6 Signs That It’s Time to Define the Relationship

couple on date eating ice cream and laughing, define the relationship

When it comes to dating relationships, one of the toughest conversations occurs when we must “define the relationship.” Learning where the other person stands within the relationship is essential. Lack of communication here can cause confusion and undue stress on both parties. 

Being clear on whether the relationship is a just a friendship, dating casually, or preparing for marriage can help everyone involved make the necessary choices. Having the “define the relationship” talk empowers each person to move forward with pursuing the relationship or consider a new dating partner. This vital dating conversation avoids the awkwardness of one person feeling like they are trapped in the friend-zone or feeling forced to go further than they really want. Pastor Kyle Idleman defines the D.T.R. (Define the Relationship) talk in detail in his book, Not A Fan. 

“There comes a time when you need to define the relationship. It can be awkward. It can be uncomfortable. But eventually every healthy relationship reaches a point when the D.T.R. talk is needed. Is it casual or is it committed? Have things moved past infatuation and admiration and towards deeper devotion and dedication? You need to intentionally evaluate the state of the relationship and your level of commitment to the person.”

The D.T.R. conversation should always be in person and may take place over occasions. This serious moment in a relationship should not be done out of aggravation or desperation, but from a place of seeking truth. Before addressing the other person, be sure to seek the Lord for direction on the words to say and the ability to process what you may hear. Unfortunately, these moments don’t always go the way we would like. Yet, its essential to stand in faith that if the person in question is from the Lord, it will be made clear and He will direct your path. 

With this in mind, here are a few indicators that it’s time to define the relationship:

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  • couple laughing outside, define the relationship

    1. You are spending more time together.


    If you have noticed that you are spending more and more time with your “friend” it may be time to define the relationship. For many, quality time is considered a love language. According to The Five Languages Book website, “quality time is a powerful emotional communicator of love.” Quality time is not just about being in the same room but giving undivided attention. Inherently, the emotional connection that derives from being around a person all the time can be just as powerful as the physical intimacy. If you have noticed that you have gone from hanging out weekly to daily, it’s important to start asking questions for clarity.

    2. You start to feel territorial.

    Are you starting to feel like the other person “belongs” to you? Do you find yourself feeling jealous if they take a picture or hang out with a person of the opposite sex? If so, your emotions towards the relationship may be deeper than you expected. Although we should strive to never be jealous, without a clearly defined relationship and expectations in place, one can easily feel disrespected or hurt over the other person’s choice. These territorial feelings can also be an indicator of our own insecurities or wanting to take the relationship to another level. Rather than get angry with the other party over how they spend their time when you aren’t around, ask questions.

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  • couple laughing outside church, define the relationship

    3. Your emotional intimacy level starts to increase.


    Have you suddenly started to see the other person as your “safe place” when you face challenges, or one that you share very personal secrets? If so, this would be a good time to see where the relationship is going. Relationships that are high in vulnerability can easily be categorized as “best friends” and never cross physical boundaries. This can cause much confusion for one or both parties. One person may share their heart because they have deeper feelings while the other may just be offering support. This is often how people become trapped in the “friend zone.” According to the Christianity Today article, “How Christian Men Should Respond To Getting ‘Friend Zoned’”, those who have the define-the-relationship talk, only to find out the other person doesn’t feel the same, should remember the following:

    • Consider if now is the time for the relationship to go deeper or if you want to wait for things to change.
    • Although you may move on from the person, you don’t have to give up on the hope of ever getting married.
    • Refuse to harbor bitterness.
    • Don’t see rejection as a sign of your worth.

    Keep in mind that if you are the person that feels strongly about maintaining a friendship, there is no need to feel pressured into going deeper. You have the right to not become physical or pursue marriage with someone that you don’t have this kind of connection with. It’s essential that you respect and honor the other person’s wishes if they choose to place an element of separation between you and them. This is how they can guard their heart even more. In all things, seek to simply love them as best you can and honor where they are.

    Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Joshua Adam Nolette

  • adult couple hugging, define the relationship

    4. Physical boundaries are being crossed.


    Just like emotional intimacy, physical touch and affection can complicate a relationship. If you once set clear boundaries, such as “no sex before marriage” or “not being alone with one another without an accountability partner,” and you start to compromise your own rules, it may be time to establish where the relationship is going.

    This can be especially true if you sense the other person is pressuring you into being more physical than you would desire. You have the right to remind them your position and seek clarity on, “Where do you see this relationship going?” If the other party is simply desiring a more casual dating relationship that includes sexual intimacy, but you are seeking to be celibate until marriage, you must speak up. Remember, spending time with a person, or any gifts they choose to give you, doesn’t mean you have an obligation to be physical. In fact, your only obligation according to the Word is to give godly love to those you interact with.

    Rather than finding yourself in a compromising position, as Paul says, it would be better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:9). Although you may find this to be an area of weakness, be sure that you and the other person are very clear on where the relationship is going before more confusion ensues.

    Owe no man anything, but to love one another, for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)

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  • couple holding hands across table, define the relationship

    5. The future is being discussed.


    Have you noticed the other person is suddenly discussing how they want their wedding, the number of children they want, or what life will be together? Adversely, does the other person always refer to you as being like a sibling or best friend, when you see them as more? If so, it’s essential that you start to ask questions. For some people, rather than being direct with how they feel, they will simply “drop hints.” Yet, these hints are clues to how they really feel.

    These kinds of conversations should not be taken lightly or entertained if you do not feel the same. They are great ways to have the D.T.R. talk in a natural way. Consider saying, “Hey, I notice that you talk a lot about our future together, are you serious about pursuing marriage or a family one day?” This may seem a bit uncomfortable but can place everyone on the same page.

    Photo Credit: © Pexels/Luis Quintero

  • woman praying against sunset, define the relationship

    6. The Lord is speaking to you.


    Defining the relationship is a concept we can see in the Bible. In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus questioned Peter about the way he viewed Him. Through a series of questions, the Lord asked Peter, ““Who do you say I am?” In other words, “what is God speaking to your heart about who I am and my role in your life?” Jesus seemed astonished by Peter’s response and told Peter that the Father in Heaven must have given this revelation. 

    When you speak to many involved in Christian marriages, they will also say that the Lord revealed that the other person was their spouse. Perhaps through prayer, a dream, or the Holy Spirit speaking, God made it clear that the other person would eventually be their spouse. These moments can be tricky and must be handled with extreme caution, as some people may use, “The Lord told me you were my spouse” as a form of manipulation. All this to say, if you truly believe the Lord is revealing to your heart that the other person is one you are to be with, be willing to have an open and honest conversation about how you see them. 

    In the same way, the Lord may be speaking to you that it’s time to stop or alter the relationship. True maturity is being willing to release what God is removing from our lives. These moments are difficult but necessary. 

    No matter what, seek the Lord first for how He wants to define the relationships in your life. 

    “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

    Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Tinnakorn Jorruang


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