Uh Oh, Did You DTR Too Soon? Don't Panic, Here's What To Do
Ah, the ever-stressful “defining the relationship” talk. It’s a hallmark of any new romantic partnership, and everyone seems to have different opinions about how to do it the right way. Often, it ends up being a guessing game based on whatever feels right in the moment — which can sometimes leave room for error. If you’re worried you defined the relationship too soon, take a step back and evaluate the signs.
If you’ve moved things along too quickly, you may notice your partner pulling away from you when you seek connection. “If one partner is more interested in commitment than the other, labeling the relationship too soon can trigger expectations that set the stage for the pursuer-distancer pattern of behavior,” reveals Noelle Cordeaux, Life Coach and CEO of JRNI Coaching. This happens when one partner (the pursuer) is constantly looking for more communication, expressions of love, and time together, while the other partner (the distancer) feels overwhelmed and starts pulling back. When it feels like you're not on the same page about major things — like how much you should be talking or spending time together, or whether you should meet each other's friends and family — you probably defined the relationship before it was ready.
But don't panic, because there are no hard and fast rules about how to get this right. “There is no right or wrong way to define a relationship, but there are several biological and psycho-social factors to take into account,” says Cordeaux. She explains that when we first fall in love, our brain chemistry changes — dopamine rises (leading to increased desire) and serotonin falls (leading to impulsiveness). “This accounts for what some people call 'new relationship energy,' otherwise known as limerence,” she describes. “It is really hard to make rational decisions in this state, and folks who are head over heels in love often believe the drug-like feeling [will] last forever.” If you made a decision to define the relationship on impulse, instead of rationally thinking it through, you might have done it a bit too early. But science backs up your thinking, so it's totally understandable why you may have rushed. And it's still possible to remedy the situation!
Cordeaux also cautions that if you’ve recently emerged from a long-term relationship, you might slip into what she calls “marriage mindset.” “Marriage mindset is the assumption that because a relationship has started to form, the relationship holds all of the benefits and loyalty that would typically exist in a more mature relationship,” she explains. In other words, you assume your new relationship is going to have all the same qualities as your old one — stability, trust, vulnerability — when in reality, these things take awhile to develop. “Folks engaging in marriage mindset settle in too quickly and forget to be evaluative,” Cordeaux says. So especially if you’re just coming out of a deep emotional commitment to someone, you might find yourself thinking your new relationship is ready for that level of seriousness right away.
If all this feels familiar to you, what can you do to fix it? “The remedy is for the pursuer to simply stop pursuing and give the relationship space to breathe,” Cordeaux says. Continuing to push for a deeper bond can only make your partner feel further away from you. Try to accept that you might not be able to be 100 percent open with each other right away — conversations about tough subjects and your deepening feelings can develop naturally with time.
When you find yourself in this premature DTR situation, the best thing you can do is talk about it with honesty and openness. “Humbly acknowledge that there is a problem and take a step back,” Cordeaux suggests. Decide whether you need to go back to the period before you were officially dating, to help take some of the pressure off. Just because you made the decision to define your relationship doesn’t mean that decision is final! Everything is open to change if you discuss it as a couple. “Sometimes, people are simply mismatched in their needs and/or their willingness to participate in a relationship,” Cordeaux explains. But with a readiness to let go of the past, it’s totally possible to move forward together.
“Communication and negotiation might not sound sexy early on, but [they] can be life-saving in the long run,” Cordeaux emphasizes. If you and your partner are on the same page about your status, and you’re both excited about where things are headed, you're in a good place! But if things feel off, you might need to re-negotiate.
Just remember that no matter what your official relationship designation is, this decision can always be modified to make both partners feel more comfortable. Trust your gut and communicate so that even if you have the DTR conversation too early, you can re-evaluate and still feel great about your deepening connection.