Let’s Get Serious: 14 Questions to Ask Before You Define the Relationship
You might think “What are we?” is the most important question for defining your relationship. But is it?
We all have our own expectations, ideas, theories and fantasies about relationships and how they should look, feel, and progress. That’s what makes defining the relationship so important. If we never have that talk, we can end up having two different relationships: the one we think we’re having, and the one our partner thinks we’re having.
We’ve come to place so much importance on defining the relationship, though, that sometimes we leap ahead. We start asking “What are we?” or “Are we exclusive?” before we even know for sure that we even want a relationship with this person. We ask before we know them well enough to know. We ask because defining the relationship gives us a sense of security — but that security might not be ours to have. Not yet, anyway.
When you start thinking that you might be ready to bring up the status of your relationship with someone you’re dating, it’s seems logical to start with “Where is this going?” But I think there are other questions, more important ones, that should be asked before that. Sometimes, the answers to one or more of those questions might show you that you don’t need to define the relationship — because you don’t want one after all.
I’ve compiled this list of 14 questions I think you should ask yourself (and your potential partner) before you ever the one that defines your relationship.
How well do we know each other?
Many times, we assign numbers to dating. No sex until date three or no meeting the kids until at least six months in. While these kinds of rules can be helpful, they should only be a baseline — a minimum hurdle to pass before considering exclusivity.
Meeting that minimum hurdle should then initiate the question of how well you know each other. Dating for six months doesn’t look the same if you’ve only seen each other once a month instead of two or three times a week.
When you ask yourself how well you know each other, you might be surprised to find that you don’t feel you know them well enough to want an exclusive relationship yet — despite whatever the numbers might say.
What am I attracted to?
There’s love and then there’s lust, and the two are very easy to confuse. Asking yourself what you’re attracted to in this person can give you some huge insight into whether what you’re feeling is lust or the potential for love.
Are you attracted to their heart? Their character? Their intelligence? Attraction to those kinds of things could indicate the potential for love and a future.
Attracted to their body? Always fantasizing about sex with them? While it doesn’t preclude love, if the only thing you feel you’re attracted to is their physical appearance, it’s a good sign that it’s just lust.
And if it’s just lust, committing to a relationship with this person has the potential to make you both miserable in the future, unless you’re both clear on what you want from the relationship.
What are your/their expectations?
The first two questions are more for yourself, but this is one you should ask yourself and your potential partner. Undefined relationship expectations can be a huge source of conflict for couples. Sitting down and discussing what you each expect of a relationship, and of your partner, can not only reduce future conflict, but help you realize whether or not you want a relationship with this person.
This question is a complicated one, with so many things to cover, that it might require more than one conversation. But it’s important to ask, even if it requires sitting down multiple times to talk about it. Discuss things like whether you’re looking for monogamy, marriage, to have kids, etc. But you should also discuss things like whether you expect phone calls or texts, how often you want to communicate, and even whether you’d want your relationship to be “Facebook official.”
What are your/their plans for the next year, two years, five years?
Some people work out 5–10 year plans, or even longer, while others prefer to take more of a winging it approach. But regardless of which camp you’re in, most of us have a rough idea of what we want to do with our lives over the next year or two, at least. And if your plans and your potential partner’s are wildly different, you may reconsider the relationship idea.
These plans shouldn’t just be what concerts you both plan to attend and what books you want to read, although it’s fine to discuss those, too. Talk about things like plans to move, go back to school, climb the corporate ladder, start your own business, buy a home, sell a home, retire, travel, etc.
Be honest about your plans, too. If you’re getting older and having a child in the next year or so matters, say so. Or if not having kids is on your agenda, be clear about that too. The point of this question is to ensure that you both want the same things. It doesn’t make either of you wrong to want different things. But the honesty will ensure you don’t hurt each other.
What are your thoughts on sex?
Some people enjoy casual sex with one-time partners; others prefer to wait until they’re married to have sex. Some people like “vanilla” sex, while others have kinks that you might not understand even if you Googled it. Wherever you are on that spectrum, finding someone who is a good match for what you enjoy is important to a healthy, happy, and active sex life.
Whether you’ve already had sex or not, having an honest discussion about sex before you commit to a relationship can prevent hurt feelings, damaged confidence and self-esteem, and the shock of learning that your partner is into something you can’t wrap your head around.
How do you treat the people you love?
How your potential partner treats their friends and family can show you how they’ll treat you. Take a close look at how they treat those they love — especially the people they claim are most important to them.
Go beyond that, though, and look at how they treat other people, too. Neighbors, retail clerks, restaurant servers, and roommates should all be treated with respect and kindness. Look at their reaction when they’re cut off in traffic, running late, or treated rudely. While there may be call for frustration, or even anger, make sure it’s appropriate to the situation.
How much time will you commit to a relationship?
I’ve dated a guy who was never home but always wanted me to be on the phone with him. I’ve also dated a guy who was totally comfortable with sporadic communication and never seeing each other more than once a month. While they are allowed their own expectations, neither was a good match for me because I need a time commitment somewhere in between constant and practically nonexistent.
Discuss not just what you both expect in terms of time commitment, but what you can reasonably commit. You might prefer to talk on the phone for an hour a day, but if your life won’t allow for that, you should be honest about it. Discuss time in terms of together and apart — how much time will you spend together, in person, and how much time will you commit to phone calls, texts, etc. when you’re apart?
What are your passions, dreams, and goals?
We all have things we want to do with our lives. Part of being in a relationship is supporting our partner as they chase after their passions, dreams, and goals. But sometimes our passion, dream, or goal can be so different from what someone else wants that a relationship between us just wouldn’t work.
Whether a passion, dream or goal is incompatible with our own or is out of alignment with our own morals or values, it’s best to find out before you commit. Of course, these things can also change with time so it’s not a guarantee, but it’s still a good idea to explore this before you dive in and risk real heartbreak.
How is your relationship with your family?
Family relationships can be complicated and frustrating. If your potential partner has problems with their family, those problems may become a part of your relationship. When your partner is unhappy or stressed due to family, you may be expected to listen to them vent or play peacemaker.
It’s also a good idea to ask about family relationships because once you’re in a relationship with this person, you’ll be expected to form relationships with their family, too. If there’s a lot of drama, anger, or other issues, you may think twice about whether you want to invite that into your life.
Can we sit comfortably in silence?
On a first date, too much silence can be a bad sign. But in the long run, there’s going to be some silence. There’s going to be times you have nothing to talk about, or one of you is too tired to talk. In those moments, can you two sit comfortably? Or does one or both of you feel the need to fill that silence?
A need to fill that silence can indicate several things, from insecurity in the relationship to a need for distraction from something going on inside the person. While an inability to sit in comfortable silence might not seem like it should be a dealbreaker in a relationship, consider this: how long can you really listen to the person talk, and keep up your end of a conversation, without a break?
When was your last relationship and how did it end?
Yes, this is an awkward question. And sometimes we avoid it not because we don’t want to hear their story, but because we don’t want to tell our own. But it’s a vital question. Finding out that they just broke up with someone last week or two months ago can let you know that this might be a rebound for them. Things they say, their tone of voice, or the expression on their face can clue you in that perhaps they still want to get back with the ex — or that the ex is trying to get back with them.
Finding out how it ended is also important. Did someone cheat? Was it sudden and explosive, or the final breath of a slowly dying relationship? This will help you know if there might be some trust issues, or that they are still friends with their ex.
This is all information that will help you decide whether you truly want to commit to this person.
Have you ever cheated on someone?
It’s another very awkward question, and if you really like the person, you might hesitate to ask because the answer could be a deal breaker for you. But you need to ask. Some people believe the adage “once a cheater, always a cheater,” while others are more forgiving and believe that someone may have cheated in the past but can learn from, and not repeat, their mistakes.
You have to decide which one you believe. But whichever one you believe, knowing if they’ve ever cheated matters. But it’s not just about hearing a confession. It’s also about the way they respond. If they admit to cheating and talk with pride about all the affairs they’ve gotten away with, you’ll know you should run far and fast. But if they admit to having had an affair once and tell you with real remorse how it devastated their partner, ruined their life, and they’d never make that mistake again, that may be a good sign.
And if they try to avoid the question entirely, or get upset that you asked, that should be a red flag that makes you question other things they’ve told you.
Do you appreciate me for who I am in this moment?
A partner who challenges you to quit smoking or take better care of your health might be just the motivation you need. But a partner who is trying to change you, especially before they’re in a relationship, is not what anyone needs.
They shouldn’t be blind to your flaws, but neither should they be trying to change you. They also shouldn’t be trying to change things that aren’t flaws. Someone who’s trying to get you to be into their hobbies and interests without expressing interest in yours is trying to change you. And if they can’t appreciate who you are, then they can’t love you.
Of course, people do change over time. Who you are today may not be who you are next month or next year. Some changes may even be as a result of your relationship with this person. But they should be able to appreciate who you are in any given moment, and the changes you undergo, without trying to change you to suit themselves.
Can I trust you?
This is one of the most important questions to ask before trying to define the relationship. But it’s not a question to ask your potential partner — this one’s for you. You need to dig deep inside and decide if you can trust this person.
Trust and keeping confidences is a huge part of a romantic relationship. You need to trust them to be faithful, to be honest, to be open, to be gentle and kind, and to keep your secrets. If you feel that you can’t trust them in even one of those ways, you’re not ready to get serious — and you may never be.
If you find that you’re not trusting them, you need to explore why. Is it that you don’t know them well enough yet? Or is it that they’ve said or done something to show you they can’t be trusted? Maybe you have trust issues from your past that are influencing you now?
Defining the relationship is the last step to love
When it comes to finding love and a relationship that lasts, defining the relationship isn’t the first question to ask. It’s the last. There is so much more to explore and consider before you decide you want a relationship with someone.
By exploring these questions before you commit to a relationship, you can save yourself the heartbreak of ending it after months or years together. By having a better understanding of both you and your potential partner before you make that decision to have an exclusive relationship, you can avoid entering relationships that won’t be good for you.
And if you’re really looking for lasting love, the goal should be finding the one relationship that’s right for you, not just finding any relationship at all.
Want more? Subscribe to my bimonthly newsletter for more self-care, meditation, parenting, and relationship advice.
You might also enjoy:
Ready & Willing: How to Know You’re Open to Love
When a relationship ends, you need a little time to heal. But how can you tell when you’ve truly healed and are ready…
Dating With Kids: 8 Deal Breakers Single Parents Should Look For
Dating when you have kids requires adding a few things to your list of reasons to walk away.
Mr. Right: How Can You Know?
Whether you believe in a single Mr. Right or just need to figure out if this guy is a good one, these tips will help.