Is It Time to “Define the Relationship”?

In Advice and Encouragement, Dating, Relationships, Single by Debra Fileta

I recently threw out a question on Facebook asking what people thought about “DTR”s. 

DTRs…you know, that can-be awkward conversation where one  person (usually the female) sits down the other person (usually the male) and asks where this “relationship” is going.  

Are we friends, or something more?  What’s the deal?

The responses I received indicate that there are definitely some differences in opinions out there when it comes to the importance of the DTR.  Some were all for it, while others thought of it as silly and unnecessary.

One of my favorite comments from this discussion came from my friend Chris, who explained: “I never had one. We just got married!”

So, what’s the bottom line when it comes to DTRs? 

In a perfect world, DTRs would have no meaning, value, or purpose. Because in a perfect world, a relationship would consist of two honest people, who are headed in the same direction, with the same level of affection for one another, and the same definition of commitment- who just so happen to both be excellent communicators. 

In that case, DTRs would be silly and irrelevant- because you both already know. You’re on the same page.  You’re headed in the right direction.  

Now granted, there are times when this unspoken understanding really does happen- even without perfect people.  Times where both parties are actually on the same page for most of their relationship, moving at the same pace, toward the same goals.  In situations like this, like my friend Chris explained, actions do all the talking.  One thing comes after the other, and there’s never a need to stop and define it. Next thing you know, you’re married.  Badda-bing, badda-boom. 

But for some reason- and personally speaking: I have never had such luck.  If you’re anything like me, relationships have come with complexities.  I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I’m in the category of people who are just really complex, or maybe I just think about things too much.  Whatever it is, I’ve never had the luxury of just “knowing” what the other person was thinking, or vice versa. 

In fact, if I’m really honest, many times where I THOUGHT the relationship was going, and where the relationship was actually heading, were two very different things.

I thought we were dating, he thought we were friends. 

He thought we were soul mates, I thought we were homework buddies. 

You know, those kind of things.

Now that I look back, I’ve learned from my past and I’ve realized that much of that responsibility in those “unknown zones” fell on me.  There are things I could have said and done to protect myself, and to “know” where the relationship was headed, instead of being led by ambiguity.  I could have asked. I could have set boundaries. I could have clarified. I could have distanced myself. Looking back, in moments of ambiguity and confusion, we should always assume that the responsibility falls on US, because we are in charge of protecting our hearts. 

But as for whether or not to have the DTR, here’s what I think it comes down to: 

It’s all about knowing who you are and understanding what you need. 

Different people need different things.  Even my husband and I were very different with regard to our view of the DTR, because our past experiences, personality types, and relationship styles all add up to determine what each of us needed in a relationship, DTRs and all. 

For someone like me, words were foundational. My relationship history consisted of ambiguity that needed clarification.  I finally got to the point where I wasn’t about to hold hands, buy a plane ticket, visit the family, or give (or even allow) a thoughtless kiss to someone who hadn’t really committed to me with their words. Words were the path that helped my heart safely get to the next stage.  

For me, a DTR meant this: I needed words to back up actions.  Commitment to back up the communiction.  Definition to help me know where we were headed. 

For someone like my husband, words didn’t mean much, because from his perspective: actions always spoke louder than words.  During our dating stage, he felt that words weren’t as important as consistency, commitment, respect and loyalty displayed through how he behaved toward me and how he pursued me. 

But even so, when it came time for the DTR (because I needed to have it) he willingly communicated words that backed up his commitment. And then, we moved forward together…actually, never looking back again.

If you’re contemplating a DTR, ask yourself a couple things first:

1.      Have we been dating/friends long enough for me to consider asking about the next steps, or am I simply trying to rush things? 

2.      Are the actions of this relationship reflecting commitment, loyalty, and honesty?

3.      Is this DTR something that will bring me closure and the ability to move forward? Will I be able to take responsibility of guarding and protecting my own heart from this point forward? 

4.      .Will I be okay if the “definition” (aka “we’re just friends”) different than I imagined it to be, and then take the necessary steps to back away from this relationship?

Remember, at the end of the day, the goal of a DTR is to get on the same page, and to prepare to take next steps, whether those next steps lead forward, or backwards.  And whether or not you decide to DTR, keep in mind that in a healthy relationship actions and words must ALWAYS go hand in hand.

Want to learn more about having a healthy dating life? Check out my book, True Love Dates!

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, and author of the book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life. You may also recognize her voice from her 100+ articles at Relevant Magazine or! She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love! Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter