Someone asked my advice recently on dealing with a guy who was pushing down the accelerator on a very new relationship and going far too quickly for comfort. It's not an uncommon concern in relationships that are starting up.
It made me think of a couple who came to see me for Couple Therapy some years ago; I'll call them Pete and Dani.
Dani met and married Pete, who was about fifteen years older, very quickly and after a short time, she realised it had been a mistake. In the first counselling session, to his shock, she said it was over, she was leaving both the counselling room and the marriage - and she did. What was interesting and relevant to the subject was Pete's reaction. I continued to see him to work through his feelings of shock and loss but within literally three weeks he was dating online and seeing another woman.
I suspect Pete is the sort of guy who meets someone and is immediately revving into fourth gear and heading to commitment - fast! He would likely repeat the pattern again. He needs to be attached.
If you've encountered a man, or woman, like Pete then you'll know the early signs.
They call or text immediately and far too often "Goodnight, my love". "Good morning you gorgeous creature" " Can't stop thinking of you."
They start assuming a real relationship after the first date - "Thought I'd leave work early and meet you tomorrow." " What are we doing this weekend?"
They assume a future; "You'll enjoy my parents' silver wedding in June"
So how do you deal with this? Well, it may help to understand why Pete might be like this and why Dani got caught up in it.
- Getting caught up
- What to do if the relationship is moving too quickly
- Top tips for slowing your relationship down
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Getting caught up
Our brain chemistry changes when we start a relationship and we are attracted to another person. I won't do the complex science, you can google that, but take my word for it.
That early stage of almost addictive romantic attachment, when we just can't get enough of the person, is due to huge increases in two chemicals, dopamine and noradrenaline. We become slightly unhinged - even a lot unhinged! Our brains are scrambled - literally! We lose our sense of judgement and overlook flaws and warnings and, like Dani, we make mistakes.
Rushing into permanence and commitment here is dangerous. It's the next stage we should wait for, when our brains have unscrambled a bit, those chemicals have decreased and two others take over - oxytocin and vasopressin. These calm us and we begin to trust, to bond and to do this based on better judgements.
So the old saying, take it slowly, is a sensible one based on research into the changes in the brain in early relationships.
What to do if the relationship is moving too quickly
So, you've met a Pete. What should you do?
Well first, assess if you like him, but not the speed he's travelling at or is it that he just isn't for you? If it's the latter, there are lots of tips elsewhere on saying no thank you.
If it's the former and you want to give it a chance, but slow it down, then be up front and honest, but do it kindly. It's the sort of communication pattern I help clients to develop when negotiating changes.
DO remember that you have every right to slow this down. You are not a bad person for doing this.
DON'T be ambiguous. Be clear. Stick to your guns; if you waver the message he gets will be mixed. DON'T let the words 'I don't know ..." pass your lips! You DO know what you want! (I could write a whole article on 'I don't know' in the counselling room.)
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DON'T tell him what HE'S DOING is wrong.
"You text all day every day. You want to see me every weekend. You're driving me mad."
Note these all start with 'YOU'. They invite a contradiction ... or a 'Yes, but ...' response.
DO, instead, tell him how you're feeling about whatever it is ..... let's say it's the texting.
"I feel under pressure from the number of texts I get." Or "When I'm busy at work I feel irritated to receive texts."
Feelings can't be contradicted.
DO then tell him what you want to HAPPEN and check that he's heard by asking for a response.
"I'd really like you to stop texting me during the working day; that would help. Can you do that?" That hook, 'can you do that?' is desperately important in good communicating.
DO respond with gratitude if you get the right outcome. And maybe, if it's what you feel, reassure him about the relationship, that you like him and want to keep on seeing him.
"Thanks for taking that on board. My space is important to me/ I'm nervous of rushing into things because of a previous relationship/ it's early days yet. I want to keep seeing you but I did need to talk to you about this."
And after you've had this 'slowing down conversation' take steps to create space for yourself. Your actions should mirror that which you've asked for - thus enforcing your message.
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Top tips for slowing your relationship down
- Limit your calls and texts to him to a level you're comfortable with so as not to let a habit form that you don't like.
- Have something you need to do after a date so they don't become open-ended.
- See your friends alone some Saturdays.
- Go hockey training on Sunday mornings.
- Take a weekend to visit an aunt in Cheshire.
These ploys may sound avoidant but they are setting up a pattern for future, healthy, separateness in the relationship. If he has nothing he does for himself and his life revolves around seeing you, that's a danger sign. But that's for another time.
Pete married the woman he met after Dani left him; he married her quickly. I don't know if they are still together. I hope Dani slowed her next relationship down. I never saw her again.
Mig Bennett is an East Sussex/West Kent based relationship counsellor with over 20 years’ experience of working with couples. She is a registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, is a Relate practitioner and has a private practice – Mig Bennett Relationship Counselling