New Relationship Energy | The pleasure and the pitfalls

New Relationship Energy (NRE) is bloody brilliant! It’s intense, thrilling, and the sex is great. But it’s also comes with pitfalls we can’t ignore, no matter how wonderful it feels.

If you’re a Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist working with clients in the throes of a new relationship, it’s worth knowing that what’s going on for them is largely a chemical reaction, and not necessarily love at first sight.

Back the mid-80s Zhanai Stewart created the term New Relationship when he was grappling with the “heady rush of escalating emotional connection and the hot juiciness of a growing sexual attraction” in his polyamorous relationships. But it’s not a phenomenon experienced only non-monogamous or polyamorous folk. It’s exactly the same if you’re monogamous, although it’s more commonly called the ‘honeymoon period’.

The excitement and exhilaration of a new relationship is intoxicating. Not surprising really, given that your brain is being flooded with a delicious cocktail of feel-good chemicals: oxytocin (the love hormone), dopamine (the reward neurotransmitter) and vasopressin (the bonding hormone).

Not only are you drunk on love, you‘re often in a heightened state of sexual attraction and connection – and lust activates the sex hormones of testosterone and oestrogen.

This heady combination triggers the same sensation of euphoria as a cocaine rush1 – you’re literally high on love and lust!

On the downside, serotonin levels drop, which might explain the anxiety you feel if they don’t respond to a message within five minutes, and why you concentrate on little other than your new partner during the early stages of a relationship.

Noradrenaline (norepinephrine) and adrenaline and are responsible for the pitter-patter of the heart, restlessness and overall preoccupation that go along with experiencing NRE.You’re so preoccupied with this bright and shiny new person in your life thatyou neglect other relationships, your wellbeing, even your job (staying up to 4am on a Tuesday with your new love is wonderful, until you have to function at work the next day!).

And reduced activity in the frontal cortex means your judgement might be off, so try not to make any major decisions while in the throes of NRE.

At best, you might overlook or even be enamoured by their ‘quirks’, only to be driven made by them when NRE fades. At worst, you might miss red flags and have to disentangle yourself from an unhealthy situation.

As well as not neglecting your own wellbeing, if you’re polyamorous, it’s vital to prioritise spending time with existing partners. Reaffirming or renegotiate your boundaries, including what information is shared, rules for safe sex. How will you support existing partners if they experience jealousy or envy – perfectly natural human emotions? They may fear losing you to this new person, or feel envious of all the fun you’re having with them, particularly if they’re feeling neglected.

NRE might last weeks, months or if you’re lucky, years. But it will fade, eventually. And then what? You start to see your partner as they truly are, not how you imagined them to be in the heady early days. They’re human, and flawed, just like you.

You may feel sad or disappointed to have lost the initial magic, the all-consuming high. But the end of NRE doesn’t automatically signal the end of passion, love, or sexual chemistry. It can give way to a deeper connection, built on a deeper understanding and acceptance of each other.

So, enjoy it, revel in the pleasure that comes with falling in love and lust. But don’t lose sight of the fact that there’s a complex mix of chemical reactions at play, and some of these might cloud your judgement. So no life changing decisions until the euphoria has given way to deeper understanding and connection.

Therapists: Whilst you don’t want to rain on your client’s parade, think of how you could offer them an insight into the phenomenon of NRE – both the pleasure and the pitfalls.

Diane Hassall – LDPRT Faculty member and alumni

1. “The Neuroimaging of Love”, Journal of Sexual Medicine (November 2010), Volume7, Issue11, Pages 3541-3552

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