• Sarah M. Neal

Navigating through New Relationship Energy (NRE) in Polyamorous Relationships

In Polyamorous relationships, New Relationship Energy can deal a nasty blow to existing romantic relationships which can lead to jealousy, resentment, and feelings of neglect.


So, you recently gelled with a new romantic interest. You’re into each other and ready to explore the relationship. This new person is constantly on your mind. You constantly talk about this person. You try to be inconspicuous while waiting to receive a text or phone call from them, but your insides ache when it seems to take too long and you get all tingly and maybe do a small happy dance when you finally do hear from them. You are so consumed with this new love interest that everything else just seems to fade into the background… including loved ones.


Beloveds let me introduce you to New Relationship Energy (NRE).


Yes, I did just hear many of you seasoned Polyamorists groan. I feel you.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with New Relationship Energy (whether you are monogamous or new to the world of polyamory), get comfy and let’s have a chat.

Studies done by actual scientists in actual labs with really expensive equipment show that there are biochemical reactions happening in our bodies when we hit this mutual attraction and start exploring the relationship phase with new romantic partners. It may not sound sexy, but I feel that it helps give us the ability to understand what is going on and maybe navigate it a LITTLE more sensibly.


There are three hormonal chemicals at play here: Serotonin, Dopamine, and Norepinephrine

Serotonin is the “fulfilled” “satisfied” hormone. It signals to our brains that we have had “enough” and are satisfied. Apparently, when we are in the throes of New Relationship Energy, our brain REDUCES our level of Serotonin. This is why we feel we can never get enough of thinking about or being with or having sex with this new partner. Interesting fact: An Italian study with 60 people showed that those who were in the thick of NRE and those who are OCD (but not newly in love) have about the same levels of Serotonin.


Dopamine is the “feel good” chemical produced by our brains as a reward. Our dopamine production increases when we do things that feel good whether it is having sex, eating a delicious food, and unfortunately, when we give into an addiction. There has been a great deal of research done on dopamine especially in relation to addictions.

Add an increase in Norepinephrine to your increased Dopamine production and that’s where we get that delicious, giddy, high-energy, euphoric feeling happening when we think about or spend time with our new partners.


Basically, between the decrease in Serotonin and increases in Dopamine and Norepinephrine, New Relationship Energy can have us acting like complete fools, ignorant of much of anything else that is going on around us that doesn’t have to do with our new partner. So much so that we can end up neglecting our other relationships- romantic, platonic, and even familial.


We’ve all had that friend who disappears when someone new comes into their lives, right? Likely, we have all been that friend at one time.


New Relationship Energy can last months and, in some cases, a couple/few years. Bittersweet, I know.


In Polyamorous relationships, New Relationship Energy can deal a nasty blow to existing romantic relationships which can lead to jealousy, resentment, and feelings of neglect.


Which is why, when you mention NRE in a group of seasoned Polyamorists, you will likely hear some groans, maybe some cussing, and probably see some eye-rolling.


Personally, if I am being honest, I have a love – hate relationship with New Relationship Energy. I mean, who doesn’t like a good dose of euphoria without the help of outside chemicals? I have also been hurt and caused hurt thanks to NRE.


So, now that we better understand what NRE is, what do we do about it?


I always say that knowing and understanding the root of the problem/obstacle/situation is close to half the battle. I also understand the power of hormones. There have been times where I have almost felt that I am outside of myself watching in horror as I do or say something under the influence of my hormones and just not being able to stop. However, consciousness is a great place to start growing and changing behavior.


For those of you going through New Relationship Energy, awareness is EVERYTHING. Recognize and acknowledge that you are going through NRE. Talk with your existing partners to make sure you are still taking care of the needs they rely on you for. Make sure to take time out to woo and connect with your existing partners. Feeling bypassed or no longer desired because someone else came along and fired up these hormones can be a blow to the ego – even when you are completely aware that your partner is going through NRE and it has nothing to do with how they feel about you. When you are grasping at every single free chance to spend with that new partner and not showing much interest in spending time with your current partners, it can cause feelings of neglect and rejection. So, take some of that crazy giddy, New Relationship Energy and direct it at your established relationships. Do something that is fun for both of you that you don’t always do because life and existing relationships have a habit of settling into comfortable routines and sometimes ruts.


Check in with them. Give them the emotional safety they NEED to talk with you about how they may be feeling and if there is anything a little extra they need from you to still feel loved and desired. Don’t get all surly and defensive if they call you in on your behavior. New Relationship Energy can be like putting on blinders and sometimes we aren’t even aware of what we are doing or neglecting and we need to be called in by the people who love us; and we need to listen and understand that even if we are not intentionally trying to cause hurt or harm to our existing partners, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t. Understand what kind of communication your existing partners need. For me, John will need and want one form of information and communication while Tyler’s communication needs will be totally different.


And for the love of all that is holy, don’t go into the “all or nothing” mindset- the “Fine! I’ll just end the relationship!” or “Fine! I just won’t go out tonight!” nonsense. That isn’t helpful, it is manipulative; and in some cases, it can be abusive. Listen to your partner with the all of the love, compassion and understanding you would like them to do for you.


Don’t make any rash decisions! Don’t go off and leave your other partners, jump into a joint bank account, buy a house or a car together. Give yourself time. We can easily miss relationship red flags when we are in that NRE hormone fog, so think carefully before you jump into major decisions.


For those of you who have partners going through New Relationship Energy, remember, this too shall pass. However, that does NOT mean you should sit meekly by if your needs are not getting met. This does not mean you have to give up your partner until the NRE wears off.


While we polyamorous people know that our individual relationships have nothing to do with our feelings for our other partners, it can be hard to feel that way when our partners are swept up in that New Relationship Energy. It can be hard to remember it isn’t about us. I know. I’ve been there and I have forgotten that many times.


Talk with your partner, quietly, calmly. Use some “I” language. “I understand that you are in the throes of NRE, but I really need such and such from you.” “I know you are working to establish your relationship with so-and-so right now, but I could really use a date night with you. When can we schedule one?” Don’t go for the jugular; don’t go in rearing for a fight; don’t go in accusing your partner of being an ass.


I know. I know. I know.


When you are feeling hurt and rejected by your partner because they are in the throws of NRE, your emotions are high and it can be REALLY challenging – I mean REALLY challenging to not go into a conversation looking for blood and groveling. No matter how good you may think it will feel, it isn’t productive, and it is only going to start off a chain reaction of defensiveness and likely cause more pain – on all sides.


Don’t ask your partner to call off the relationship. I know when we are feeling neglected or lonely, we can end up thinking that asking our partner to end the relationship will make it better. It won’t. It will only sow the ground for resentment. You can read more about that here.


Be patient. Sometimes conversations need to happen more than once as new situations occur with the new relationship. Sometimes, we aren’t always aware of what we need until a situation occurs. Communication is a great example. Maybe we express to our partners that we need them to communicate certain information about their time with their new partners and we, along with our partners, fail to grasp the full spectrum of what the communication looks like. Maybe we realize we need more communication. Maybe we realize we don’t want as much communication as we originally thought. It can take multiple conversations between you and your partner to figure out the exact amount and type of communication that is needed and appropriate.


Whether you are the one with the New Relationship Energy or your partner is, remember that it takes a minute to adjust to someone new coming into the scene. It will take both of you time, space, energy, determination, and commitment to each other to recalibrate your relationship to adjust to the addition of another partner. Be patient with yourselves and with each other. Keep those lines of communication and your hearts open and filled with compassion for yourselves and each other.


For more information on the brain chemistry of love check out these articles:

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/love-actually-science-behind-lust-attraction-companionship/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201603/the-science-love-and-attachment

https://sexinfo.soc.ucsb.edu/article/neurobiology-romantic-love

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