How to Define the Relationship and Why You Need to Do it
Relationships, whether they are casual, committed, monogamous or open, deserve to be approached in a clear and communicative way that allows the people in the relationship to set their boundaries and expectations about the partnership.
Defining a relationship can feel complicated and complex because it elicits confusing, anxious, and nerve-wracking feelings.
But, if you’re in a good relationship, having the DTR convo can help each person in the relationship understand how the other person feels and whether or not both parties want a more serious relationship.
Defining the relationship is the key to creating healthy boundaries, communication, and a relationship that is built on trust and vulnerability. Having “the talk” can be the beginning of a new chapter — and through clear communication individuals can be guided through their own expectations, wants, and needs.
What is a "define the relationship" conversation?
Defining the relationship can mean different things to different people — which is exactly why we’re writing this article!
What it boils down to: a DTR talk is about clearly communicating your wants, desires, expectations, and boundaries in the relationship.
This type of conversation may involve the decision of labels for you and your partner, whether that means being exclusive, continuing to hook up, or even remaining friends with benefits.
This DTR conversation can also look like deciding on no labels at all for your partnership. Each relationship is unique and each person’s desires and needs are unique within that partnership.
Because there are many different ways this can play out, mutual communication between parties will assist in deciding what the relationship can and should look like.
The future of your relationship, regardless of labels, relies on the communicative partnership between you and the other person. Defining the relationship may end up in labels – however, it doesn’t have to. Coming to the conclusion that you both want a casual relationship is also defining the relationship.
Each relationship is different and each DTR convo will look different.
Why defining the relationship is important
We’re all about celebrating relationship milestones around here!
And one important relationship milestone is defining the relationship. At the beginning of any type of relationship, you’re just getting to know the other person(s). You want to learn more about them and see what kind of relationship you want with them.
If you don’t take the time to get to know the other person and understand how you feel about them, you’re setting yourself and the relationship up for failure.
That’s because defining the relationship isn’t just about the conversation itself — it’s about analyzing how you feel about a person and how you think they might feel about you.
Defining the relationship with another person shows clear communication, boundaries, and a partner that is ready to be vulnerable and honest with the other person.
Assuming you’re in a monogamous relationship with someone when they don’t feel the same way can lead to heartbreak.
Even if it may be hard and uncomfortable, there is an importance in being able to clarify your needs, desires and boundaries in your relationship, which will allow both partners to be able to understand each other and be on the same page.
Defining the relationship can also help us become more aware of our sexual health. Having open and honest conversations about how many sexual partners you are interacting with will help protect your sexual health and your partner’s sexual health from being compromised.
Having the answers to what your relationship is defined as will allow you to have more emotional stability in the relationship, and as time goes on (and if you do become more serious) it will open the doors to other conversations about your future.
How to Know It’s the Right Time to Define the Relationship
Every relationship is different—meaning that the right time will be different.
Some dating experts say that you should have the conversation no longer than two or three months into the relationship. A lot of people go by their gut instinct after spending time with the other person. You also want to remember that the DTR convo isn’t all about you — it’s also about how the other person feels. So make sure you think they’re ready to have the conversation as well!
Our best relationship advice is to have the DTR convo once you’ve had a few key relationship milestones like:
- holding hands in public (or other forms of public displays of affection)
- Meeting their friends
- Going on a small trip
That being said, there isn’t a set or “right” time to define a relationship — it’s up to you!
Although wanting to be official with someone is a big milestone in any relationship, make sure you are spending time analyzing how you and your potential partner feels before the actual conversation.
How to prepare for the conversation
First — ask yourself what you want.
Do you want things to change or stay the same? Are you happy with being free in the relationship, or are you looking for a more committed relationship? Are there any red flags you might be overlooking?
Being able to recognize what you want from the relationship and the expectations that you have set will help you come to terms with the response you may get from your partner, whether that is a positive or negative response. Before having the conversation, you should know what you want from your partner.
Second — think about more than just your feelings.
Think about the goals that you have for the future, and how they may contrast with the plans of your partner. Do they have the same world views as you? Are you okay with keeping your relationship long distance for an amount of time?
Thinking about not only you but your partner is important in defining the relationship. Being able to assess the situation, and thinking about long term plans for the future will give you a good idea about how to proceed.
Third — think about what they’ll say and how they’ll react.
Having this conversation when you’re ready and open, will not only help you communicate, but will help your partner be able to react in a way where they are offered space and safety. Preparing yourself for their response by paying attention during the conversation and not making the demands will help you accept their response, whether they want to take the next step in the relationship, or they want the relationship to stay the same.
How to Have the DTR conversation
Now that you’ve taken the time to figure out how you feel and the other person(s) may feel, it’s about having the actual conversation itself.
Taking a romantic relationship to the next level is serious business — but you shouldn’t be sweating it! If you are nervous for the conversation, this could be a sign of bigger red flags you should be worried about. If you’re excited and think they’re eager to also define the relationship, then it’s time!
First, you want to initiate the conversation in a way that does not alarm the other person. Using phrases like “we need to talk” may make someone feel they’re being pressured or that they or the relationship may be in trouble. This won’t set the stage for a healthy, productive conversation.
The best relationship advice we have is to ask your partner on a romantic date where you can actually have a conversation. This could be a nice dinner at home or at a restaurant or even a park. You don’t want to do anything tooooo elaborate in case they aren’t on the same wavelength, but you do want to show you care about the other person.
Then, it’s about opening up the dialogue. Don’t be intimidated and feel like you need to say “Hey! let’s have the define the relationship talk!”.
These phrases might help open the DTR talk:
- “Can I share something with you?”
- “I really like our relationship and would like to learn more about how you’re feeling.”
- “I really like you.”
- “I appreciate the time we spend together and I’d like to have a conversation about making this a committed relationship.”
- “How would you define our relationship today?”
- “What type of relationship are you looking for?”
This will give you and your potential partner positive space between the two of you, and it doesn’t place too much pressure on them.
Make sure when the discussion is occurring, it is a two-sided conversation. Although you want to be vulnerable and share your feelings and thoughts, it is recommended to make sure they have time to speak and share as well. Initiating this conversation is also recommended in person – rather than trying to define the relationship over text or over a phone call.
Listening to your partner is important as you express your feelings. You may not agree with what they are saying, especially if they do not want to take the relationship any further and do not want to change what you already have.
Remember, another person is not obligated to have the same feelings or desires as you. However, you should have a pretty clear understanding of how the other person feels going into this conversation that you can kind of gauge where it’s going to land.
If your DTR conversation goes well
Great! If it works out between you and your partner — whether that is agreeing on a casual relationship, an exclusive one, or not having any labels at all — then you are both on the same page and are setting clear expectations and boundaries with each other.
However, not all the work is done.
Whether you have been together for three months or ten years, it is important to be able to define the relationship throughout many of your milestones. This can include managing time between other friends, moving in together, and having children. When it comes to showing someone how much you care, knowing their love languages, such as acts of service or quality time, will also strengthen the bond between all parties. The way someone wants to be cared for and loved is important while being in a partnership, especially in the beginning of your relationship while you are exploring new things together.
Being able to have conversations throughout your relationship about receiving love and setting boundaries for your relationship will reinforce the expectations that both of you have for each other today and tomorrow.
If your DTR conversation doesn’t go as planned
If your DTR conversation doesn’t go as planned, the most important thing to do is respect the response of the other person. You have to remind yourself that people are allowed to have their own reaction to this conversation, and will be making the choice that suits them and their needs.
If the other person doesn’t want to move forward with the relationship in the same way as you do, it may be wise to take some time apart and think about what you will do next.
If one person wants a committed relationship, but the other person wants to stay casual, it may be time to end the relationship. If you cannot decide on the boundaries, labels or expectations for the relationship, it may also be time to end the relationship.
Remember, defining the relationship is very personal to everyone. Don’t let it get you down that it didn’t go as plan.
All you can continue to do is seek people who are interested in you and want what you want out of life.
What’s after defining the relationship?
Whew - the hard part is over.
Relationships take hard work including patience, communication, and commitment from all parties involved.
Whether ya’ll decided to keep things casual or are ready to say “I love you” after the DTR convo, know that this is another relationship milestone that should be celebrated because it shows that you’re able to trust the other person enough to express your feelings.
Sharing on social media, getting off the dating apps, and even celebrating Valentine’s Day are moments you should look forward to after defining the relationship!