efining the relationship is scary. If you’re not on the same page, it can leave one or both parties really upset over the outcome. Maybe one of you wants a committed relationship, while the other just wants to keep things casual. Maybe you’re both looking for a serious relationship, but your ideas of what that means just don’t align.

Whatever the case, defining the relationship doesn’t always have a happy ending, but that’s exactly why you need to do it. The longer you wait when you’re both sure of you want things to proceed, the greater potential there is for hurt later down the line. And who knows--you might even come to a really great mutual agreement!

Consider Your Own Reasons for Wanting to DTR

Before you move forward with asking the person you’re seeing to DTR, think for a minute about why you want to in the first place. Defining the relationship probably shouldn’t be a spur of the moment decision--at least not if you’re looking to start out on a good note. Above anything else, you should find yourself wanting to be in some kind of long term relationship with this person.

Consider, before you jump into things, how much you really like this person. Are you talking to them at every given opportunity? Do you enjoy your conversations? Do you look forward to seeing them? How well do you know them?

That last question is one that you should think about pretty extensively. You shouldn’t be jumping into a serious relationship if you don’t know someone. You should know--at the very least--some of the big things. What are their religious beliefs or political views? How are they with money? Are they a workaholic? How do they argue? All of these are things that are going to affect you as well in any relationship.

Would it come to be an issue if they practice Islam and you’re an Athiest? Are they a Trump supporter? Are they an impulsive spender or too stingy with their money? Be sure that the answers to any of these questions are something you can live with.

As a final note, don’t ever begin the DTR conversation after an argument or because you’re constantly on edge about where you stand with the person you’re seeing. You should feel like your feet are firmly planted on the ground, feel comfortable asking them, and like you’ll be okay no matter the outcome of your conversation.

a man proposes to his boyfriend, who sits on a park bench with a hand covering his eyes
When it comes to important life decisions, you’ll want to make sure that you and your partner are on the same page. If you don’t both want to get married, you should know that before you start to settle into something serious.

Think About What You Want

Despite what many people think, defining the relationship does not mean that you and the person you’re seeing are doing so with the end-goal of beginning a long-term committed relationship with each other. All it means is that you’re having a conversation to come to a mutual understanding about the nature of your relationship.

In some cases, a long-term committed relationship will be the end-goal. But if that’s not what you’re looking for, if you’re just hoping to come to an agreement about how the relationship you already have is going to work, you don’t need to be afraid of the DTR.

Before you ask the big DTR question, make a note of your feelings. How do you feel about the person you’re seeing? Do you want to take the relationship a step further? To make a serious commitment? Do you want to proceed with caution? Or do you want to keep things casual? And if so, how casual?

How you feel about the person you’re seeing can have a significant impact on how you answer the rest of these questions. Maybe you’re having fun with the dynamic you have going right now. If that’s the case, maybe you want to sit down with the person you’re seeing to find out how they’re feeling, too.

You might decide that you just want to continue as is, but that you’ll check in more regularly to make sure you both still feel the same way. You might decide that you are looking for something serious later down the line, but you’re not keen to jump into a serious, long-term commitment right this second. Maybe you’ll agree to take things slowly with a present commitment that could develop into more down the line.

Maybe you’re feeling like this person is it for you. If that’s the case, you’re definitely going to want to DTR. Be ready to explain your feelings on a number of things, though. How you feel about someone is a great starter for defining the relationship, but it’s not all that will matter within the relationship. Make sure you’re on the same page as the person you’re seeing.

a man kisses a woman's head as they pose together on a pier
Asking someone to literally define how they feel about you can be terrifying. What if you don’t like the answer? Regardless, you’ll feel better in the long run if you get the conversation out of the way early.

Asking the Dreaded Question

Whatever you do, don’t start the DTR conversation with “We need to talk.” It’s the sentence that fills every person who hears it with insurmountable dread because it almost always comes across as attack-dog or confrontational. Most people are more than happy to have a conversation. If you present the DTR as one, they’ll likely be much more responsive.

Defining the relationship should be a positive thing! Walk into it with the peace of mind that you’ll have answers by the end, and neither you nor the person you’ve been seeing will feel uneasy when the conversation actually starts.

Most experts recommend starting off with how you feel about the person. Tell them how much you love spending time with them or that you’ve really enjoyed getting to know them. If all of this is true but you’d really rather just get straight to the point, another suggestion is to pose the dreaded “We need to talk” as a question.

Be blunt, but be specific. Instead of putting up your guard, which will in turn make the person you’re s seeing put up their own guard, be open. But also don’t be afraid to make it clear that this is a conversation that needs to happen. You could try something like, “Hey, can we talk about where this relationship is headed? I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.”

Have a Dialogue

Always be clear about what you want, but make sure you're not the only one giving any input. In order for your relationship to work, you both need to have a stake in how you want it to work. Ask the person you're seeing what they’re looking for, and have a dialogue about it. Relationships almost always mean compromise.

You're not going to agree about every little detail, so when you do find that you disagree about something, be sure to talk it through to see if a compromise can be made. Sometimes the answer is a resounding no, and if it’s about something important to one of you, that may be a deciding factor for how, and even whether, you'll proceed with your relationship.

Define the Relationship (Literally)

Defining the relationship doesn't just mean deciding what level of commitment you want to give to each other. It also means laying out all of the rules of that commitment (or lack thereof). Consider, for instance, whether you want your relationship to be open or exclusive.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to be in a committed relationship that is also open. As long as you keep the dialogue between yourselves open, if you both decide that you're okay with each other having sex with other people or that you’d be okay with bringing another, agreed-upon person into your relationship, it can work!

a woman reading a book gazes over to a shiba inu sitting in the chair next to her
You and your partner might decide that there just isn’t a future for you, but if that’s the case, don’t stress too much. You’ll move on and find someone new--and even if you don’t, there’s sure to be a puppy companion out there for you somewhere!

Discuss the Future (If Applicable)

Thinking about the future can be scary. But whether or not you decide that you want to be in a serious, committed relationship, you’re also going to need to discuss the future because that will lay the groundwork for how you carry out the rest of your relationship. This can also be a difficult conversation to have because, if you realize you’re not on the same page in terms of how you want your future to look, this is where some deal-breakers come into play.

As lovely as it would be to agree that you want to be together and have that be enough, this isn’t always the case. To make things a little easier on yourselves, start simple. Discuss your careers and where those might take you. If, for instance, one of you has to move to the other side of the country while the other has to stay in the city where you currently live, would you be able to keep up a long distance relationship?

They aren’t easy, and for some people, they’re a definitive “no.” The most important thing in any relationship is just to know where you stand at any given time and in the context of any given scenario. The future is full of endless possibilities, but unless you’re clear about your own goals for the future, you might find out that you’re not as good for each other as you originally thought.

Can you agree, for example, about how you feel about marriage or whether you want kids? If your answers are different, it could be a red flag for some incredibly difficult relationship issues later down the line. These are serious decisions to make, so if you feel passionately about your views on one or the other and you try to come to a compromise, it could actually do more harm than good. Pigeonholes are full of resentment.

If you’ve decided to carry on with a casual relationship, for instance, does your relationship have an expiration date? Maybe you’ll decide to call it quits when one you gets bored, no harm, no foul. Maybe you’ll decide that whatever you’ve got going on ends the minute one of you finds someone else you want to pursue a serious relationship with. As long as you come to a mutual decision about this, there’s no reason why it can’t work.

Defining the relationship can be a long, sometimes arduous process. You may not always come out of it with the results you wanted, but whether you do or do not, you’ll be better off for it. A DTR is the best way to make sure that you and the person you’re seeing are on the same page about your relationship--which can save you from the heartache of miscommunication.

Feb 17, 2020