A couple of months ago, I identified a real issue in regards to communication in relationships. As a dating coach, I talk with my clients a great deal about boundaries. We as a society, especially women, are not taught nearly enough about them. But I realized, both within the relationship I was in at the time, and with my clients, that getting them to let their partner know their boundary was one thing, but what the other person heard... well, it could be something else entirely.
I've learned that the words we so commonly use are not universally defined. Relational and feeling words are nuanced, individualized narratives, all created by our childhoods and our experiences as maturing adults.
So while it's great to tell your date that you are "looking for love," what exactly does that mean to you, as a giver of love and a receiver? My advice? Don't just say the words -- explain them, discuss them, define them and have your partner do the same. That's not only a good communication skill to develop, its one that will create connectedness, understanding and hopefully, make sure you are on the same page going forward.
Below are a few words I think are important to discuss, although I am sure you can add many more to this list.
We love ice cream, The Big Bang Theory and those earrings you're wearing. The word love does not have the luxury of just one meaning. Even romantic love can mean very different things to your best friend, the person you've been on three fabulous dates with and your mom. First, figure out what it means to you and then also, are there any expectations tied to the word. My last boyfriend and I discussed that part a great deal -- for him, acknowledging love meant some sort of implicit commitment, but for me, it was more simplistic and having commitment tied to it never crossed my mind. This is a pretty big gap that should be discussed and was, but if we had never talked about it, we would have been on different pages and not even known it.
It is not unusual to see "I want an honest guy/gal" in a dating profile. What I and another male friend have found is, honesty is defined differently and not usually what people want at all. What people generally mean with that statement is that they don't want to be lied to or cheated on... that is more about trustworthiness and integrity. Honesty is a culture you can create within your relationship where you can say anything you need to say, with kindness and sensitivity, and be heard without being attacked. It's creating a level of communication that is not how most people operate. Some people feel others can be "too honest," so this is why it's important to talk about not only the word, but how much honesty you want in your relationship.
When dating, it is always best to assume that both parties are dating others, UNTIL you have the exclusivity talk. I have repeatedly seen singles fail to complete this discussion. They do not talk about what exclusivity means, nor do they discuss if it means they both hide their profiles on the dating sites they are on. HUGE mistake -- and not always an intentional one. But what if your partner's best friend saw you come up as a match for them and told your partner about it? You'd be in Big Trouble! This is an honest discussion that needs to happen. You can also include in this same discussion, the level of commitment you want now and hope for in the future, the amount of time you both feel comfortable seeing each other, what sort of daily communication you want to have or even what you want to call each other to other people. Remember, in a mature relationship, nothing should be off-topic and you can save yourself a lot of mental angst by just asking.
In today's technology age, this is definitely something that needs to be discussed openly. You don't have to go into the discussion with a hard and fast set of rules already in mind... in fact, its best to have open-ended questions that create good dialog. For example, "I am still friends with my ex, how do you feel about that? In what ways would that make you feel uncomfortable?" For some people, texting anyone of the opposite sex would be difficult for them, for others, you can talk all you want as long as it's not sexual in nature. You won't know if you don't discuss it and It's genuinely not fair to hold someone to a set of standards you haven't discussed yet. Esther Perel, a researcher on Infidelity says, "Monogamy used to be one person for life. Now, monogamy is one person at a time." Without a universal definition, this is something we must put our big girl/boy pants on and discuss.
Having these sort of conversations may feel awkward to you if you haven't communicated this way before, but I promise there is a huge payoff. Not only will you get your questions answered and know where you stand, it will also set the tone for future discussions that far too many couples skip and pay for later.
Brave Up and Speak Up, Friends!