New Relationship Energy Pitfalls – Polyamory Drifts Out of Comfort


New Relationship Energy Pitfalls - Polyamory Drifts Out of ComfortNRE (New Relationship Energy) is different in what would be considered polyamorous relationships as it is in swinging relationships. So different in fact that I think it's apropos that way back we coined the acronym NSE for New Swinger Energy. In my experience, and from what I've been told by many readers and friends, when in a swinging relationship, a couple meets another couple, the NSE hits them with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for their own relationship. The very act of finding a couple you're compatible sexually with can often trigger a sexual renaissance as it were. In polyamory, though, it's a whole different ballgame, something I discovered this weekend.

Both Marilyn and I are now involved in polyamorous relationships independently from each other. She is dating a couple, I am dating a single woman. Both of us are experiencing NRE with these relationships, and are basking in the warm glow of new loves. The conflict that I see has come in the form of focus. When you're focused on external relationships, the internal one doesn't get as much attention, or the attention it may deserve.

Marilyn hasn't had many relationships in her life, and as thus has not felt true NRE very many times. Given the go ahead to throw herself full throttle into the relationship and feelings she was developing for her couple, she did just that. It made her happy, it boosted her confidence, it did all sorts of wonderful things.

I have experienced NRE quite a bit, and have learned how much it messes with your head. This, in my dating years led to many ill-advised decisions with those whom I was dating. In the decade plus that I've been with Marilyn, I've been able to reflect on many of those decisions from my dating life and realize how foolishly we can act when in the clutches of NRE. (My big folly was always stampeding towards “I love you.”) For me, going into new relationships, I've been I think exceedingly cautious, and not simply because we were doing the poly thing, but because I know myself.

I've been able to look at my NRE for what it is, an excess of endorphins perhaps designed to encourage pair bonding. (Note to self, ask Christopher Ryan his thoughts on New Relationship Energy.) And as such I've been able to counteract it with some excess rationality. I don't in any way think that I'm somehow better than those who give themselves over to NRE, in fact I wish I could more. My analytical brain can often cause paralysis by analysis.

Marilyn has felt a disconnect with me over the past couple months. And it's due to the exciting and new relationships we're both in. While NRE creates energy, I think it also sucks energy toward it. In the vanilla world, I remember when friends would start dating someone and they'd almost entirely vanish. We'd always ask where so and so was and inevitably he'd be with his new girlfriend. So my theory has precedent. When experiencing NRE in a polyamorous relationship, I see a temporary spacial shift of relationshippy energy toward the new bond and away from the old.

This has been confirmed by several of my polyamorous friends, so I assure you I'm not just talking out of my ass.

So, this would then beg the question: “Um, I thought that you don't have a finite amount of love and that's the point of polyamory is that you can love many people the same amount and not neglect others.” Did that question sound like it was delivered in an exceedingly snotty voice to you?

That is the central conceit of polyamory. And I think it's a fully valid conceit. You don't have a finite amount of love. You do however have a finite amount of time, energy, awakeness…those nebulous kreplits. This is where the confusion comes in. If you're expending relationshippy energy on one paramour and experiencing that explosive NRE, then it's harder to expend the same amount or type of relationship energy on your primary partner.

I know I'm going to get poly people who'll say “That's not true! I can do both! I can have full on NRE with as many people as I'd like.” Was that the same snotty person from above?

Sure, then, I'll concede you may well be able to do that. And I congratulate you on it. But I'll say I'm sure not everybody can claim the same. For me I've consciously worked against the overall impulses that accompany NRE in my current relationship with S. This mainly in an attempt to not revert to a very young and foolish Cooper who would've already told this woman who I love her and tried to move in with her. FOOLISH.

(Though I do wonder as I'm analyzing relationship machinations if I've lost some of the fun…but perhaps that's a post for another day.)

So there's been some turbulence on the Becketts' polyamory flight. This is not news, I was certain there would be. Early swinging was a tumultuous time for us, there were big issues and big concerns, and they passed, and we settled down into the warm embrace of the swinging lifestyle. I'm sure that polyamory will yield the same. We are, after all, doing something very different from we've ever done before.

Marilyn sees her relationship with them as better right now. The big scary, that. I'll concede that right now it probably is. They're in the impressing stage, the discovery stage. We're almost 15 years in on our end, it's hard to keep those things. I doubt very much that there's more than a handful of things she has yet to discover about me. They also, don't have to worry about all the humdrum soul crushing things that happen a relationship…like balancing finances. This is the issue that Cosmo is always talking about, isn't it. Countless books have been written about how to reignite those flames that first burned when you met. We have the edge, however, we the non-monogamous, because we allow for some of these needs (the need for new and different especially) to be out-sourced.

We just must always remember the central relationship at the heart. On the advice of my poly guru Shira B. Katz, we're going to start scheduling our date nights, because it's so easy to forget about your primary relationship when you've got so much “else” in your life.

The primary relationship can, I think, give up a little energy need to the new ones temporarily. To allow for that initial rush of NRE to come, hit hard, do its thing, and then move along. Because NRE has a bit of a short shelf life, and as soon as you've popped the top, it already moves into decline.

And at that point the scales balance again, and comfort is re-obtained. I'll admit, I wasn't prepared for the discussion and conflict this weekend. It surprised me, though it shouldn't have. I've felt the waning effect. We're at low tide now. Have to rely on that thing called communication. Be eyes wide open. I am that.



About Cooper Cooper S. Beckett is the co-founder and host of Life on the Swingset: The Podcast since 2010, author of swinging & polyamory novels A Life Less Monogamous and Approaching The Swingularity, and memoir My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory. He teaches and speaks on swinging, polyamory, pegging, play parties, and coloring outside the boundaries of your sexuality. He is a graphic & web designer, photographer, and voice over artist, has been a guest expert on Dan Savage’s Savage Lovecast, & is the announcer of Tristan Taormino’s radio show Sex Out Loud. He is currently working on two instructional non-fiction books, one about beginning non-monogamy, and another about pegging.


  1. NRE can create some scary thought processes. The idea that the new relationship is better than the old one is an easy one to fall into, because you don’t fight in the new relationship – and how could you? You don’t know each other well enough to have anything to fight about! And that makes it easy to want to hide in the new relationship, to avoid the inevitable problems that come with long-term commitments. But the fact that you’ve noticed this and figured it out puts you two a mile ahead of most couples getting into this for the first time. I will be sending happy thoughts your way.

  2. This is completely normal and the feeling of overwhelm will ease. You are in that awkward phase of migrating from more casual to poly and it’s a different adjustment than going from mono to poly- I found there were occasionally annoying layers that it didn’t seem like my “pure poly” friends had to struggle as much with. Could tell you some things that worked for me but don’t want to assume that it would work for you/presume that would be helpful 🙂

    It does get better/easier and you will both find your way through this.

  3. My husband and I try to be as open as possible with each other about the true feelings we are having for those outside our relationship.  Letting those feelings take their true course is so much healthier than desperately trying to pretend they don’t exist.  However, we have talked extensively about our own relationship and the fact that its a priority.  Not in the same way that a fun new relationship is a priority: dates, kissing, constant phone calls, PDA, and sex…..but in a deeper, more comfortable, and secure way.  We admit to each other that “of course” our “outside” relationships may seem “better” or “less stressful”.  We don’t have to pay bills, clean house, organize car pools, clean up dog vomit, or any number of other unsexy things with our non-spousal partners.  Hubby and I basically tell each other…..”You’re stuck with me, no matter what, so there!”  Then we figure out how to make sure we can be happy about that fact. 

    Cooper, I have no idea if this even fits into what you are talking about.  LOL…..but this is the second comment I’ve attempted and I’m probably creating my own blog entry in response as well.  Very interesting stuff!! 

    • Swingsetlife on

      Sabrina, that fits EXACTLY with what I’m talking about. Marilyn got a big laugh out of the “stuck with me” line, and we both think that’s an awesome “eyes wide open” attitude. Thank you for your comment and caring!

  4. As always, a fabulous article.  NRE is something I’ve come to regard as best handled with as much rationality as I can muster.  Otherwise, I can become deeply overwhelmed by the very real risk of things moving too fast on all levels (speaking from experience, alas)  — not something I’m comfortable with anymore, having a bit of dating under my belt now. 

    When it comes to the establishment of intimacy and “that” bond (especially emotional intimacy), I’m becoming a bit of a plodder, always the one muttering “Yeah ok, you’re awesome too but we really need to take things slow because I’ll get freaked.”  My primary, my husband, is the earth beneath my feet and the idea of losing touch with that, even simply due to “too much fun” is enough to send me retreating back to the safe (and eminently satisfying) havens of his arms and our life. 

    I’d sooner stop dating entirely than have anything take me too far from that.

    Having said all this, the right relationship should accommodate such caution.  If it doesn’t, then obviously, it isn’t.

  5. Fuegoloco06 on

    This was wonderful for me.  I’m in this space right now, but dealing with it as a newly poly individual in a poly-mono relationship.  While the balance is still so difficult to maintain (I want to be with my couple 24/7!), it helps knowing that I’m not all screwed up feeling the way I do.

  6. I’ve always been poly in my way of thinking but the
    reality has been elusive, mostly because of the lack of time, that is, up until
    a few weeks ago.  I actually came here
    hoping to find some advice so this article was very well timed! My partner recently started dating an old flame again and the sparks are
    flying. I was happy and excited for him after their first date went well and he
    said the connection they had was still there. He was so full of confidence and
    affection after that and I could only see positives coming from this. Then,
    they had another date and the morning after he said he felt he should let me
    know that she confessed to him that she still has strong feelings for him –
    renewed. And he admitted he was feeling the same toward her. Okay, I thought,
    here goes my first experience with sharing my partner in an outside
    relationship. It felt okay at first, but a little bit unsettling. We vowed to
    be open and communicate freely always and so I didn’t hold back. I had many
    questions. More and more questions actually, in the days following. Mostly I
    was concerned about her intentions.  In
    our discussions I discovered that she does not consider herself polyamorous.  She is looking for a monogamous
    relationship.  This is what concerns me
    most.  She is aware that he is in a happy
    open relationship and has no intentions of leaving.  How does one “share” with someone who isn’t
    willing to share too?  We left off with
    his understanding that I can’t see any good coming out of this in the long term
    and that someone, or all of us, will end up hurt eventually, but that he would
    have to decide for himself what he wanted. 
    And now I wait as he ponders. 
    Anyone have any experience like this? 
    Any advice?  Both of the dates
    were dinner at her place followed by talking, cuddling, and sex.  Is he just feeling “NRE” and I’m worrying
    unnecessarily, or is it a bad idea to “share” with a woman who is playing for

    • It’s been years since you left this comment, so I’m sure that one way or another this situation has worked itself out. I’m curious to know how. I was in a similar situation myself and everyone ended up hurt. I have no good advice. Sorry.

  7. Thanks for the great article Cooper. I was very interested to read it, as I had a negative experience with this. My wife and I full swapped with another couple while on vacation; we were their first and we are pretty new to this as well. I think I have a poly lean, and the other woman and I had a very strong connection. The NRE was wonderful at first, and we enjoyed sexting and chatting a great deal, but I think she fell hard for me and began neglecting her primary relationship, even deceiving her husband about her feelings because she was afraid of hurting him. We had to break things off completely, which made me very sad. My wife and I’s relationship was fine during this. Not sure what I could have done differently. I backed off as soon as I knew there were problems. It certainly has made me feel more cautious about future relationships, but also reassured me that my primary relationship with my wife is solid. I really appreciate hearing your and other’s experiences with this to learn from!

    • Swingsetlife on

      It’s such a hard and unstable dynamic to try to navigate when you’re on the outside of the relationship trying to help, or when people feel differently suddenly, you likely did everything you could, and ultimately the rest is on them

  8. Interesting article. I’m dealing with NRE as a secondary. What is interesting and now educational is what I’m learning in terms of how my primary partner felt with I was in the throes of my own NRE with my secondary partner. What I didn’t realize is the view from the other side is completely different then the one who is in the NRE, exactly as Cooper stated. I’m even feeling a bit more vulnerable as well being this partners secondary. I guess again, communication and the ability to manage ones own emotions is the key to these type of events in a poly relationship (or any relationship). I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve struggled, but then after speaking to my primary, I’ve also realized how ‘obsessed’ I was in the middle of my NRE, and it’s actually created some healing from damage I caused.

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