How to have the "defining the relationship" talk

Wondering how to go about "defining the relationship" with your new bae? These tips will help

Defining the relationship- Smiling woman in discussion with boyfriend walking on sidewalk of city street on summer evening
(Image credit: Getty)

If you've ever been in a stable, positive relationship, you know it takes work, time, and good communication. Like great sex, every healthy bond requires the effort of two people. (Though the addition of the best app-controlled vibrators certainly helps!)

Most of us have heard the term "DTR" before—the dreaded "defining the relationship" talk. The most common usage of "DTR" is when two romantically involved people (that can mean dating or "hooking up," but not fully committed to each other) decide that they need to reach a new understanding of their relationship's status. It's a difficult conversation because it makes each person incredibly vulnerable, but it's an essential next step for any couple's health and growth. 

Why is "defining the relationship" important?

Side View Of Smiling Lesbian Couple Romancing Against Wall

(Image credit: Getty)

When you are in a relationship with someone, no matter what kind of relationship, there can be a tendency to adopt the mentality of "whatever happens, happens." Clear communication is abandoned for the sake of ease or sometimes out of fear of hurting someone else's feelings. However, this stunts the growth of the relationship and ultimately keeps you stuck where you are.

The same rules apply to all relationships, platonic and romantic alike. While "defining the relationship" typically describes a conversation aimed at making romantic couplings more official, it can be used to define any movement in a relationship—even a breakup. The entire purpose is for the pair to arrive on the same page about their relationship's progress by expressing and understanding each other's feelings, goals, and needs.

So whether you need to redefine a platonic relationship or use the "defining the relationship" chat in the traditional romantic sense, there are some best practices you can apply to make it a successful DTR conversation.

5 tips for a successful "defining the relationship" talk

Black couple talking on sofa

(Image credit: Getty)

1. State the goal clearly 

The goal of a DTR conversation should be plainly stated and understood by both people. This goal may be slightly different from couple to couple, but at its core, a DTR talk should be a clear space to communicate the relationship's current and future status.

From early dating to marriage and everything in between, signals can get crossed, and intentions can be fuzzy. Being clear about the goal of a DTR conversation in advance allows each person the time to think about what they want from the relationship and prepare what they want to say in the conversation.  

 2. Carve out time 

A classic mistake when sitting down to have the DTR talk is not allocating time for this specific purpose. Setting aside time helps communicate to the other person how important it is and allows you to have a discussion free of distractions. Ideally, the chat should be face-to-face. Sometimes talking over coffee or food helps make each person more at ease. Note: It should not be done over text, and ideally not over the phone. Being physically together is essential in this conversation.

In the case of long-distance relationships, a DTR chat will look a little bit different. Take our long distance relationship tips: You will need to be more creative to set aside some face-to-face time. Thanks to technology, there are video-chat options available like Zoom, Facetime, and Skype. A phone call will work in a pinch, but be intentional about not doing it over any text-based communication. 

3. Prepare yourself emotionally

These kinds of conversations are usually emotionally charged and, while that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it can get in the way of effective communication. Prepare for your DTR talk by planning out what you want to say. What do you want out of the relationship? What would that look like? What might be some challenges to achieving your goal?

Answer these questions for yourself before starting the conversation to make sure to say everything you need to. If you have trouble remembering all of the talking points, try taking notes or writing them down to refer to them during the conversation, so you don't leave anything out.

4. Be honest and open

Like everything else in life, you cannot expect anyone to be able to read your mind. Be honest about your feelings and expectations if you want them to be understood. The entire point of a "defining the relationship" conversation is to communicate how you feel so your relationship can progress effectively, and that can't happen if either person is holding back.

If you have done your prep work and have every intention of being honest and open with your feelings, you will create a safe space for the other person to do the same, and the whole conversation will be far more productive.

5. Be sure to actively listen

When you are vulnerable with your thoughts and feelings, you want the other person to understand what you are trying to communicate, not just listen to the words you're saying. Active listening means you are intentionally listening to understand rather than respond. This, in turn, will encourage your partner to be honest and open, helping you move towards the same goal: understanding.

If these methods still lead to a dead end, or even if the conversation feels awkward and unproductive, consider contacting a relationship expert or couple's counselor. They are skilled at facilitating meaningful discussions where each person can share their feelings freely. Inviting a stranger into an intimate conversation may feel odd, but their outside perspective can offer objective feedback that you can use in future talks. 

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