Picture this: You have a new crush. You just started seeing someone who is making you listen to Feels Like by Gracie Abrams on repeat on your morning commute. When you get happy hour with your friends, you have to physically stop yourself from talking about them. You wake up and fall asleep, feeling like you have little cartoon hearts floating around your head.
When we think about falling in love with someone, this is the butterfly-inducing experience that comes to mind. But what is the psychological reason for that phenomenon? And why does it ultimately go away after a certain amount of time in a relationship, replaced by a more sustained comfort with your person? After all, we can’t always be in the can’t-eat-can’t-sleep phase of dating forever—life goes on, and we have to stop swooning eventually.
On The Everygirl Podcast, we chatted with sex therapists Kamil Lewis and Casey Tanner about the difference between the “honeymoon phase” of a relationship versus the more comfortable stages. Turns out, there are names for those two different feelings: new relationship energy and long relationship energy, or NRE and LRE for short. If you’re wondering why you still love your partner but don’t feel the same delulu giddiness that you did at the beginning of your relationship, this is the explanation you’ve been looking for. Here’s a breakdown of NRE versus LRE and why we need both.
What is new relationship energy?
NRE and LRE can both be explained by brain chemistry. “NRE and LRE describe the different cocktails of neurotransmitters that we are on at different stages of a relationship,” said Casey Tanner, MA, LCPC, CST, on The Everygirl Podcast. They explained that when we are starting a new relationship with someone or when we have a huge crush on the person we’ve just started seeing—our brains are full of oxytocin. And because our bodies and brains are so excited to be experiencing such intimacy, this person can do no wrong in our eyes.
“It’s a period where a lot of the fears we have about ourselves [and] our lovability feel extremely soothed because we feel like we have somebody’s full attention,” Tanner said. Any of those stressors that normally clog our brains regarding our dating lives when we’re single, such as healing our attachment styles or getting caught up in the trauma of past relationships, kind of fly out the window for a bit when we’re experiencing NRE.
Though butterflies feel great, and we all deserve to have that dreamy, lovesick feeling, there are also aspects of NRE that can feel uncomfortable. If we’re not sleeping or eating properly, we might feel like our physical health is off balance; if we’re spending the workday distracted while thinking about this person, we might fall behind on our tasks. We may also feel like we have to appear a certain way to our potential partner right at the beginning of a relationship due to societal pressures and norms. When we don’t quite feel like ourselves at the beginning of a relationship, we have to switch to LRE to make it work in the long term.
What is long relationship energy?
Once you’ve stopped blasting Jackie and Wilson by Hozier while you make breakfast, what’s left for your relationship? As it turns out—a lot: You just have to know that you’re moving into long relationship energy. According to Kamil Lewis, MA, LMFT, it’s essential that we move into LRE as we continue dating someone, and it’s healthy to be curious about this transition. “[NRE] is so unsustainable,” she said on The Everygirl Podcast. She says that throughout the transition from NRE into LRE, you get to experience the benefits of both stages of connection. Then, once you’ve fully transitioned into LRE, you will no longer feel any pressure to present a certain way or say the right thing around the person you’re dating—you’ve reached a new level of your relationship, and according to Lewis, that’s a good thing.
When you’re in long relationship energy, both the exciting buzz and the slight discomfort of new relationship energy fade away. We trade butterflies and soaring oxytocin levels for feeling genuinely comfortable around our partners—like we can say whatever weird thing pops into our head at any given moment, go through the blah-ness of the day-to-day grind with them, or, yes, even fart in front of them. It’s a different kind of intimacy, but it’s just as important and rewarding as that early-on, head-over-heels feeling.
How to embrace the shift from NRE to LRE
During the transition from NRE to LRE, things can feel a bit scary: You start to question whether this is the right person to invest your time and energy into, and you might feel like your relationship is losing a bit of the magic. However, according to Tanner and Lewis, experiencing this shift in our relationship energy is actually evolutionarily necessary. “We can’t survive in NRE long term because a lot of times we’re not eating, we’re not sleeping the same way, we’re not even able to function at our jobs,” Tanner said on The Everygirl Podcast. “It is an evolutionary necessity that we shift into long-term relationship energy in order to sustain something across many years.”
If you’re shifting from NRE to LRE in a relationship, try not to overthink the transition or stress too much. Sometimes, this change can expose whether someone is genuinely right for you, and though it might be unpleasant to realize that you don’t quite vibe with someone after the shine wears off, that realization can still set you on the path to healthier future relationships. Other times, weathering the transition from NRE to LRE with your partner will bring you even closer together as you discover that your connection is sustainable in the long term. “The transition from NRE to LRE is a good thing,” Lewis assures us.