The early days of a relationship can be blissful but fraught. Experts weigh in on the most common pitfalls – from coming on too strong to not establishing clear boundaries
hose early days of a relationship often pass in a fog of bliss. Texts from friends go unreturned; entire weekends are lost in bed. But many relationships crumble by the three-month mark – when you start to see the other person’s flaws, but before the partnership becomes a solid, defined entity. If you can weather the three-month point, those early days will set the tone for your future relationship. What are the common mistakes people make at the start of relationships – and how can you avoid them? The experts weigh in.
Coming on too strong
It’s good to know what you want from a prospective partner, and to be clear about that. But it’s off-putting to lay everything out on the table straight away. “Don’t set out your 20-year plan on the first few dates,” says psychologist and relationship expert Emma Kenny. “It can be intimidating. It also means that you’ve negated the opportunity to see how things would develop naturally with that person.”
Being too rigid in what you want
It’s good to have an idea of the sort of person with whom you would like to settle down. But being too rigid in the early stages of a relationship can kill promising romances stone dead. “Think about what that other person is as an individual, not in terms of their political beliefs or whether they’re a vegan or whatever,” Kenny says. Put away the checklist. “It’s not a great idea to interview someone on the first few dates. Asking them how much they’re earning, or about their home-owning situation – it’s not an organic way to get to know someone. You’re a prospective partner, not a recruitment consultant.”
Performing for them
Early on in relationships, you often want to put your best foot forward – be the cool girl (or boy) who is up for anything, never complains and always looks fabulous. “When you start dating someone new, you can put on a bit of a show,” says dating coach Persia Lawson. “You’re trying to perform, instead of being authentic.” But it’s an exhausting pretence to have to maintain long-term. Why not just be yourself? “I try to encourage people to realise it’s cooler to just be yourself. If you’re trying too hard to perform around someone, they’re probably not the right person for you anyway.”
Not learning from past relationships
“I’m a big fan of relationship audits,” says Kenny. “Look back at your last relationship and see what went wrong. Ask yourself: ‘What am I doing wrong in relationships? How accountable should I be?’” Perhaps you have a habit of dating emotionally unavailable people, or you struggle to respect boundaries. By doing some work on yourself, you will be better placed for a future, healthy relationship.
Moving too fast
When you’re caught up in the dopamine rush of a new relationship, it’s tempting to want to crash through all the major milestones as fast as possible, as if you are collecting mushrooms in Mario Kart. “A lot of my clients make the mistake of moving too fast in general,” says Kenny. “Telling someone you think they’re the one and you’re deeply connected to them after date one or two is not great for everybody involved.”
Don’t meet the friends and family for at least three months. “It’s OK to take things at a slower pace sometimes,” says Ammanda Major, a therapist at Relate. “People want to get in there and meet friends and parents and live in each other’s lives after a very short time. But it’s OK to take it at a slower pace. If you go rushing along and the whole thing collapses after three months, you may end up feeling bereft.”
Ignoring red flags
We’ve all been there. You have been dating someone for a few weeks, they seem perfect and then they’re rude to a waitress or trash-talk their ex. Don’t ignore red flags. “Red flags are important, because they mean you should step back from that relationship,” says Kenny. “Maybe you hate it when people raise their voice, then they shout at you – but you find them so attractive, you ignore it. If you ignore red flags, you will end up in a horrible relationship.” Besides, anyone who is rude to a waitress is definitely not worth your time.
Posting too much online
Be mindful of what you post on social media. “It can feel wonderful to think you’ve met your soulmate, but remember that if it’s going to be an important relationship, you don’t have to rush things,” says Major. Which means: hold off on the loving romantic tributes, for now. “If you post: ‘I’m in a fabulous relationship, I think this is the one,’ your new partner might see that and if that’s not where their head is at, you’ve kiboshed it before it’s even started. Or if it doesn’t work out, you might feel embarrassed.”
Not establishing clear boundaries early on
The first three months of a relationship set the tone for the rest of your time together. If you’ve allowed the relationship to be on your partner’s terms, you will find it hard to come back from that. “You need to respect yourself and have clear boundaries when it comes to dating someone,” says Lawson. “Be brave enough to put your boundaries up and say: ‘This is what I need and what I desire.’ A lot of people are scared to express how they want to be treated for fear of being rejected. But it’s better to know now than later. Besides, people are attracted to people who know their own worth, rather than accepting the crumbs and scraps of poor behaviour, because they think it’s all they can get.” Don’t be afraid to challenge your partner or pull them up on their behaviour in those early months – if you let things slide now, you will be letting them slide for ever.
Glossing over sexual incompatibility
It’s completely natural for sex with a new partner to not be mindblowing initially – you are only just getting to know each other. But if things continue to misfire in the bedroom department, that may be a sign you’re not right for each other. Long-term, you can only have a healthy relationship with someone with whom you are sexually compatible. “If your intimate life isn’t working out, you must not ignore that,” says Major. Try to address things head-on. “Communicate your desires openly and share your kinks. You have to deal with things as soon as possible, otherwise you’re going to have problems.” If things don’t work out, move on.
Being too available
When you think you have found the one, it can be tempting to cancel all your plans and hole up together. “You stop contacting your friends, and start scheduling your entire life around when you may see them,” says Lawson. “You sideline any hobbies or interests you have.”
But if you do this, you may end up isolated from your support systems in an unhealthy relationship. “In my experience, couples who spend all their time together don’t seem to work out,” Lawson says. “It becomes toxic and codependent.” Rather, embrace some healthy distance. “You need to have friendships, hobbies and interests outside your relationship.” Beware the love bubble – it always bursts, whether you like it or not.