DDefining the relationship is dangerous. In today’s culture we seem to be ever dependent on labels to identify who or what we are to the rest of the world. In many arenas this need increases function and relational cues, respectively. However, in romantic relationships it can often damage the relationship trajectory as labels often require conformity to perceived norms. No doubt there comes a time in adult relationships where clarification is needed to proceed with establishing common goals for the relationship. Instead of labeling the relationship, I recommend exploring the following to help you address your concerns about the direction and level of closeness in your relationship without damaging where you are up to this point in the process.
1. Identify outside competition. Is he/she dating anyone else or engaged in any other sexual or emotional relationship? In past decades this might have been a superfluous question, but in the world of dating apps galore and loose boundaries regarding sexual promiscuity, keeping yourself physically and emotionally safe and prepared as you move forward in the relationship is paramount.
2. Play coy. Approach the subject in a casual but appropriate manner and gauge his/her nonverbal responses to the mere introduction of the topic. Open ended questions will often lead you to the information you need without putting pressure or making your partner feel like they are on the stand.
3. Review behavior trends before getting too deep. As women, communication can tend to harbor more value in matters of the heart. Conversely, men historically do not build relationships and emotional closeness via communicating, but instead through activity and action. Look at what behaviors have recently led you to believe or disbelieve his commitment to you and the relationship because it is likely you are trying to decode his affection for you with the wrong skill. His actions will most likely tell you all you need to know about “what you are” to him and where his affection lies.
4. Stay flexible. In the event you retain information that is contrary to how you feel or what you were hoping to discover about his/her affection and level of commitment to you, it does not mean he/she is not moving in that direction and with time, able to meet you where you are. As long as you are experiencing the effects of a healthy, constructive relationship…. Ride the wave, girl!
5. Don’t push the issue. Again, open ended questions are your best friend in this situation. The worst case scenario is over dissecting an organically evolving connection by talking it to death, getting too emotional, or becoming combative about his/her position at the time of the conversation. Remember, if you have never approached the subject of monogamy this is the time, but if you have not established those boundaries prior to this conversation, previous behavior is off the table.
Despite having access to everyone’s information via social media, the dark web, Google (the list is endless), it seems there are certain topics where a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ does not seems to satisfy the uncontrollable urges people have to know relationship goals, plans, motives, values, or preferences. I believe there is something about our culture whereby we are valued by our relationship status. Fortunately, it is no one’s business but our own. The pressure to adhere to social and cultural norms when it comes to our intimate relationships is exceeding unacceptable. In the face of such questions, of which there are many, it is important to remember we are the shepherds of our privacy. No need to be rude, but remember your response sets the tone for future questions.
1. Coin an auto-response. Cognitively, such questions can take a toll and begin to manifest in ways where much more is triggered than our ability to proceed with the conversation. A great strategy to reduce additional symptoms associated with being triggered by sensitive questions is to train your brain and self to respond with an answer where you accomplish what you need to avoid further discussion. Make it short, sweet and to the point based on what you feel is true to you and meets your need to self-preserve.
2. Good, old fashioned, change the subject. One of my personal favorites is to redirect conversation when and where ever I feel uncomfortable or unwilling to participate. There is so much more to who we are as humans than merely our dating and relational habits. I find it useful to redirect the conversation to areas where other aspects of your life can be celebrated or dissected for the sake of continued conversation, should that be what you choose.
3. Establish your boundary. No one ever said you had to answer any question you don’t want to. Period. Setting boundaries about areas of your life off limits to the interpretation of others is a great habit in which to engage. Usually, articulating a clear but respectful message regarding your lack of comfort addressing the subject in general, blanket terms will get the message across and often lead to a segway into additional topics where you can set boundaries for future inquiries.
4. Get right with it. In my work with individuals and couples, it has become clear where intrusive thoughts or questions begin to take hold. In the spaces and moments of our own self doubt the intrusion of the world around us can cave in and make a mountain out of a molehill. Mind your self-talk about the issue and make sure you are in ownership of your position in life. This security and confidence will lead you to be less aggravated or irritated about future, unwelcomed questions.