“New relationship energy (often abbreviated as NRE) is a state of mind experienced at the beginning of most significant sexual and romantic relationships, typically involving heightened emotional and sexual receptivity and excitement. It begins with the earliest attractions, grows into full force when mutuality is established, and slowly fades over months to years. It carries an implication of contrast with the feelings involved with “old” or an ongoing relationship.” (Wikipedia)
While the dynamics described by NRE are common to almost all relationships, the term is particularly common in the polyamorous community, in large part because polyamorous people often experience new relationship energy alongside ongoing but older relationships which they also wish to maintain. This can be the basis for one of the most common issues I see arise with poly clients. The “original” partner feels the effects of the NRE when one or more of their partners is starting a new relationship. This is a common place for insecurities to emerge and feelings of jealousy, fear and/or sadness can arise.
So what are a couple of tips for surviving NRE in a poly dynamic?
First is awareness. Once you, as a couple, decide to open your dynamic to additional partners or if you come together as a poly couple from the start – knowing NRE will occur is extremely helpful. Part of that awareness is understanding the physical changes it creates.
“That’s right we are actually experiencing changes in brain chemistry – increased dopamine and norepinephrine in particular. New relationships light up the pleasure centers of the brain, including what are known as the addiction-like drives in the brain meaning the drive to get MORE of that as soon as possible. These parts of our brains give us more energy, they can cause us to maintain focused attention and an intense yearning for the recent source of our pleasure. During this early phase of attraction people find that they need less sleep, have strong emotions, may experience intrusive thinking about the person they are drawn to, find it hard to focus on normal daily tasks, and have a heightened sex drive.” Melissa Fritchle, 6/2013
Second is kindness. Be kind to one another during this transitionary phase. If you’re the partner that’s starting a new relationship, try to maintain awareness of how you’re acting around your longer-term person. When you are with them give them your full attention even though you have “puppy love brain”. Keep in mind they may be struggling a bit and may need a little more reassurance than normal. Also, don’t abandon your responsibilities. You may want to spend all your time with the new partner, but that’s no excuse for leaving your long term partner to pick up your slack when it comes to shared household, children, or other responsibilities.
If you are the long-term partner, try to keep in mind that this is a normal and temporary phase your person is going through. Their actions aren’t personal and you have entered into a poly agreement because you agree that multiple loves don’t diminish what you have together. Make an attempt to self-sooth when you feel some jealousy – whether it’s self-talk, leaning on friends, or even therapy. However, that being said, don’t stuff your feelings only to have them evolve into resentment or anger later on. Communicate with your partner. Take ownership of your feelings yet let them know if you’re having a tough time.
Especially if this is a first time transition for you as individuals or as a couple – be patient with one another. NRE is probably something you both enjoyed at the start of your relationship and it’s bound to occur with every new relationship ahead. So be aware, communicate, and be kind to one another.
Jennifer Masri is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in Alternative Lifestyles for individual and relationship issues. She also teaches the BDSM 101 class series at Sanctuary LAX in Los Angeles every Monday evening. Read more about Jennifer on her blog, A Kink Shrink.