When & How To Define The Relationship Without Scaring Him Away

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Love

There comes a point in a relationship when you start asking yourself: “Is this going somewhere? What are we? Are we exclusive?”

These relationship questions are universal ones. No matter your age, stage in life, background, or culture, getting to “we” for a couple must happen at some point — or not.

This is called defining the relationship (DTR).

What does it mean to define a relationship?

The Urban Dictionary DTR meaning is to define the relationship, or the moment "when two people discuss their mutual understanding of a romantic relationship (casual dating, serious boyfriend)." Defining a relationship is also used for defining a friendship, a hookup, or a new relationship. 

This questioning often takes place after about a month or two of regular dating, but it depends on the frequency and intensity of your time together. Some relationships move at lightning speed.

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Why is defining the relationship important?

Some experts suggest avoiding defining your relationship altogether. They say, let things evolve and if you’re meant to be an item, one day it will be obvious to you both. Why put pressure on the situation by having an uncomfortable DTR chat?

Sometimes you can completely avoid the DTR convo if you get to know someone well on the first few dates. Talk about your values, get a sense of past relationships, what commitment looks like to them and what they want this time around.

The bottom line is, don’t let being afraid of defining the relationship paralyze you. As my boyfriend explains, “Women need to really consider why they need to put a label on the relationship. The real clues about how a guy feels about you are in the listening, not in the labels,” he says. “Try to connect with him deeply, show him how much you appreciate him, and you’ll get your clarity.”

When do you define the relationship?

If you’re planning to get intimate, or if you’ve already been, you might consider having the DTR chat. The order is up to you, but hooking up can certainly complicate things! And, of course, never assume that if you’re intimate that you’re exclusive.

You also might try to define the relationship when things feel off balance, if you feel like you’re giving more, feeling more than him — or if you’ve accidentally called him your boyfriend. That’s the time to clear the air or get clear.

If you’re happy with the way things are evolving, there may be no need to DTR. But, if you’re the type who lives by clarity and structure, this “wait and see” approach likely won’t work for you. You are going to need to get closure on whether this guy is your boyfriend or not. And, as frightening as it might seem to define your relationship, you don’t have to botch the conversation.

If you’ve been spending large chunks of time together for a couple of weeks, that might be the time to DTR and confirm how things are progressing with you two.

Perhaps you’ve been going on dates every weekend for a few months and you’ve noticed your guy is still on the dating site you met on. You wonder, “Does he want to date other people? Isn’t he into me enough to shut down that app?”

Most guys would rather walk on coal than have a DTR chat. Why is that?

First, men tend to be slower at figuring out what they want from a relationship.

Perhaps women are biologically predisposed to seek relationship security. Often, there is a plan, a biological clock, and a need to protect our future offspring, etc. Why waste precious time and resources?

Second, women tend to do a horrible job at trying to DTR. They bring it up too early, at the wrong time, make judgments, and demands. I asked Fred what turns guys off and he said, “The last thing I want is the girl to come off as needy, desperate, or intense.”

Hot and heavy only works between the sheets. If you come across as pushy, you could make your new guy question how he feels, or worse, scare him away. That would be a total shame, especially you’ve really hit it off and think you have what it takes to form a strong connection. He could have even been the one.

If you take the pressure off and allow your connection to unfold, you may experience the best feeling of two people falling into coupledom.

One day, my boyfriend told me about a conversation he’d had with someone. In the story to this other guy, he had referred to me as his girlfriend. That’s how I officially knew how he saw me and it felt good. That said, sometimes you need to manage the noise inside your head, abandon the need for labels, and trust your intuition.

RELATED: 7 Harsh Ways You're Scaring Men Away When You're Online Dating

How to DTR, step-by-step:

If you feel compelled to have the talk, here are some constructive ways to go about it to get the answers you need:

1. Consider what you hope to get out of the DTR conversation.

Get clear about your purpose for having the chat and ask yourself these questions:

1. What is the outcome I want?

2. How do I feel about this guy? Could he be the one? How do I know?

3. Do I have any reservations about this guy and our relationship so far? Do I trust him?

4. What is it prompting me to define the relationship now?

5. If I don’t get a clear signal after this chat, how much am I willing to invest to see where this will go?

6. What are my boundaries? Am I ok with him seeing other women?

7. How am I likely to react if I don’t get the outcome I’m seeking?

8. Is he an introvert or extrovert? Will he need time to process the DTR chat?

What do I know — including my intuition about how he feels about me?

Only by honestly exploring what you want and need from this relationship and how you feel — plus the clues you’ve been given about how he feels, you won’t know for sure if you even need a chat.

You might even reconsider your own position on DTR — maybe you’ll be convinced that it’s not even required, or you need more time to assess if he is right for you. If that’s the case, why invite awkwardness? Leave it alone, and either enjoy the status quo or let things naturally fizzle out.

2. Prepare yourself for the conversation and get your emotions in check.

Even though you may be tempted to ask your guy questions during a text chat, beware: This could lead to even more of a misunderstanding and could seriously backfire. 

In person, you are able to connect on a deeper level, break down his walls, and read his body language.

3. Start the talk when neither one of you is strapped for time.

For some reason, important talks seem to go better with guys in the afternoon. Avoid the midnight hour unless he’s a night owl, as he’s bound to be overtired and anything seemingly pushy will be overblown.

4. Pick a location that's private and relaxed to chat.

Avoid restaurants or public places — not that it’s going to go badly, and you’ll have to worry about staring faces, but you do want limited distractions and no time pressures. Usually, at home — his or yours — works well.  

Considering DTR while you’re doing something he likes or afterward, such as watching TV, playing a game, or taking a walk.

5. If you’re sitting down, sit beside him or right across so you can read is body language.

I’ve been telling my clients to do this for years. Whether it’s an interview, a performance review, a relationship chat — or any potentially difficult conversation, you’ll avoid a "me vs. you" attitude and you’ll be psychologically on the same side of the problem.

6. Figure out what you’re going to say or ask ahead of time.

If it helps you to organize your thoughts, write them out. Then, practice your top three messages. When the time comes, you will be more confident, and you won’t stumble from nervousness.

Remember, though, that as prepared as you are, the chat is unlikely going to go as planned. it’s not a one-way speech after all; it’s a dialogue. Expect the unexpected.

7. Get your head in the right place to have an open conversation.

Before you get together for your DTR chat, make sure you set aside some time for yourself. Meditate or do some deep breathing for a few minutes, go for a walk, exercise, or do something that you enjoy. Get yourself in a mental place to communicate at your best and be ready for the outcome.

8. Start the conversation casually.

Ease into the conversation, without any announcements that it’s a talk about the relationship.

The best way to start is to tell your guy how you feel about what’s been happening between you and see what happens. “I’m having a lot of fun with you” or “I really enjoy spending time together.” Pause. Then wait for a response. If he freezes up, or says, “thank you” ask a follow-up question: “What do you think? Or, “How do you think things are going?”

An acquaintance of mine, Ken, told me about the time his girlfriend Sara, brought up DTR. “It was so painless — not the way other girls had done it. We were at my place watching tennis — my favourite sport, and just goofing around when she said matter-of-factly, “I like you. I’m not hooking up with anyone else.” I said, “Neither am I. And with that, we laughed and that was the end of it!”

Make the conversation as relaxed and sincere as it can be, and you won’t come off as pushy.

9. Be flexible enough to let him think on it and continue the conversation later.

If you’ve lobbed the ball by pronouncing how you feel about your relationship and your beau doesn’t respond right away, it may just mean he needs more time to think or perhaps he was caught off guard. He may be so into the flow of your relationship that he hasn’t stepped back to think about classifying you guys. Another option is that he’s an introvert who wants to think it through before sharing his thoughts.

Asking to regroup doesn’t mean he is not interested in you. It’s an important conversation, so don’t rush it. If you push him into a corner to respond now on the spot, he just might say no thank you.

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Ask him to let you know a good time to continue your chat, and in the meantime, stay positive and focused on building a strong bond with him.

10. Communicate your feelings clearly.

Share how you view the situation, and your feelings using “I” statements, such as “I like where this is going,” which leads to “I want to see only you.” Or, “It feels like we’re boyfriend/girlfriend.”

From there, the discussion may go deeper and it’s best to continue with the “I” statements. Avoid starting your sentences with “You,” which could come across as accusatory.

Since most guys get freaked out by the words “exclusive” or “commitment,” steer clear of these, too, and instead state the behaviors you’re looking for.

11. Be honest and authentic.

If seeing him interacting on dating apps stresses you out, tell him so. Say, “It’s important to know that I’m the only one you’re dating.”

Be forewarned, if he has reservations about being exclusive with you right now, and he feels pressured by you in this conversation, he’s just going to continue with the apps, no matter what he says to you now.  

Tell him about how you got burned before so that he understands your context. He will get you a little more, but ultimately, he must communicate his truth to you also.

12. Really listen and be curious about what he has to say.

When your guy talks, really listen. Listen to the words that he says and listen to what he doesn’t say — and his body language. Listen for what’s important to him. Listen with compassion and your whole self.

Be sure to pause after each statement or open-ended question you make. Let him process it and then allow him to respond in his own time. A little silence can be your friend in the DTR chat!

If he says he’s looking to have fun, believe him. At the same time, be careful about making assumptions. If you’re unclear or want to go deeper, ask follow-up questions that start with “How” or “What.” “Why” questions imply judgment and they are definitely on the ‘do not ask’ list.

Acknowledge his comments so he knows you’re listening. For example, “That’s important to you,” or “From what you’ve told me…” He’ll see how open and considerate you are, and that will go a long way in building the kind of relationship that’s sustainable.

13. Consider a compromise.

Your guy may not give you the confirmation you want right now. If you really like this guy and think you could have a future together, put on your problem-solving hat.

Recap the situation. For example, “You really like spending time with me and you are not ready to stop seeing other people just yet. At the same time, I need to know that I’m the only one you’re sleeping with. What can we do to meet halfway?

Hopefully, as you prepared for this chat, you’ve already thought about what you can live with.

14. Maintain your boundaries.

If you’ve given him a chance to share his views and there isn’t room for compromise on your part, that’s ok. Tell him what you’re not willing to budge on. For example, if he refuses to stop seeing other women (and the thought of it makes you sick to your stomach), tell him that won’t work for you.

Suggest that you take a break or remain as friends.

Don’t ever put his needs ahead of your standards and self-respect.

15. Remain unattached to the outcome.

Stay focused on why you wanted to have the chat in the first place. Getting answers means just that; not the answer you want but the actual answer.

As uncomfortable as it might be, put your heart out there and be ready to accept the outcome of this DTR chat.  

And if he ends up not being able to give you the things you want, realize it’s time to move on. After all, life’s too short to waste your time on a guy who isn’t able or willing to meet you halfway. In the end, it’s better to be clear now than get hurt later. Heal now and get ready for the next guy who wants to make it official with you.

Follow these tips and make the discussion a non-event, that is, a non-disruptive event in your relationship. You’ll get the answers you’re seeking – no matter the outcome. Put your doubts to rest and move forward. Who knows, maybe your guy was secretly hoping you would bring it up!

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Lisa Petsinis is a certified life coach who works with resourceful women to achieve healthier relationships with themselves and others. Connect with her at her website to set up a free discovery call, or sign up for her newsletter for even more advice.