That question comes up in all kinds of different ways. For some, it comes up early in the relationship; and for others it comes up a after several months or even years. You usually start asking yourself this question when you find yourself thinking about marriage or moving in together. The exact question you ask is different for everyone, but in my experience, every couples asks some version of this question. So here are a few conversations for when you and your partner are starting to get more serious to help you know whether you know whether you’re officially ready for that commitment stage of the relationship or not.
I mean “Goals” with a capital “G”. If you and your partner are getting more serious, it is definitely time to talk about what you want in life. Do you want kids? Is marriage on or off the table? Do you want to set down roots, or move to new places? These are all big questions that determine the direction you will be going in life. And if this is different than your partner’s direction, you are going to run into trouble.
Secondly, exploring these goals with your partner will help you decide what is and is not a deal breaker. Some goals are rigid, and will never change. You may know that you want to live near a city, and nothing could ever change that. Other goals are flexible, meaning your partner’s happiness might be more important than your original goal. In the course of exploring, you might find that you care more about maintaining your relationship more than your original goal. It is important to have these conversations to help find what in your life plans is set in stone.
You don’t have to have this conversation and answer all these questions all at once. That’s a lot of pressure. But find ways to bring these topics up over time and be prepared to talk in depth about each one. This will
Get Specific about Expectations
One of the tough parts of working with couples is knowing the conversation(S) that could have saved them the pain they are in by time they find my office. And one of those conversations is simply getting specific about each others’ expectations. When you imagine a serious, committed relationship what does it look like? It is important that when you and your partner talk about next steps, you are specific enough to know you are talking about the same thing.
Some expectations are obvious, but others are not unless you ask. It is important to know how your partner is expecting you to act around their family. And you should probably let your partner know how you expect them to act around their particularly attractive co-workers. Communicating openly about your expectations takes away any danger. Just remember that if you do not talk about expectations now, you can expect to fight about them later.
Commitment is an Intentional Choice
Too many couples take next steps in their relationship just because it “makes sense.” It feels like the natural next move, so you just go with the flow. You hear couples talk about this when they say things like, “We had been together for a while, so it just made sense to get a place together.” Or you feel it when you have been with someone for a while and people start making assumptions about when you are going to have kids. You want to make sure that you are choosing your relationship instead of just riding a wave. Here is an article which I like that is all about this point.
It might feel like common sense, but it is important to invest in your relationship even in the early stages. Take time, and have difficult conversations. In the long run, you and your partner will be better off because of it. If you are a little lost on how to start these conversations, therapy does not have to be reserved for when you hate each other’s guts! We at The Marriage & Family Clinic can help you if you are looking to move toward a more serious, committed relationship.
About the Author
Ryan Hicks is a licensed therapist and marriage counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in working with couples in high conflict and working with couples in the LGBTQ community. When he’s not working with couples, you’ll find him rock climbing or taking in the great outdoors of Colorado.