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15 Ways to Have a Successful ‘Define the Relationship’ Talk

When you were a teen, your parents may have had “The Talk” with you—that awkward discussion about the birds and the bees. With that behind you (thankfully!), and now that you’re dating, you might feel the need for a significant talk of a different kind: The Define the Relationship conversation. There comes a point when one or both partners want to know, “Are we a couple or just hanging out together? Do we have the same idea about where this relationship is going?” So when you want to broach the subject, here’s how to make sure The Talk goes as smoothly as possible:

  1. Don’t rush it. The most common mistake is pressing to define the relationship too soon. If you sense your partner isn’t quite ready for this discussion, give it time. When it comes to evolving relationships, there is no hurry.
  2. Clarify your own thoughts and feelings. Before launching into this important conversation, do some soul searching to determine precisely how you feel about the future of this relationship. Move forward only when you feel no ambiguity or ambivalence.
  3. Honestly assess the situation. You probably picked up clues and hints about your relationship status. If you feel ready to stop dating other people, that is an appropriate time to ask if your partner is ready to do the same.
  4. Select a favorable setting. Since this is a significant conversation, make sure the conditions are right. Choose a place without lots of noise and commotion.
  5. Go in with an open mind. You probably have definite ideas about how you want the conversation to go and the results it will lead to. Be careful about not pushing your own agenda—let the discussion unfold naturally.
  6. And open ears. Although you have plenty to share, be sure to listen attentively to what your partner has to say.
  7. Keep it positive. Every potentially sensitive topic benefits from an upbeat, optimistic approach.
  8. Be direct. It’s too vague to ask, “So what’s happening with us?” If you’ve been dating for a while, it’s perfectly acceptable to want to know where you stand. Don’t be afraid to state what you want to know.
  9. Keep some questions handy. Come prepared with a few open-ended questions for your partner, such as “Do you consider us ‘just friends’ or more than that? Are we dating exclusively or is our relationship just casual?”
  10. Aim to converse, not convince. Hopefully both of you are on the same page—wanting a committed, exclusive relationship. If not, your intent should be to convey your desires, not persuade your partner to make a commitment he/she isn’t ready for.
  11. Call it like you see it. Now is a great time to share how you feel about your relationship. Obviously you see potential for this romance, so tell why.
  12. Avoid backing your partner into a corner. Most people don’t respond well when they feel they’re being given an ultimatum and pressed to give the “right answer” on the spot.
  13. Don’t freak out if the response isn’t exactly what you want. The other person may not be prepared to give a definitive affirmation of undying love and fidelity. If that’s the case, don’t assume complete rejection.
  14. Ease off the pressure to solve everything right now. It’s possible your partner genuinely doesn’t have the answers you’re seeking. More time is needed. Take the pressure off by suggesting some time to think it over and a follow-up discussion.
  15. Know your limits. Although it’s good to be flexible and provide your partner with space, you don’t want to be left waiting and wondering indefinitely. Tell you partner, clearly, when you want more concrete feedback.