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Define the Relationship: 30 Signs It’s Time to DTR & How to Talk About It

Things have been going great and you can’t get enough of your new beau. But, when to define the relationship? Do it too soon and you may risk a backlash! 

when to define the relationship

When you’re dating someone, there comes a point when you start wondering when to define the relationship. If it’s clearly more than a one-night stand, then it’s necessary to figure out where everyone stands so that you aren’t stepping on toes. If you don’t define what a relationship is, it’s difficult to know where you are going, or if you are going anywhere at all.

Of course, this can be a difficult thing to do. You don’t want to jump in and put a label on the relationship too soon. If you do that, you run the risk of freaking out your partner and scaring them away. But at the same time, you deserve to know whether you should remain in the relationship or whether you’re wasting your time.

If you don’t want the same things, what’s the point of being together? [Read: What are we? Get your crush to label your relationship]

What does it mean to define the relationship?

When you define a relationship, you basically put a label on it. It means you’re telling the world you’re a couple and you’re exclusive. However, it’s important to remember that everyone has a different definition of the term “relationship”, so you need to be clear when you have this conversation.

For instance, some couples have an open relationship and it works very well for them. Yet for other people, that type of relationship would destroy them. Defining the relationship sets the tone for what you are and how your relationship is going to work.

If you’re going to be open, you talk about it and set your boundaries before going official. If you’re going to be exclusive, you go official in the way that suits you. [Read: Types of relationships – 26 ways to define your love life]

Not everyone feels the need to put a label on what they are as a couple. Yet, for most people, it’s something they need to feel secure and safe in the knowledge that the relationship is going somewhere – wherever that is.

There is no right or wrong answer here, but both partners must feel comfortable with whatever the relationship is. [Read: 17 modern dating terms to help you master the evolving dating game]

What happens when you don’t define the relationship

You can’t just ignore your relationship status forever. It’s great if you’re a relaxed and go-with-the-flow type of person, but your partner may not be. They may silently be going insane because they’re unsure of where your feelings are in comparison to their own.

Yes, to be fair, if they’re feeling unsure they should definitely talk to you about it. However, not everyone is great at communication. That’s why you should always make sure you can communicate, because they may not be able to. That way, you’ll be sure of where both of you are at in the relationship.

When one or both of you don’t know what the relationship is, you’re always in a state of flux. You don’t know if you’re accidentally upsetting the other person with your actions and you may be anxious about the future.

Put simply, a quick chat can end all of this confusion! [Read: Is your guy ready for a Facebook official relationship?]

The perils of putting a label on it too soon

Now, knowing when to define the relationship is important not only because it needs to be done for everyone to know where they stand. There is also the issue of perhaps doing it too soon.

There is no right or wrong timescale for when to have the conversation, you know your relationship better than we do. However, if you jump in far too soon and try to push your beau into saying you’re exclusive, it’s going to backfire.

Maybe they don’t want anything serious right now and you’ve not worked that out. If you push it, you’re going to blow it. Of course, if they’re not into commitment and you’re keen to be in a long-term deal, that’s something you need to know. But, asking after date number two isn’t the best choice.

The best advice is to go with the flow for a while and see what signs you pick up. If after that, you’re keen to put a label on it, go ahead and have the conversation.

Anything before that and you could make your partner run away because they’re not too sure of what’s going on themselves. [Read: Rushed relationship – 25 signs and fixes to slow down and save your love]

20 tips to help you know when to define the relationship

Knowing when you should define a relationship is easier said than done. Do you have to define it if it becomes more than just a one-night stand, or if you have been going out for years?

If you want to know when to define the relationship, the only good answer is when you start to question things in your life that can only be answered by the definition of what someone is to you. [Read: Dating exclusively but not in a relationship? The grey area dilemma]

For instance…

1. If you’ve had talks about the future, but they are vague

There is nothing worse than always feeling on shaky ground. If you are always trying to gauge your responses and your plans for the future based on nothing but vague assumptions, that makes for a very stressful life.

If you are tired of not having “the talk” to figure out where things are and where they are going, and it is driving you nuts, it is time to sit them down and have a plan for your own sanity. [Read: Dating vs. relationship – signs to know your status]

2. You wonder if you can hook up with someone else, or you don’t even want to

Whether you want to hook up with someone or you don’t, knowing what the rules are before you get yourself into trouble is imperative.

Or worse yet, you don’t want to waste your time to find that your “significant other” hasn’t been as faithful as you. Defining how monogamous you are supposed to be is important when you care about someone. [Read: What is cheating in a relationship? The truth most people ignore]

3. You wonder if they will ever call you before 2 am and drunk

There is nothing worse than wondering if you are ever going to be someone they want to see before 2 am when they’re drunk.

Maybe you’re tired of getting the “booty call” and want something a little more substantial, like God forbid, a date. Then, you should consider talking to the person you are having relations with so that you know where you stand. You don’t want to waste your time if it is never going to be what you want. [Read: 17 sordid signs you’re just a hookup and nothing more]

4. You aren’t sure if you’re wasting years of your life

If you know what you want and aren’t sure what they do, then you can’t be afraid to set the record straight.

The truth is that most people fear having the talk because they are afraid that they are going to scare the other person off. If someone wants to have a relationship with you *or not*, you should know. But as we mentioned earlier, don’t do this extremely soon, i.e. within the first two dates!

Don’t waste your time thinking you can turn a non-committal person into someone who can’t live without you. The chances are if they don’t want a relationship, you aren’t going to change their mind. You are only going to waste your precious time. [Read: Selfish people – 15 ways to spot them and stop them from hurting you]

5. You have a key to their place and use it

If you are opening their door or vice versa at will but still haven’t defined who and what you are to one another, that has to be confusing. Humans aren’t meant to stand in limbo and not know what comes next.

Sometimes we all need definitions just to know where we stand. Otherwise, it can feel like sinking in quicksand.

6. You don’t know how to introduce them

How can you introduce someone if you don’t even know who they are to you? If you are in a place where you are going out together, at some point, you are going to have to define what you are introducing each other as. When it becomes awkward, that is when to define the relationship. [Read: How to grow a new long-distance relationship when you’re far apart]

7. It’s awkward when people ask, “what are you two doing?”

It is awkward enough once you have defined a relationship and the questions about “when are you getting married?” or “when are you two having kids?” come along.

If people have already begun asking you what you two are planning on doing, then it might be time to undo the awkwardness and just figure it out in concrete definitions. [Read: 19 sure signs you’re in an exclusive relationship already]

8. You are well past the third date

The third date is like making it to third base, so shit is getting serious. If you are on the third date, or even past it, then stop wondering when to define the relationship and just do it.

It isn’t always about counting dates. But, if you are past the second one and contemplating another, it might be time to think about what you do or don’t want from the relationship. Anything before that, it’s probably best to wait it out. [Read: How many dates before sex? The complete guide to help you decide]

9. You want to say “I love you”, but aren’t sure if they will return it

Ugh, is there anything more anxiety-provoking than the fear of rejection when saying “I love you” and not having it returned?

If you are at the point where you almost feel compelled to profess your love, then stop wondering when to define the relationship *and just do it*. Then, you can work out what’s going on and avoid getting super hurt further down the line. [Read: When should you say “I love you” for the first time?]

10. They don’t change their Facebook status after you do

It doesn’t always have to be about social media, but we live in such a digital age that it does matter to a degree. If you changed your relationship status on Facebook and other social media and they have not, then it is time to confirm if you are both on the same media page.

Don’t assume that either they forgot or that they don’t want to be in a relationship. Just ask point-blank and get the answer you need. If you were ready to change your status and they weren’t, that is something to inquire about. [Read: Facebook official relationship – all the signs your partner is ready for it]

11. You would be super pissed if they hooked up with someone else

Would you be super pissed if you found out they hooked up with someone? If so, then it is time to stop pondering when to define the relationship.

Putting expectations on a relationship without even giving a heads-up isn’t fair. It may lead to some supreme hurt feelings without someone even knowing.

12. You want things to move forward and beyond

Stop worrying about what they want and holding your tongue. If you know what you want, then you know when to define the relationship – it is when YOU want.

There are no golden rules to a relationship, nor should there be any barriers to you knowing where you stand. [Read: How to commit to a relationship and show your partner you’re serious]

13. Your biological clock is ticking so loudly it’s deafening

Yes, it really is a thing. If you know that you are ready for a committed relationship, then you need to know if things are going somewhere or nowhere fast. Don’t sacrifice your own happiness ever! [Read: DTR talk – how many dates before it officially becomes a relationship?]

14. Your lack of definition is going to end up hurting them

When you know that you aren’t as into them as they are you, or you don’t want to have a serious relationship, then you have an obligation to define your relationship and let them know. Then, you aren’t hurting them and leading them on.

15. You feel like you can’t go on the way things are

When you have hit your limit with the wishy-washy nature of your relationship, then it is the best time to define a relationship.

You can’t stay stuck forever not knowing what the next step is, or if there even is one. If you aren’t feeling good about where you are at, it is your duty to change it. [Read: How to find the right person for you when you’ve given up hope]

16. You have been together longer than most people you know who are now getting divorced

When you are that undefined couple who has been together longer than most marriages, including those who are now divorced, then it might be time to sit down and figure it out.

If you aren’t moving forward, that’s okay, as long as you both don’t want to in tandem. [Read: The 80/20 rule in relationships and your love life]

17. You have children together

When your child is in school, there is going to be a time to fill out that awkward paperwork where you have different last names, your child has a different last name, and you are still living together.

It’s okay if you want to tell everyone you are rock stars as long as you are all comfortable with it and have explained it to your children. Then, they know what your commitment is and how stable their family life is.

18. You share expenses

If you are mixing money and finances, then it is critical for you to define the relationship. Money muddies the waters even in a committed relationship. If you aren’t even sure what type of relationship you have to begin with, that can end in financial hardship – literally. [Read: How to talk about money with your partner without fighting about it]

19. You are sick of your mom asking

If you are sick of your mother’s inquisition into where the relationship is going, then it might be time to stop wondering when to define the relationship.

If you know what you want and you want to live on the edge not knowing, that is okay. But, if your heart sinks every time you know she is going to ask, it is probably because you aren’t okay with not having any definitions any more than she is. [Read: How to talk to your partner about your relationship – DTR made really easy]

20. It is making you feel insecure not knowing where you stand

Finally, the best time to define a relationship is when you don’t feel good about what is going on, and it’s not making you happy.

Whether you haven’t asked out of fear, uncertainty on your part, or just because you don’t know how to bring it up, it makes no difference. If it is consuming your time and your mental energy, then just ask, clear it up, be okay with the answer, or move on. [Read: 16 signs you’re not ready for a serious relationship]

How to have the definition conversation

So, you’ve decided that now is the time to put a label on your relationship, how do you approach it? Basically, as long as you haven’t only been together for five minutes, there isn’t a lot you can do wrong here.

If you’ve been together a long time and your partner is still scared of commitment, that’s not your issue. It’s theirs.

It’s easy to sit there and go with the flow because you’re terrified of scaring the other person off. But, in the meantime, you’re miserable because you don’t know what’s going on. As long as it’s not too soon, then you literally just need to pull the Band-Aid off.

Here are a few tips on how to do it and how to make it easier by setting the tone beforehand. [Read: How to communicate in a relationship – 16 steps to a better love]

1. Choose the right time

It’s no good trying to have this conversation if you’re both busy or about to go out. Make sure that you’re both relaxed and calm, you don’t have plans, and you’re both in good moods.

That way, you’re both in the right headspace to have this chat.

2. Drop hints here and there beforehand

Sometimes people don’t know if you even want to be in a committed relationship, so you have to drop hints to get their gears turning. Ask them to do something in the future. Talk about them being your “plus one” to a big event.

Doing these things plants a seed in their mind and they’ll think more and more about the prospect of an actual relationship with you. This way, when you actually bring up the conversation, it doesn’t seem so unrealistic to them and they won’t be caught so off guard. [Read: Open relationships and why so many couples find it perfect]

3. First, determine how involved you are in their life

The best way you can see if you’re important enough to them to have this conversation is to see how much they integrate you into their life. Meaning, how much of themselves do they share with you?

Have you met their friends? What about their family? Are you accompanying them to events as their plus one?

All of these are signs that they want you in their life as something concrete and not temporary. [Read: Tips for meeting the parents for the first time]

4. Set your expectations early on in the relationship

Don’t wait months before telling someone what you’re looking for. When you’re on the very first date, make your intentions clear in a very casual way. Are you looking for a real relationship or are you just testing the waters with a number of different people?

By doing this, talking to someone about your relationship is a lot easier because they should already have an idea as to where you stand. Make sure to do this early enough that it doesn’t seem like you’re ending things, but late enough that it feels necessary.

5. Don’t have the conversation if you’ve been drinking

We know alcohol can make your nerves steadier, but it can also inhibit your ability to communicate effectively. You may also say things when you’re intoxicated that can come across in a negative way to them.

So skip the alcohol. Just remember to take deep breaths if you’re particularly nervous and remember that they’re with you for a reason. They must like you. [Read: Lack of communication in relationships – how to fix this issue]

6. Keep the conversation as casual as possible

Talking to someone about your relationship can be made much simpler if you don’t make it a huge deal. If you’re dramatic about it and make it seem like the most important thing you’ve ever talked about, it can send them into a fit of hysterics.

They’ll get nervous, they won’t know how to react, and it can be really uncomfortable. If you keep it casual and just mention it in passing, they’ll be more likely to tell you how they really feel. [Read: Tips for dealing with a non-confrontational partner]

7. Call them your boyfriend/girlfriend in passing and watch their reaction

This is another way you can casually bring up the conversation. Tell them you were talking to your friends about your boyfriend/girlfriend and see how they react to that word.

If they flinch and look away, it could be a sign they’re not okay with you calling them that. They may even say something like, “Whoa! Boyfriend? I don’t know about that.” But if they don’t say anything, it may be because they’re comfortable with the term – and with you using it. [Read: Dating vs. Relationship – 14 signs to know your status]

8. Know what you really want from them

You have to do a lot of self-reflection when talking to someone about your relationship. You can’t just go into it when you’re not sure how you feel, either. Take the time to be certain of your feelings before jumping in to determine the relationship.

9. Listen to their response

Don’t ignore anything they have to say. Even if they start saying something that’s not exactly what you want to hear, listen anyway.

You have to take the time to understand how they truly feel before you can formulate a response or reaction. Don’t freak out for no reason. [Read: How to be a better listener in your relationship]

10. Avoid ultimatums

Issuing an ultimatum is the worst thing you can do when talking to someone about your relationship. You can’t sit someone down and tell them they have to be with you in a committed relationship or you’re leaving.

You especially can’t do this when you haven’t fully listened to what they have to say. Doing this will only make them freak out and think you’re crazy.

If you’ve both said your piece and you don’t want the same things, it’s fair for you to tell them you want more and to then leave. But don’t force them to make a choice.

[Read: The best advice for a fresh relationship]

If you are asking when to define the relationship, the answer is most likely, NOW. So be brave and just find the courage to ask. Either way, you’ll feel better about it.

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The editorial team of LovePanky comprises relationship experts and real-life experts that share their experiences and life lessons. If you want the best love ad...