It’s an inevitable question in any romantic relationship: “What are we?” Defining the relationship can look like different things to different people. Maybe it’s becoming monogamous as a couple, using labels like “girlfriend” and “boyfriend,” or beginning to think of the relationship in the long term. Identifying what it means to each partner is a major step, and one that can be fraught with awkwardness and anxiety. It’s also the first point where many couples really test their ability to communicate. Communication is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. Defining the relationship presents a space for partners to express what they want and need from a partnership. Are they on the same page, or is one partner looking for a long-term commitment while the other isn’t? Healthily handling these conversations with “I” language, empathy, and good listening skills make for a healthy dynamic, and bode good interactions later on down the road.
For many, defining the relationship also opens up conversations about boundaries. Say you and a partner have decided your relationship is committed. What are some things you are and aren’t willing to share (i.e. friends’ nights out, a key to your apartment, holiday visits to family)? While boundaries can change and expand overtime, this stage of the relationship is important for determining how respectful a partner is of your boundaries. Do they respect and work with those boundaries, or do they ignore and push at them? If boundaries are violated, talk about it, and if that kind of behavior persists, this might be a sign that the relationship isn’t healthy or compatible. Remember, respect should be part of relationships at every stage!