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How To Talk Commitment...Even When “It's Complicated”

How to navigate the murky waters of complicated relationships.

Sabrina wants to know what's up with this “thing” she has going on with James, but it seems too soon to get all serious with him. They've been having a great time together going on dates and chatting online and they've recently started sleeping together too.

But, it's complicated.

Although James and his wife have been separated for over a year now, their very messy divorce is not yet final. Sabrina's two children don't know that she is dating again. They were attached to the last guy she dated and when that relationship fell through, both of her kids were devastated. She is being more cautious now.

While Sabrina isn't ready to think about moving in together or possibly getting married, she'd like to know where she stands with James. She's learned the hard way that it's important to get expectations on the table. However, she is worried about scaring James off with “relationship talk.”

If you've ever been on the social networking site, Facebook, you may be familiar with the relationship status feature. A Facebook user can set his or her relationship status as: “married,” “single,” or “domestic partnership,” among many other options.

One status that we've noticed people use is “it's complicated.”

There are many scenarios in which a person's relationship status is complicated. You don't have use Facebook or any other social networking site to know this.

The ways to be in a relationship-- of one form or another-- seem to grow daily. This has benefits and it has some drawbacks too.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to an “it's complicated” kind of relationship is that it can be very confusing. Like Sabrina, it may be early in the relationship (if it is one, you might not even be sure) to talk about serious stuff. You might not want your partner to think you're pressuring him or her.

At the same time, you might be looking for some kind of clarity about what this thing is that you two are doing together-- whether it be dating, hanging out, having sex, texting and IM-ing frequently or something else.

Here are our suggestions for how to talk commitment even when you're in a complicated relationship:

  • Get clear about your priorities and your boundaries.
  • Know your own self. While many of us fall in love or fall into fuzzy kinds of relationships without necessarily meaning to, know what your priorities and boundaries are. This isn't about boxing yourself in, of course. Allow room for flexibility AND stay in touch with what your values are. We aren't going to tell you what's right and what's wrong. We do urge you to know what YOU believe is right and wrong for you. If you haven't ever really thought about what your priorities in life are at this time, we suggest that you do it soon. This will help you stay true to you while having this exciting and complicated relationship.
  • Remember what's most important to you and act accordingly. Now that you're clear about what your priorities are, remember them. Too often, people meet a partner and maybe even fall in love. They temporarily set aside or “forget” what their core values and boundaries are and then end up feeling resentful and regretful.

This doesn't have to happen to you!

Again, you can be flexible and stay open as you also remember what is most important to you and then make decisions that keep your priorities intact. This requires you to continue to value YOU while moving forward with this person you're with.

  • Be open and upfront about what you want now. Here's the potentially tricky part... Be honest with your partner. You can communicate your priorities and intentions in ways that are non-judgmental and that are non-pressuring.

For example, if you and your date are having sex but aren't necessarily an exclusive couple, you two can talk about what this means to each of you. Does it mean that dating others is okay, but having sex with others is not? Does it mean that everything-- including sex, dating, flirting and more with others-- is okay?

A talk like this doesn't have to be a big deal and it certainly doesn't have to dampen the passion either. In fact, being open and upfront about what you want at this time can prevent misunderstandings and conflict and free you both up for MORE passion and enjoyment.

  • Don't pretend. The temptation to pretend is there. Perhaps you feel like you're falling for this person and you don't want to mess things up or turn him or her off. So, maybe you agree to something you're not actually comfortable with.

Maybe you want to seem cool and not too serious and so, for instance, you say that you're fine not being monogamous when you are actually going to be angry and hurt if your partner does have sex with someone else.

The risk of being honest is that the person you're with might not want the same things that you want, but the risk of hiding what you truly want is almost always disappointment and heartbreak.

Communicate what is most important for you at this time and also what your boundaries are with confidence and a desire to hear what your partner wants. This will allow you two to really talk and possibly to connect in ways that you haven't before.

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Susie and Otto Collins are relationship coaches and authors who help couples communicate, connect and create the passionate relationships they desire. For more relationship advice and information, visit http://www.relationshipgold.com 

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