8 Signs Your Relationship Is Getting Deeper & More Serious
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
These days, not everyone is too hot on giving their relationship labels, and the stages of courtship aren't as clearly defined as they once were. Nowadays, many people nonexclusively "hang out" and perhaps have sex with several different people at the same time, floating somewhere in the space between "just talking" and "dating." Even when exclusivity is in the picture, sometimes people are still "keeping it casual." Someone can say they "want to be with you" all the time, but that's not exactly the same as someone saying they're committed to you, right?
What counts as a serious relationship?
"A serious relationship is one in which two people are dedicated to growing together," relationships and well-being coach Shula Melamed tells mbg. "It can happen quickly, or it can grow over the span of a few years—the critical component is that both people are invested in it and in a similar way."
That means, yes, serious relationships involve some sort of commitment—though not necessarily a commitment to exclusivity, not necessarily a commitment to get married someday, not necessarily a commitment to be together forever. (Though for some people, those things might be important!) Everyone might have slightly different needs and preferences, but a relationship that's serious does involve a baseline commitment to continue being together and caring about each other indefinitely.
There's usually a direct conversation about this, according to relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW. "They have determined that both individuals are on the same page about the relationship and have labeled it 'serious,'" she tells mbg. "There is an understanding that both people are hoping that the relationship will grow and develop as time goes on."
Beyond this general framework, most of the other details are specific to the individuals involved in the relationship. If you're not sure where you stand with your partner, you should just ask! Meantime though, here are what relationship experts say are usually some of the clearest signs that your relationship is getting serious and that your connection is getting deeper:
1. Your time together is a sure thing.
Your dates or hangouts are a regular part of your schedule—not something you need to be hoping for, coy about, or negotiating. "You know that you both want to be seeing each other on a regular basis," Hartstein says.
"They text you back; they make and keep plans; so do you," Melamed adds. "Attendance is mandatory in a serious relationship—you need to show up every damn day. This is the first glimpse of that commitment." (Not that you need to hang out every day—but whether or not you're going to be spending time together soon is not up for debate or based on whether your schedule permits. You're going to make the time.)
2. You drop the formalities.
Most people want to make a good impression on their partner in the early stages of the relationship. They might dress their best, go out of their way to be romantic or generous, and perhaps brush conflict under the rug to keep the energy in the relationship positive.
You know your relationship is actually getting serious when you stop doing that, explains licensed clinical marriage and family therapist Weena Cullins.
"Most of us are extra polite, accommodating, and flexible in the early stages of a relationship," she explains. "When you finally feel comfortable enough to let your partner see your not-so-nice side, you are expressing a desire to be truly known and accepted for who you really are. This is a sign that you would like to develop a deeper connection with your partner."
3. You begin to develop rituals.
Maybe it's making brunch together on Saturday mornings or going for a post-work jog together a few times a week. Maybe there's an unspoken understanding that you always try trendy new restaurants with each other and no one else. Maybe it's just that they bought you your own toothbrush and house slippers for when you sleep over at their place.
"Slipping into a comfortable rhythm, routine, or pattern of behavior with your partner is a sign of deeper connection. When you intentionally form habits with another person, it indicates that you are open to moving forward together," Cullins says.
4. Your sex life is evolving.
"Some couples have tremendous sexual chemistry from the start while others have to slowly develop an understanding of each other's sexual tempo. As you become more in tune with your partner in other areas of the relationship, intimacy and sexual experiences can also take on a new meaning for both of you," Cullins explains.
5. You know each other's inner circle.
Hartstein and Melamed both emphasize the symbolic nature of getting to know your partner's family: "This is a step that most people don't take unless they are feeling serious and hopeful about their partner," Hartstein says.
Melamed adds that spending a lot of time with each other's close friends can also say a lot about the strength and promise of your relationship. "These people know your name and who you are in [your partner's] life," she says. "This person is showing and sharing their world with you—which is a pretty good indication they would like to bring you into it."
6. Caring about each other is an open priority.
There are no games here. Neither of you is shy about the nature of your feelings for each other, and it's understood and expected that you both care about each other very deeply.
"You each take the time to figure out what makes the other happy, and you are happy to do those things. Caring for each other feels less scary or anxiety-provoking when you want to invest in something more long term," Melamed says.
7. You can handle disagreements and conflicts.
Your relationship doesn't almost fall apart every time you disagree, nor are either of you working hard to avoid confronting conflicts because you don't want to fight. Temporary discord is accepted as a normal and healthy part of your relationship, Melamed says, and it ultimately helps you two get closer to each other in the process.
"Serious relationships are both sturdy and resilient," Cullins says. "They can endure petty disagreements, hard conversations, change, and some forms of outside interference. Even when you become mad, confused, and frustrated by your partner, you discover there is a mutual desire to continue working toward understanding and togetherness."
8. You two can openly talk about the nature of your relationship.
"[When people are in a serious relationship], they aren't freaked out to discuss things like the future, the status of your relationship, nonnegotiables in partnership, hopes, dreams, and how they specifically feel about all these topics," Melamed says. "They are able to take these conversations from hypothetical to how it applies to you, them, and the two of you."
That willingness to go deep and have some vulnerable conversations in and of itself is a "good sign of growing intimacy," she adds.
Seriously—if you're wondering whether your relationship is serious or not, just have the conversation. If your partner is reluctant to talk about it, you have your answer. But if you two are on the same page, the conversation will flow easily.
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