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Cosmo's Top 50 Relationship Rules

From first date to first fight to first big step toward a future together--here's our best advice for gaining and maintaining a relationship.

Figuring out how a relationship works in all its different stages boils down mostly to trial-and-error--especially when you're a young and adventurous college girl (or still have the heart of one). So, let Cosmo guide you through the trickiest spots. It's time we had "the talk."

We went beyond our usual rel advice by putting together a list of the most spot-on tips we've ever heard. Psychologists, counselors, researchers, and matchmakers spill their secrets to making that complicated-but-wonderful guy-girl thing actually work. We've outlined five major love stages, each with its share of speed bumps, and supplied keys to navigating them—50 in all. Because, hey, even if you're not exactly sure where you're going together, shouldn't you at least enjoy the trip?

Stage 1: Falling In Lust

1. Don't sleep with a guy on the first date if you want the best shot at some kind of future with him. Yes, plenty of relationships do start that way, but you risk being put into the one-time-fling category.

2. Never pretend to be into a guy's hobbies. Your true colors will come out.

3. When a guy tells you he isn't looking for a commitment, repeat it to a friend or write it down. That forces you to accept that he means it...and he does.

4. Enjoy the moment when you're on dates. That means no discussing the future with him or worrying if he's The One by date four. For the first month or so, your only job is to have fun.

5. Focus on your own pleasure in bed. If you're too busy showing off your skills, you'll forget to enjoy yourself (and rob him of the pleasure of driving you wild).

6. Listen to what his friends and family say about him. Off-hand comments ("He was never a one-woman guy before meeting you!") are some of your best tip-offs to the real him. So, pay attention!

7. Sit or stand side by side with your man while doing things together whenever possible. Men typically feel more relaxed and intimately connected in this position than when you're directly facing each other.

8. Spend equal—if not more—time with your friends in the first few months of dating. Guys often rush into a relationship, then suddenly cry, "This is moving too fast!" You have to apply the brakes.

9. Keep your options open for at least three months before deciding to be exclusive. You need a minimum of 90 days to even begin to know what someone is really like.

Stage 2: Going To The Next Level

10. He's not your boyfriend until he publicly calls you his girlfriend or agrees to be exclusive. End of story.

11. When you have a problem with his lifestyle, speak up before you get really angry. If you don't tell him that his partying bugs you, you'll eventually explode on him—not a smart communication technique.

12. Let him be the first to say the L word. Men generally need more time to process emotions and voice them. Hearing it could make him feel cornered.

13. If you need a Define This Relationship Talk, initiate it while walking with your guy. Low-key activity lowers his stress hormone levels, which rise when he's forced to chat about his emotions.

14. Hang out with happy couples he knows and thinks are cool. When he sees commitment as a fun thing, he'll become more comfortable with it.

15. Cut your guy some slack if he promises you'll get engaged once he reaches a goal, like finishing grad school. But give him only nine months after that to make good on his word.

16. Shacking up while you're engaged is a smart move. Cohabiting presents a host of challenges that are best handled prior to marriage.

17. If you think you want to marry a guy, try to hold off on moving in. Otherwise, he might feel less incentive to take the next step.

18. You can't force a guy to cut ties with his past...but explain why his hanging out with an ex or a pothead friend hurts you. If he really cares, he'll respect your wishes or tell you why he needs continued contact.

19. Deliver an ultimatum to get a commitment only if you're prepared to walk away. Be firm about expectations, and give him a deadline.

Stage 3: Hitting The First Rough Patch

20. Develop binocular vision: the ability to see his perspective plus your own. Try to appreciate his point of view and he'll be more likely to appreciate yours.

21. Couch a complaint between compliments: "You're a great schmoozer, but I'd like a call if you'll miss dinner because of client drinks. I love our evening time together, and I want to know when it will start."

22. Know this: Over time, a guy's attitudes, opinions, beliefs, politics, and views toward money could be fluid. What probably won't change: his values, stance on monogamy, and religious beliefs.

23. Get him to act by using humor. Point out the dirty socks in his car by joking "Hon, is that your new car freshener?"

24. Speak up about specifics—a birthday present you'd like, a restaurant you want to go to. Men don't pick up on subtle clues.

25. If you find out something bad about his past, like he cheated on an ex, ask why he did it and what he learned. If he is contrite and has vowed to change, chances are, he won't do it again.

26. When he seems overwhelmed during an argument, take a 20-minute break. Men's bodies easily flood with stress hormones, triggering an instinct to flee.

27. Watch your mouth in moments of anger. Cruel or contemptuous comments are often forgiven but not forgotten.

28. Don't criticize his attempts to say sorry. Men apologize through activity, so although you may not hear the word, you'll see it when he takes you to dinner or gives you a massage after a fight.

Stage 4: Cruising Into The Comfort Zone

29. One habit all happy couples share: doing fun things together. Competitive games (pool, poker) have a strong effect because they raise adrenaline, which helps you bond.

30. Don't let him see you peeing, plucking your eyebrows, or doing an at-home bikini wax. You can be "real" in ways that don't chip away at romance.

31. Keep some secrets to preserve mystery. Examples: your "number," what happened that girls' weekend in Boracay, a threesome you had.

32. Jump on him instead of next to him on the couch. Being sexy and playful takes effort, but it's the glue that keeps couples together.

33. Don't forget to kiss. Doing it for 10 seconds for no particular reason makes you more aroused during sex, even hours later.

34. ...And hug, too. Guys have less oxytocin, the brain's bonding chemical, than women do, but it can be boosted with frequent touch.

35. Balance out each negative interaction with five positive actions. Things like a peck on the cheek, make-up sex, or saying "I love you" will help repair and restore your relationship after a fight.

36. Don't succumb to pity sex when you're not feeling it. Most women need 30 minutes to relax before they're mentally ready to become intimate. Chill, then go at it.

37. Get past a sex slump by isolating yourselves (spending a night at a hotel or the weekend in your bed) with no distractions and one agenda: sex.

38. If your body has changed since you met, good God, don't point it out! Men rarely notice details like cellulite and saggage.

39. Don't pull a Houdini and disappear or dump everyone to be with your guy 24/7. Space is healthy, and no one person can be responsible for your happiness.

40. Be unpredictable. Guys want variety, but they don't require it from other girls. While reading the paper, say "You know, I've always wanted you to do me on the stairs," then nonchalantly go back to the headlines.

41. Always thank him for little stuff (like filling up your tank, being sweet to your third-wheel girlfriend). Appreciation keeps the good deeds coming.

Stage 5: Looking At The Future Together

42. Both of you at some point will question your ability to be faithful forever. Keep it to yourself, and don't take it personally if he's having the same doubts.

43. If you wonder whether you're settling, ask yourself, "Am I spending so much time saving this relationship that I've neglected the goals I had before we met?" "If I walked away right now, could I live with losing him?" If you answer no, stick with it and reevaluate in six months.

44. Love doesn't conquer all. Some incompatibilities just won't go away, no matter how much you care.

45. Don't compare your relationship to other people's. Every couple—even the perfect-looking ones—has problems.

46. Innocent jealousy keeps things spicy. Occasionally laugh about how you happily rebuffed a cheesy guy's advances.

47. Get real about sex: five to 15 percent of intercourse in healthy relationships is either dissatisfying (one of you doesn't climax or foreplay is rushed or skipped) or dysfunctional. Don't sweat it until you clock more duds.

48. If you do slip up and cheat, think very hard before you confess. Sometimes coming clean does more harm than good.

49. Life is long. If the timing just isn't right now, take a break. It doesn't mean you won't be together at some point.

50. Life is also short. Make a point to laugh your asses off regularly. The rest will take care of itself.

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