4 Tips You Need to Know in Your First Year of a Relationship


This June 2021, my partner and I celebrate our 16th anniversary together.

That’s no small feat today. The even wilder part about our relationship is that we met on social media. We didn’t meet on Tinder. There was no “swiping right” in 2005. We didn’t meet on Facebook or even MySpace. 

I met my partner when internet dating was brand new. We met on a site called “Friendster.” It was one of the first social media sites with profiles and photos, but not much else. 

Here’s how it happened for me. A guy named Alapaki messaged me. He had gorgeous photos and a cool job (as a symphony percussionist). I was a music major in undergrad, so we had that in common. 

I took a chance and here we are, still together, 16 years later. We’ve really learned a thing or two about relationships—mainly what it takes to make it past the tumultuous first year. 

Here I’m sharing four tips we had to learn (the hard way) in the first year of our relationship so that you might not have to. 

Tip #1. Center your first date around an activity that has you both focused on something other than yourselves. 

Back then, I was into motorcycles. When we first started dating, Alapaki would refer to me as “the motorcycle guy” to his friends. 

On our first date, we enjoyed sightseeing in the city on my bike, chatting up a storm. Our date was fun, light-hearted, and full of adventure. 

When you are engaged in an activity that takes the focus off you, you naturally have fun with that other person, instead of sitting around having drinks and talking about yourself to each other. You get to experience the other person rather than have them tell you who they are. And that is so much more revealing and exciting!

Question for you: How can you add adventure to your next date?

Tip #2. Relationships are about allowing your partner to express themselves, evolve, and engage in the world around them. 

My dad is not a particularly philosophical man, but every once in a while, he’ll drop these one-liners that just stick.

When I was on the dating scene (before Alapaki and I met), I complained about how flaky people could be. Dad said, “Sam, you need to understand that relationships are about allowing.” 

He meant that I had to open myself to the ambiguity of relationships and allow other people to be themselves. 

Early in our relationship, Alapaki would make plans to hang out with his circle of friends, even though I assumed that, given we were dating, we would naturally spend the weekend together. At that time, in my 20s, I wasn’t skilled at seeing the big picture when it came to dating. I wanted his world to revolve around me.

Sixteen years later, I understand that individuals need to have their own lives. When your partner can express themselves, they align with their higher, authentic self. And they will have so much more to contribute to you and your relationship.

Alapaki had his own life before me, and he continues to have his own life alongside me. This is the love map of his inner world. It includes his experiences in the past, the present, and the future to come. To be the kind of partner I want to be to Alapaki, I must remember it’s my job to appreciate his love map of the world—a map that continually evolves and expands as he grows richer from a full life of friends, family, and of course, me.

Question for you: What can you allow your partner to experience and bring something new back to your relationship?

Tip #3. Focus on what works in your relationship.

Relationships take time and understanding. Nothing good ever comes easy. And when you are an independent person sharing your life with another independent person, each with their own temperaments and past experiences that affect their present reactions, there are bound to be things that work and things that don’t.

Originally from Hawaii, Alapaki has a pretty free and relaxed spirit. But he often reminds me that Hawaiians are used to the heat, which is why he has a fiery temper sometimes. On the flip side, I’m not from a family that openly argued about anything. Alapaki’s passionate expression took years of adjustment for me. 

One of our biggest arguments tended to be about leaving the house on time. Alapaki would be very defensive when I tried to rush him out the door, even if we were already late. 

We had to find a way to de-escalate the situation. There will inevitably be arguments in every relationship, but we must focus on ways to calm situations down rather than ramp them up. 

Instead of pressuring Alapaki in the moment, I communicated urgency while keeping the mood positive through my chosen responses to the situation. I would say things like, “Thank you for getting a snack ready for the car. This will make it easier for us to leave on time” instead of, “We are always late because of you! Hurry up!” I’d get a far less aggressive and far more favorable response from the former comment. 

That is what works for us. What works for you? Figure out what method of communication will lighten the situation. Is it saying something kind during tense moments or expressing gratitude for something they did well earlier that day? Or perhaps it’s making a joke about oneself to release the pressure?

Question for you: What can you sincerely catch your partner doing well during your next argument to lighten the mood?

Tip #4. Approach your relationship (and life) with a “Yes, and…” attitude. 

If you ever took a drama or improv class, you know that answering your partner’s questions with a “no” is a dead-end. It kills the scene, leaving it stagnant with nowhere to go. Improv students are always taught to say “Yes, and…” so that the scene can keep going. 

Alapaki and I have said “Yes, and….” many, many times throughout our 16 years together and we continue to do so.

Life evolves. It changes. Life is about growth. And if you want to grow together, you need to adopt the “Yes, and…” attitude. 

In 2006, I said, “Yes, and…”  to Alapaki going to graduate school so we could open a practice together. 

In 2010, Alapaki said, “Yes, and…” to a career change for me.

In 2015, we said, “Yes, and…” to getting formally married.

In 2020, I said, “Yes, and…” to a career change for him.

And now, as we emerge in 2021 from the pandemic, we both say, “Yes, and…” to moving out of the Bay Area to focus on our business.

Yes, and…” always goes both ways. It simply has to for the relationship to grow.

These difficult decisions all involved understanding the love map of one another’s inner world, finding endeavors we could mutually work on, being open to each other as we evolve, and focusing on the positive even when we might disagree with the other person.

Question for you: What can you say, “Yes, and…” to this coming week?

Final Thought

We feel grateful that the Universe had us meet during June all those years ago and blessed us with the last 16 years together. June is Pride month worldwide, and we are grateful that we can share our partnership proudly.

Happy Pride to our LGBTQ+ community and our allies around the globe! 

May all your “Yes, and…” dreams come true.


The Gay Couples Institute will be hosting an IG Live event on The Gottman Institute’s Instagram! Join us Monday, June 21, at 9 AM PT/ 12 PM ET to hear more about What You Need to Know Your First Year of a Relationship.



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