Whether laying out the terms for thoughtful, transparent non-monogamy or choosing how to address each other such as partner or friend, having conversations about defining the relationship can be meaningful moments for couples. Sharing his expertise as a couples and relationship therapist, our Founder and Clinical Director Matt Lundquist recently addressed how couples can open conversations about their needs, desires, and wants in a relationship for Women’s Health.
Speaking to writer Nikhita Mahtani in the article “Here’s What It Means to DTR, According to a Clinical Psychologist,” Matt explains that defining the nature of the relationship is key to getting on the same page with a partner and can lessen anxiety in the long run. Matt observes, “If one partner is looking for a more casual experience, while the other is looking for a more monogamous relationship, that can cause expectations on either partner that they may not be able to fulfill.”
The solution? Talk about it early, often, and repeatedly. As Matt says, “…transparency and clarity are helpful. Vagueness and guessing increase the chances of hurt feelings and surprises.”
Though some look at these big conversations with trepidation, the process of defining the relationship doesn’t have to be a rigid discussion about status or rules. Relationships can be defined in all sorts of ways, beyond status and monogamy. Similarly, a conversation about defining a relationship can be “as broad or narrow as you need.” Though often related to sex, flirting, monogamy, and relationship status, Matt encourages couples to “think more broadly about how they share time…It can even include things like sleepover schedules, or how friends and family are folded into the relationship.”
Matt also urges couples to consider the conversation as a way to build something amazing together in which both partners are happy and fulfilled. “Remember,” Matt emphasizes, “that this isn’t just a negotiation of terms…it’s about talking openly about what feels good, fun, and safe—both in a relationship and with sex.”
Despite some nerves, Matt says in most cases, these conversations go well. If both partners aren’t on the same page, however, Matt cautions against panicking. Instead, give it time to play out and evolve. “Relationships are dynamic,” Matt says, “often people don’t know what they want or have conflicts about what they want, and people change their minds.”
Ideally, a conversation on defining the relationship can set the groundwork for future deeper conversations down the road. “In relationships of any sort, uncomfortable conversations increase in importance and frequency: You’re not just learning to talk about sharing time and fidelity…Instead, you’re building a relationship infrastructure to be able to talk about all kinds of hard things down the line,” Matt asserts.