One of the big reasons for problems in relationships is when people haven’t had the ‘define the relationship’ chat. Even when people do have the DTR they don’t really do very much defining. So this article is to give you some ideas about how to do this more effectively so that you can avoid unnecessary heartache oh, and STIs.
What is defining the relationship?
Towards the beginning of a relationship a lot of people like to have some kind of chat about what the relationship is. Some people really like to have certainty and to know that the other person is on the same page as them about what the relationship is. This could be about whether it’s monogamous, friends with benefits, friends, non-exclusive dating, non-monogamy, or polyamory.
I have an article about all these different kinds of relationships that you should probs check out. You could work out what your relationship is by reading that article and then figuring out what to call your relationship. Or, you could ditch the labels and talk about what you think would work for you.
‘So We’re Going to Be Faithful, Right?’
One of the big problems people have is that there is often not a clear agreement about what being faithful actually means. As I say in my post about different kinds of relationships text a mate right now and ask them what they think faithfulness means, I bet you don’t exactly agree.
A lot of people would say ‘being faithful means that you don’t have sex with anyone else, ever.’ But what does sex mean here? Is it just intercourse, or is oral sex okay? Is snogging someone okay? What if they were naked? A public snog? What about sexting someone? How about talking about having sex, even if ‘nothing happened’. What about flirting with someone?
If something sexual did happen with someone else would you want to know? What would you want to know about? If the other person had sex and: it was a one-off, it was safe, no-one else would know about it, would you still want to know? What if it was someone you knew? Or a friend of theirs? Or an ex of theirs?
What about ethical non-monogamy?
Sidenote: a lot of this also applies if you are doing ethical non-monogamy too. It might be okay for someone to have sex and relationships with other people, but what about if they were a close friend, or family member, or an ex of the other person? What if someone had sex with someone that the other person had beef with?
Like a lot of things on this website, the idea of what ‘faithful’ or ‘monogamous’ means is on a spectrum. Some people are okay about their person having passionate sex with another person, others would not be happy if their person looked at something sexy or porny that wasn’t them.
If even the thought of all of these things are making you twitchy and angry then you should tell your other person.
However it’s not just about sex (because, remember, not all romantic relationships are sexual) it’s also about doing other things with someone else. Like what about someone seeing their ex? Spending a night with someone else? Spending a lot of time or money with a friend?
Remember that it should be okay for your person to have their own life, and you should respect that. It’s often a sign of an unhealthy or abusive relationship if someone isn’t happy about their person seeing anyone else or having a nice time with other people. However, there might still be some things that happen with some people that you might find a bit tricky — what might those be?
So that’s how you can prevent heartache, but also this is a way of preventing STIs too.
How Can This Prevent STIs?
So people tend to use condoms at the beginning of relationships and then stop using them over time when they go monogs (a mistake I think, but there you go). If they both knew they didn’t have STIs they could pass on to each other and if they both knew that they were only going to have sex with each other then that would keep them safe from STIs. BUT.
A lot of monogamous relationships aren’t actually monogamous (studies say around 20% in the current relationship and around 50% during their lifetime) . So there’s a lot of what people might call cheating going on, however (and more relevantly to this article) there are often no explicit agreements about what monogamy actually means. This study found that there was only “only slight to fair agreement” on how monogamous they were and what that actually meant.
So people think that it’s only people that sleep around a lot that get STIs but that’s not true, as you will see when you take my STI Quiz, that you are going to do now aren’t you? Off you pop. Shoo shoo.
How to Do It?
So as you can see, it’s probably a good idea to talk about how you are going to do your relationship. There’s a lot of advice on here about how you can do that, including how you can do some talking about talking. Sometimes people like to sit down and chat everything through, sometimes people like to chat over a period of time by text. So chat about how you want to chat about that first. You could also talk about other relationships – like famous people or people on Eastenders – in order to suss out what you both feel about your own relationship. Remember that your relationship is constantly changing, so keep your define the relationship conversation going.
For more help, here’s how to do relationship negotiation. There are some important questions to answer in my post about making long distance relationships work. You could also use my relationships graph to figure out how your relationship is going.
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© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.