How the 'Once-a-Week Rule' Can Make a New Relationship Stronger
"If you want to see a new partner more in the future, see them less now."
If real life was a romantic comedy, starting a new relationship would go something like this: You’d lock eyes, knowing in some deep and spiritual way that you’d found The One, and from that moment forward tumble head-over-heels into love, never to be separated again. Cue the montage of the two of you laughing, holding hands, and riding a tandem bicycle.
Of course, in real life, lasting relationships tend to develop a bit less cinematically.
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When we meet someone we really like—someone with whom we have instant chemistry and infinite things to talk about—the desire to spend all of our time with that person right away can obviously be intense. But Seth Meyers, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, recently proposed a guideline in a post for Psychology Today that he claims will both minimize heartbreak and set a budding relationship up for success.
Meyers calls it “the once-a-week rule.” For the first month that you’re dating someone new, only see each other once a week.
The logic? When we spend a lot of concentrated time with someone we’ve just met, we develop a false sense of intimacy and connectedness—which often leads to feeling deeply invested in a person before we’ve gotten to know them. By limiting how often we see each other, we’re protecting ourselves from pinning too much on a relationship that might not be worth it.
“I came up with the rule after watching so many new relationships fail because the couples were seeing each other too frequently and then subsequently having a kind of mental freakout—they were feeling anxious and pressured,” Meyers tells Health. “It’s counterintuitive, but if you want to see [a new partner] more in the future, see them less now.”
Is the once-a-week rule right for you? We asked Meyers and other relationship experts to delve deeper into why you should consider starting things off very slowly.
Sex can be intoxicating
When we’re attracted to someone and spend a lot of time with that person, we’re more likely to have sex with them, says Meyers. No issues there. But during sexual intimacy, he explains, our bodies release chemicals (including the so-called “love hormone” oxytocin) that promote strong emotional reactions and bonding, which cloud our judgment. “If the person is kind and good and wants the same things as you, there is no problem,” he says, but “if the person doesn't have the same relationship goals as you, you may end up feeling lonely and betrayed.”
Chamin Ajjan, a clinical social worker and therapist in Brooklyn, agrees. “Get to know your partner’s soul before you mate!” she tells Health. By seeing each other less frequently, she says, it’s easier to assess the quality of the relationship with our heads, as opposed to our hearts and libidos.
It takes months or years to really know someone
Many of us have gone on a date and felt an instant connection. But really figuring out whether someone is a good match is a long and gradual process. “When people immediately tell themselves that someone is The One, it usually reflects idealization,” says Meyers. “You’re projecting all of these characteristics and traits onto this person.”
When we take that first month slowly, we’re giving ourselves space to learn who someone is. “If you pace yourself a little bit in the beginning and really get to know the person that you’re dating,” says Ajjan, “you know the foundation is real, instead of an illusion.”
You made your lasting friendships this way
It can’t hurt to apply the rules of friendship to the rules of dating, says Meyers. “Nobody meets a new friend and then suddenly starts seeing them six nights a week” or obsesses over how frequently to text them. Why should romantic partners be any different? “People usually make good decisions when they pursue friendships,” he says, “because those decisions are less emotional.”
And consider this: A 2014 study found that couples who viewed themselves as close friends on a “journey” together—one that would inevitably have its ups and downs—fared better than those who thought of themselves as being pre-destined soulmates. Being realistic may not seem very romantic in the short term, but it can lead to lasting romance.
Constant face time can be an emotional energy suck
Dating can be really, really difficult, so it makes sense that many of us take comfort in hard-and-fast guidelines for how to navigate love. But for many people—say, those who have hectic work schedules or are only in town for a short time—rules about how frequently to see someone aren’t practical, says Jenny Taitz, Psy.D., a relationships therapist and clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at UCLA.
Taitz advises her patients to pay close attention to how much mental and emotional energy they are devoting to a relationship. “Rather than focusing on how many dates and how much time face-to-face you are spending investing in a new person, it's key to watch how much headspace you are expending,” she tells Health. “It's neither pleasant nor productive to create a love story [early on] and break up.”
Going slow lets you keep living your life
One very real benefit to pacing yourself is that you’re left with more time to live your life and do the things you love. And when you hold onto your identity in that way, explains Taitz, who is also the author of the new book How to Be Single and Happy, you lessen the risk of being blinded to the relationship’s true value. “Dating should not be your full-time hobby,” she says. “If you have a lot of time to go on dates, great! But make sure you’re attending to the other areas of your life that are important for wellness.”
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If the relationship is real, it’s not going anywhere
The experts we spoke with stressed that there are, of course, exceptions to every rule—including this one. Ultimately, the “once-a-week rule” is about making new relationships as stress-free as possible. “If two people are meant to be together,” says Meyers, “they will be together.”