Ever had a new relationship hit a wall after six months? You’re not the only one. 70% of relationships end in the first year, according to a study by Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld.
You can avoid this fate! Do the following groundwork early in the relationship and you’ll never run into the dreaded “six month hump.”
Stop Being Polite…And Start Getting Real
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a friendship, dating or a work relationship. We all start on our absolute best behavior. We hide our flaws, our baggage and anything we think others might consider unpleasant.
Why do we pretend to be perfect? Because, on some level, we worry that the real us is not as lovable as the ideal us. “Who would want me if they knew that I eat peanut butter straight out of the jar, collect tea towels and have those weird hairs on my chest?”
But there’s only so long that anyone can stay on their best behavior. And those cracks start to show around six months in.
Everyone is a flawed human being, even your new sweetie who seems so perfect. Eventually you’ll discover their quirks. They might eat peanut butter straight out of the jar, too. Or they might pee in the shower, or write Legends of Tomorrow erotic fanfiction. But you don’t know yet, and it may be because they’re afraid of what you’ll think if you do.
Don’t Save Your Baggage For the Six-Month Mark
We are all complicated human beings with sometimes painful histories that made us who we are today. It’s important for your partner to know those issues that affect you.
Some people sit down at the six-month mark and go through the list all at once. “By the way, I was raped twice. My boss tried to strangle me. I was once in an abusive relationship. I saw someone commit suicide last year. And you share a birthday with my dead father and my ex-husband.” That can overwhelm your partner. It’s a lot to take in.
One way to handle it is to share your history as it becomes relevant to the relationship. Perhaps your partner wants to stroke your throat and it brings up bad memories of your assault. The first time they try would be a good time to mention it. If you suffer for months before telling them, they’ll feel like you’ve hidden something important.
When you discuss your history as it becomes relevant, then your partner has time to take it in and process it. As you open up to them, you are also giving them the gift of your vulnerability. Vulnerability is a scary, difficult thing. It’s also an intimacy-builder and can strengthen your relationship.
Talk About What Bothers You
Early in a relationship, we ignore things that bug us in hopes that they’ll go away. As therapist Robert Taibbi says, “both are so caught up in the greatness of it all that neither one wants to rock the boat and spoil the magic.” You are full of “in-love” feelings. You don’t want to complain when he leaves his shoes on in the house, or she’s rude to the wait staff.
But you can’t stay quiet about these things forever. The longer you swallow your frustrations, the more likely they are to come out in one nasty burst. That doesn’t mean the solution is the silent treatment or being passive-aggressive. If you say, “Hey, this is uncomfortable for me, but can you use the toilet brush to clean up any smears left behind after you flush?” you’ll have a moment of awkwardness. It will be more than made up for by your sparkling clean toilet.
What if it’s a bigger issue?
Negotiate Your Relationship Incompatibilities
In the beginning stages of a relationship, you’re focused on the ways you are alike and compatible. Therapist Leslie Malchy describes it as, “you are like me, we are the same, therefore I am infatuated with what I see in you that reminds me of me in a thrilling and delighted way.” But after a few months, you’ll start noticing the ways in which they are very different from you.
These aren’t merely things that bother you; it’s ways in which you are completely out of alignment. Maybe you both like watching the sunrise. But you like watching it before you go to bed, while your partner likes to wake up before dawn. Maybe you love going to festivals and he can’t stand crowds. Maybe you’re a Mac person and they’re a PC person.
Congratulations! You’ve entered the next phase of the relationship. At this point, Jeremy Sherman, Ph.D. says, daters ask themselves, “How many incompatibilities are there going to be, and how much energy am I going to have to put into negotiating and managing them[?]”
The best outcome, Sherman says, is when you discover “that you have compatibility in how you negotiate the incompatibilities.” Everyone has different negotiation styles. You have to find what works for you as a couple. Do you both hint around the issue, and does that get results? If one person addresses the incompatibility directly, does the other person look for solutions, or do they get defensive and push back? Working this out is one key to a long-lasting relationship.
Negotiating incompatibilities can be the hardest part of a new relationship. It is the biggest rock you’ll have to overcome. You’ve spent months feeling like the same person. Now you have to acknowledge that you are separate people with different desires. That’s the point where many people give up.
But healthy relationships don’t come from being identical people. Your partner may not like festivals. But he might love seeing your photos and hearing your stories, which allows you to relive the experience. Don’t fear your differences. Find ways to make them your strengths.