What Is the 90-Day Relationship Rule and Does It Work?
Relationship rules are like knock-knock jokes—everybody's heard a couple, and very few make sense.
One relationship rule that seems to be gaining ground on TikTok is the "90-day relationship rule," where popular TikTokers such as @manifestingbabe and @sirdoglord recommend setting 90-day probationary periods for potential romantic partners before entering committed romantic relationships.
The three-month trial period is aimed to encourage a more thorough evaluation of a potential partner's suitability before commitment.
Interpretations of the "90-day rule" range from @manifestingbabe's recommendation of taking 90 days to date and learn about the person before putting any formal labels on things, to @canadasdatingcoach recommending an absence of physical intimacy for the 90 days.
But what do experts recommend about setting arbitrary sexual boundaries? Let's learn what to look for when getting to know somebody better during a probationary period before committing to a relationship and the slippery slope of getting your relationship advice directly from social media.
Another name for slut-shaming?
While not all TikTokers promote abstaining from sex during the 90-day probationary period, some "relationship guru" accounts specify abstinence during this period.
Shamyra Howard, a sexologist, licensed clinical social worker and AASECT certified sex therapist based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said she is wary of placing hard-and-fast rules on sexuality, as it harkens back to sex shaming.
"Making a partner wait to have sex for 90 days does not guarantee they are waiting because they genuinely like you or want to be with you," Howard said. "Sometimes they are waiting specifically for sex. This is why it's great to maintain sexual boundaries because they align with your own values, not some made-up rules."
One infamous example is Steve Harvey's 2009 book "Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man," which promoted withholding sex for 90 days. The best-seller even spawned a movie based on the premise of withholding sex for 90 days in 2012, "Think Like A Man," which critics felt was so bad the gifted American actors Taraji P. Henson and Regina Hall couldn't save it.
Howard said she thinks rules emphasizing chastity may be resurfacing because of the "podcast bro" movement, which includes creating content meant to teach women how to be acceptable and presentable for their male partners—much like what Harvey's book claimed to accomplish.
"While Steve Harvey made this rule popular with his book, the 90-day rule falls right in line with many discussions that are currently happening surrounding dating and relationships," Howard said.
Taking time to know each other can be a good thing
When you remove the potential sex-shaming, the idea of taking time to get to know each other can offer valuable insight into a potential relationship and how a person's values align with your own.
"I think there is some value to the 90-day rule if you take it with a grain of salt," said Alexandra Luger, a New York City-based licensed clinical psychologist and couples therapist.
Luger, who's Level 3 trained in the Gottman Method and currently leads Gottman 7 workshops on the early relationship phases, added that although timelines are highly individual to each person, taking the time to get to know the person through applying proven strategies for communication and conflict resolution early on when dating builds a foundation.
"It's important to not rely on the concept of a 'spark' and give yourself time because sometimes that spark is just adrenaline that's kicking your insecure attachment or anxiety into gear," Luger said. "Just because you don't have a spark doesn't mean one can't emerge."
Values and traits over checkboxes
If you take 90 days (or any period of time in the early dating phase) to deeply reflect on how you're feeling, Luger recommended evaluating the other person for intrinsic traits rather than external ones such as what their job is or how much money they make.
"Use those 90 days to explore how you feel," she said. "Another thing is to use those 90 days to determine if the person has a growth mindset, if they're the type of person who is open to change, do they have curiosity and how they approach the world. Are they able to problem-solve and willing to put work into a dynamic? For example, if they don't have good conflict resolution skills, are they willing to learn?"
She noted it usually takes years to truly understand who a person is, and even if you cross off major red flags off the bat, you don't know what challenges life with a partner will bring you.
"Even the best relationships are a lot of work," Luger said. "And sometimes we don't know ourselves until a major life event has happened. We can know a person based on what life has brought us so far, but you never know everything about what that person will do. What you do know is the 'how,' or how open they are and how collaborative they are."
Social media is community, not therapy
Luger has seen an increasing number of clients coming in wanting to discuss advice they received on social media—such as the 90-day rule—and she thinks that while social media has its place for normalizing relationship issues, it's important to view it more as a way to build community rather than act as a form of therapy.
"I think it's mostly people feeling alone in the experience and really wanting to find an answer in a way where others have felt supported by it," she said. "I can understand how it's really tempting to latch on to an answer for a question that you had that other people also had. It's positive in decreasing shame around how challenging it is to date, but we need to be very careful consumers of information, too."
Luger cautioned against the temptation of seeking easy answers on social media and urged people to work on their self-awareness and self-knowledge over latching on to generalized rules.
"There is an oversimplification of relationship dynamics and psychological functioning," she explained. "That's catchy, but it's not going to give you the insight that I think you need."