Relationships are a little bit like getting into cold water. You might feel brave enough to leap into the coldest parts straight away. Alternatively, you might want to start at the shallow edges and let yourself acclimatize more slowly.
Either of those preferences (and anywhere in between) are completely ok. The problem comes when your preferred relationship speed doesn’t match that of your partner’s.
In this article, I’m going to look at why you might want to slow your relationship down and how you can do that while still working to keep your relationship strong and healthy.
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There’s no set timeframe for a relationship to develop. You might be someone who says “I love you” after just a couple of dates. You might want to move in together after a few months. Or you might date for years before deciding that you want to live together, if you ever want to take that step.1
We can easily find ourselves being pulled into a more intense relationship than we had expected because our partner seems to expect it. They might start talking about moving in together before you’re ready for them to leave their toothbrush at your place.
Often, these behaviors feel profoundly uncomfortable, even though they are theoretically loving and affectionate. This is because they are pushing on boundaries that you might not even have noticed that you have. These are really hard to enforce because you weren’t prepared or had never expected these problems.
For example, you might find that your new partner starts to refer to your cat as “ours.” It’s understandable that this might make you feel uncomfortable. They’re appropriating your pet. But you might feel cruel or petty for asking them to stop.
In these situations, you feel pushed into a level of intimacy that you didn’t want and don’t see how to extricate yourself.
Pressure from your partner isn’t the only reason that you might feel your relationship has started moving too quickly. New relationships are exciting and full of hope. It’s easy to get swept up in that excitement before we realize that our relationship is moving faster than we want and faster than we’re comfortable with.
You might also put pressure on yourself about how fast you “should” want your relationship to go. If you’re uncomfortable ‘going with the flow’, and prefer to have a clear plan, you might feel that you need to keep pushing your relationship forward. You push aside your feelings because you’re focused on where you should be by now.
The most important thing in any relationship is that you both need to feel safe and secure. You’re always allowed to express your needs and that includes explaining that you’d like to take things a little slower.
Although this is completely normal and reasonable (not to mention hugely self-aware and healthy), it isn’t always received well by your partner.
Lots of people will see a request to slow things down as a sign that you don’t care about them or that you want to break up. They can become hurt, upset, and offended. You will always have the risk that the person you’re dating will react negatively to your request.
There are lots of different negative reactions you might encounter when you tell someone that you consider slowing down a relationship. They run the full range from them just being a little bit sad and quiet through to them walking away from the relationship.
In my opinion, if someone is willing to walk away from a relationship rather than adapt it so that it fulfills their partner’s needs as well as their own, it’s probably in everyone’s best interests that the relationship ends.
Although we absolutely don’t want to diagnose anyone with a serious mental condition without input from a mental health professional, this kind of all-or-nothing refusal to compromise for their partner’s comfort is a behavior commonly found in narcissists.3
When you ask your partner to slow things down in your relationship, remind yourself that all you’re doing is setting healthy boundaries. A healthy relationship will thrive when you’re open and honest about your needs and boundaries.4
The first thing you need to be aware of is that it might not be possible to slow your relationship without hurting your partner at least a little. If your partner is deeply invested in the momentum of your relationship, they’re going to be upset at the idea of slowing things down.
There is an important difference between feeling hurt and being harmed, however. When you ask your partner to slow things down, it’s more realistic to aim to do it without causing them harm, rather than without hurting their feelings. That’s not always easy, so let’s look at the best ways to approach it.
You might find that your relationships start moving too fast for your comfort because you’re not listening to your own needs. Often, this comes from a place of insecurity. You’re worried about disappointing your partner if you take it slow, so you push away feelings of discomfort.
Pushing away thoughts or feelings might seem like a reasonable solution, but it rarely works. Usually, you’ll experience something known as the Rebound Effect.5 This is where something you try to push out of your mind comes back even stronger.
If you get the rebound effect when you’re trying to push away feeling unhappy that your relationship is moving too fast, you’re probably going to end up feeling even more uncomfortable than you were to start with.
It’s typically easier to keep a relationship moving slowly than it is to slow it down once it’s started moving too fast. If you’re able to pay attention to your feelings and avoid being pressured into moving faster than you’re comfortable with, your relationship will probably be happier overall.
The problem with this advice is that It’s easy to talk about listening to your own needs and instincts. Actually doing it can be significantly more difficult. How can you recognize and understand your feelings about your relationship as they're happening, before things start to move too fast?
Recognizing your feelings early enough to avoid problems in your relationship requires lots of self-reflection. Remember that self-reflection is a skill, and it gets better with practice. There are loads of ways to practice your self-reflection, including mindfulness, therapy and many more.
In my experience, one technique that works well for a lot of people is journaling.6 To improve your self-reflection about your relationship, try writing something down about your relationship every day. Be completely honest (no one needs to see your journal except you) and include the highlights as well as your doubts and insecurities.
As well as understanding what your feelings and needs are in a relationship, it can be helpful to know where those feelings come from. For example, if you’ve recently been in an abusive relationship, you might need to take longer than usual to build trust in someone new.
Understanding your own history and how it has affected your approach to relationships allows you to really get to grips with why you need what you need. It provides context and an explanation that lets you feel less unsettled and confused about your feelings.
It might also be helpful to explain some of this to your partner if you feel comfortable enough to do so. This reassures them that there isn’t a problem between you and that it’s not that they’ve done something wrong.
Understanding your own history can also reassure you that your hesitation is both normal and justified. It’s easy to feel as though we “should” want our relationships to move quickly toward something more serious. If you have a reason for holding back, it can reassure you that you’re not doing anything wrong.
Of course, you don’t actually need a reason not to want to progress your relationship quickly. Sometimes there is no deeper reason behind your preference. Taking it slow is a perfectly valid approach to relationships and there doesn’t have to be anything specific behind it.
Having the conversation about feeling pressured in your relationship or wanting to slow things down can be awkward. It’s normal to dread bringing the topic up, but it’s essential to make this an actual conversation.
Avoid trying to “send a message” through your behavior or subtext. There are lots of ways that you can try to subtly tell your partner that you want to slow things down a bit, but they’re not effective and (more importantly) they’re usually both unethical and unkind.
Try to imagine how your actions might seem to your partner if they don’t know that you want to slow your relationship down. Without that piece of information, your actions can look like you don’t care about them and/or you want to break up.
This includes things like waiting a few days before replying to them (when you used to reply within an hour), saying no to all of their date suggestions (even when it’s something you’d actually like to do), or dropping other people you’re dating into a conversation.
These ‘subtle’ signs that you’d like to slow things down can often feel harsher and more confrontational than simply saying “I really like you, but I’m feeling a little bit too much pressure. Can we take things slowly here?”
Once you’ve started the conversation about wanting to slow things down in your relationship, it’s worth having a deeper conversation about what that means for you, why you want it, and how they feel about your needs.
Remember that you’re aiming to understand each other’s position and to work together. You’re not just trying to help your partner understand how you feel. You’re also trying to understand what this feels like to them and to work together to find a solution that makes you both happy.
Communication is your antidote to assumptions and insecurities. If you don’t talk to your partner about things that are difficult, you’ll usually start to create your own explanations about what’s going on. These will be based on your personal insecurities.
That makes sense. If we’re worried that we’re too clingy in a relationship, for example, and our partner tells us that they want to take it slow, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that we’d been smothering them and that this was all because we’d done something wrong.
If we had a longer conversation, we might find out that they had just got out of a long-term relationship and they wanted to be sure before they commit to something serious.
Remember that no one can make you accelerate your relationship faster than you’re comfortable with. You’re allowed to set boundaries around what is and isn’t ok for you, and that includes how fast your relationship is going.7
Some of these boundaries are going to be small or subtle things. You might decide that you only want to see your partner once or twice a week, for example. Others might be bigger, such as having to tell your partner that you’re not ready to move in with them.
Remember that oftentimes, setting boundaries isn’t enough by itself. Just saying “this is a boundary” won’t always be enough to get your partner to back off or reassess how you behave with each other. You may also need to reiterate those boundaries and enforce them as necessary.
Struggling to enforce your boundaries when your partner wants to move things forward doesn’t make you weak. It’s a difficult thing to do, so be proud of yourself when you manage it.
It’s also hard to cope when someone you care about (and who cares about you) tries to pressure you into doing something that you don’t feel ready for. Resisting that pressure is hard to do.
The first step to resisting pressure to move your relationship on is to notice when it’s happening. Usually, when we think about someone trying to pressure us to do something, we focus on their behavior. We look for specific things that they’re doing.
If you’re struggling to spot when someone is putting you under pressure, try flipping your attention from their actions to your feelings. Look out for times when you feel under pressure.
Sometimes you’ll feel pressure that comes mostly from yourself, rather than from your partner. Other times, you’ll be able to see that something they’ve done has led to your feelings. Either way, if you’re feeling pressured it’s a sign that you’re not comfortable with the way your relationship is going.
Sometimes, you might want to slow down your relationship because you know that you’re really susceptible to getting over-excited about a new partner. You know that this kind of enthusiasm and energy can’t last, and you’re trying to create something more lasting.
If that’s your situation, one of the most important things you can do to avoid your relationship developing too much momentum on its own is to make sure that you still do all of the things you used to do when you were single.
This makes it harder for you to spend every spare minute with your new partner and gives you the time to let the relationship build naturally. It also gives you a healthy sense of your own independence and autonomy, which can help you avoid abusive or codependent relationships.
Lots of us have internalized at least some form of the relationship escalator. If you haven’t heard that term before, it’s a really useful way to understand our expectations around relationships and the problems they cause.8
The relationship escalator is a term coined by writer Amy Gahran in 2012 to describe the expectation that your relationship will follow a set pattern of steps from the first date, through becoming exclusive, to cohabiting, and eventually marriage and children.
Recognizing this is an important step in deciding whether this is actually the life course you want for yourself. Rather than allowing yourself to be swept along by the escalator, ask yourself whether this “next step” is something you actively want and that’s right for you at this point in your life.
It can be helpful to talk about this with your partner. Implicit expectations (the ones you don’t talk about) can start to feel like they’re absolute requirements. For example, your grandparents probably think that of course you’re going to get married one day.
Talking about them makes them into a conscious choice, which can be empowering regardless of your decision.
Saying that you want to marry your partner and showing that you’ve considered what it means to you personally can be significantly more romantic and meaningful than doing it because it’s the automatic next step on your escalator journey.
I’ve already mentioned that we can feel pressure to move faster than we’re comfortable in our relationship even though our partner is quite happy taking it slow. Our own expectations can create at least as much pressure as our partners.
One source of this internal pressure comes when we compare our current relationship to ones we’ve had in the past, especially if those past relationships moved significantly more quickly. Remember that each relationship is unique and will progress (or not) at its own pace.
Your feelings and needs are always ok. If you want to slow down in your relationship, that’s perfectly valid. Although your needs are valid and important, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be compatible with your partner’s. If you want to slow down and they don’t, your relationship might not work.
Falling in love too quickly can be a bad sign, especially if there’s a chance that you’re being love-bombed or if you’re prone to codependent relationships. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, however. Some people just fall in love faster than others, especially when they meet someone incredible.
Relationships that develop quickly can last, but you will need to make sure that you still put the effort into building a solid foundation of mutual trust, respect, and communication. The risk of fast relationships is that you don’t build that foundation, leaving your relationship unstable and vulnerable.
It’s important to take your relationships at a pace that feels comfortable to you, rather than the pace that others expect. Focus on building a strong, healthy relationship without trying to push yourself into anything that doesn’t feel right.
Has this article helped you to take things at your own pace in your relationship? What still makes it difficult? Let me know in the comments and remember to share this article if you found it helpful.