says a lot about how the relationship will go. "Make sure you spend time with each other’s friends," Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences , tells Bustle. Not only is it a good idea to see what kinds of people your partner chills with, your own friends will prove invaluable as well. "Your friends will give you feedback about the person, and your date’s friends will tell you a lot of stuff you need to know." Plus, great bonus: It's fun!
10. Leave The Past Where It Belongs
"Be aware of unresolved baggage," certified relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca tells Bustle. "Emotional scars and wounds from your past can easily sabotage any new relationship." If you had a bad breakup, be sure to heal and give yourself space before jumping into something new. "Take the time to identify unresolved feelings of anger, hurt, guilt and disappointment from the past and accept these feelings as lessons learned," Sedacca says. "It then becomes easier to move on."
And no one wants to get involved with someone who is still hung up on someone else. "If you're emotionally caught up in the past, it's unfair to your new partner," she says. "Start clean and free, or get professional help in cutting past ties and healing from former relationships."
11. Just Have Fun
There is a lot to think about in this article, and a lot of different advice. But perhaps most important: Don't forget to have a great time. "Enjoy the initial getting to know each other moments and try not to worry about what comes next," Danielle Sepulveres, sex educator and author of Losing It: The Semi-Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin, tells Bustle. "We get so caught up in stressing that we’re wasting our time with someone who doesn’t want the same things that we do, but in the beginning both people are still figuring out how to let their guard down, or if they want to, and focusing on what may or may not happen next means you’re missing what’s happening right in front of you."
So, yes — be yourself and be honest and be real and don't lie and talk about your deal-breakers and your expectations and listen and all of that good stuff. But it's also worth just kicking back and finding out who this person is, and savoring every moment. The rest will be there as time unfolds.
This post was published on March 25, 2016. It was updated on September 3, 2019.
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