When things have been going well in a new relationship, there may come a time where familiar questions begin to surface: What are we? Where is this going? Are we official?
Sometimes, those conversations come easy — we suppose it can depend on the person, their communication styles, and the circumstances in which you met — but other times, the process of defining a new relationship can feel daunting and downright nerve-wracking.
After a period of casual dating, how do you when it’s time to define? According to Dan Auerbach, relationship counsellor with Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney, the time to dive into the definition discussion may come when you, one half of the dating duo, has formed clarity around what you want from the relationship. But you don’t have to launch straight into partner status.
“A good way to decide where you’re at is to ask yourself what you want. Are you looking for a sexual partner, or a life partner? If you’re looking for more than sex, it can be good to put other love interests aside for a while and ask your new partner to do the same,” Auerbach says.
“You could say something like: ‘I really like you. I don’t know where this relationship is going to end up, but I think we should just see each other for a while and see how that goes. If either of us decide we don’t want that anymore we can let each other know, so we both know where we stand. What do you think?’
“That way you establish a space where you can take your time to see how you feel about each other, without the stress of wondering whether you are each equally committed. It also takes the pressure off making a decision to formalise the relationship.”
When you feel like things are getting to a more serious place — you’re at a stage to share your feelings of love with one another — Auerbach recommends approaching these conversations with as much openness and honesty as you’re comfortable with giving, and to avoid playing games that could end up hurting both your love interest and yourself.
“I think a lot of people are scared of first saying they love their partner. It is a really vulnerable thing to do. Having said that, I think it can be riskier keeping those feelings to yourself. I hear many people trying to gameplay to make it seem like they are not overly keen. It usually ends badly with both partners becoming competitive and defensive and trying to cause a reaction in the other,” Auerbach says.
“After all, if you put it out there and your new partner freaks out, you know there’s an issue which you can at least deal with. They may not be ready, but hey, you can talk about that. Or they may not feel the same way, which is something you ultimately want to know.”
And if they don’t feel the same way? Well, of course, that can be hurtful and could well impact your confidence in your connection, but it’s not a nail in the coffin of your relationship necessarily.
“If you’re getting the feeling that your new partner is not as committed as you are it’s worth taking that as a warning sign. If you can’t get clarity or feel assured, have an honest conversation rather than avoiding the topic and hoping for the best.
“Insecurity at the start of a relationship can undermine your best efforts to connect and feel secure. If you get stuck in the conversation, insist on seeing a skilled relationship counsellor together. There’s nothing wrong with seeking help at the start of a relationship. For many couples, it’s the most important time to do so.”
Ultimately, Auerbach says successful relationships are built on the ability to communicate openly, honestly, and with care for the other person. He acknowledges that while the early footing in any new partnership can be uncertain, it’s worth it for you both to kick things off the right way.
“The success of your relationship is going to come down to your ability to openly and caringly share your ideas, needs and vulnerabilities and to support each other with these. You may as well start early!”