Readers ask Monica Gabriel Marshall, Verily’s relationships editor, and Zach Brittle, certified Gottman therapist and founder of forbetter.us, to weigh in on their most burning relationship questions.
Have you ever been in one of those relationships where everything just clicks? It’s so exciting to finally meet someone who makes you want to spend every minute together—and share everything about yourselves. I know I felt like this when I met my husband, Joe. I was on a high and couldn’t wait to spend every second with him (although I tried to play it cool). Joe, on the other hand, was a little nervous about moving too fast, so he set boundaries to help us keep a healthy pace. At first, this hurt my feelings. I couldn’t understand why he would want to slow things down. Did this mean he wasn’t really into it?
Verily reader Tess is in a similar situation, except that she is the one wanting to take things slow.
Tess: I'm writing to you today to see if you have any advice on how to navigate a new relationship I'm in. We've been friends for a little while and finally admitted to each other that we like each other, and we just had our first date. I know I feel very strongly for him, and I'm getting the sense that he feels similarly toward me as well. Trouble is, I've been burned in the past by sharing too much too quickly. I'm a little guarded when it comes to sharing about the inner workings of me. I want to make sure we build our relationship on a foundation of openness and honesty, but I also want to take things slowly.
Monica: This has always been one of the trickier dating problems for me, balancing protecting myself emotionally while still allowing the relationship to unfold naturally.
Zach: I totally get that, Tess. Sounds like your relationship is at this really tender and vulnerable stage and does indeed require a degree of caution, but also courage. The beginning of a relationship is really cool...and you do need to do the work of getting to know each other, but yeah, there’s a limit.
Tess: OK, so here's the question: Dow does a new couple navigate the waters of sharing about themselves openly and honestly without overwhelming the other with information and/or going too quickly in the relationship so as to make it unhealthy?
Monica: Striking a healthy balance between sharing openly and moving too quickly has a lot to do with boundaries built around levels of trust and commitment. The questions you should ask yourself to determine when to be vulnerable are: Do I trust this person with this information? If we were to break up, would I feel comfortable with the fact that this person knows this part of me?
For example, on a first date, there is typically no commitment and you likely don’t know if you can trust the other person to treat your feeling with respect. How much would you feel comfortable revealing to someone? My guess is, you may feel a bit more guarded. Which is a healthy thing. But then maybe on date four or five the conversation naturally evolves to the topic of say, losing loved ones. As you converse, you see that he treats the subject with sensitivity and maybe he has revealed a type of loss that you relate to. Ask yourself the same questions, and you may find that you are more willing to open up in this area.
I have found that this kind of internal examination is really helpful when deciding what and when to share information with a significant other.
Zach: Monica is right; you do need to be aware of boundaries, but it’s important to take risks as well. I’m certainly no fan of over-sharing. That’s a pretty big red flag. I’ve known more than a few people who simply did not know how to draw an appropriate line. I actually think that’s pretty selfish.
But intimacy is built on risk. In this case, Tess, you and your guy have a responsibility to get to know each other in a way that is more than just friends. I’d encourage you to start with simple stories. Where’d you grow up? What was that like? What do you want to be when you grow up? Let those things lead into natural questions about your hopes and dreams.
It’s important to resist “trauma bonding,” where you share and compare your most troubling stories as a way to foster a false intimacy. Also, to Monica’s point about boundaries, it might help to set actual time boundaries. Don’t stay up all night talking; draw lines that allow you to prioritize health and healthy boundaries.
I’ll probably have a lot more thoughts about that when my daughters start dating, but for now, I say have fun, be safe, and be smart, mostly with your story and your heart.
Monica: I hope this helps, Tess! It's not easy being vulnerable with someone new, especially if you have been burned before. But rely on healthy boundaries, as well as intentional conversations and time spent together, and easing into a healthy relationship building openness will come naturally.
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Photo Credit: Xavier Navarro