When to Go Exclusive in a Relationship

03 Aug

Do you ever ponder about whether it is time to go exclusive in your relationship or even wonder how to start that conversation? Why can something so trivial be complicated or uncomfortable to discuss?


I often get a variety of questions regarding exclusive relationships or exclusivity. How to know if one should be exclusive, when to have the conversation, how to have the conversation and even whether to have it. These are good questions, it is helpful to clarify the ‘situationship’; Are we just seeing each other with no further intention of building a life together? Or are we both consciously working toward forging a lifelong bond? Are we exclusive?

To some these may sound like trivial questions and a restrictive topic to bring up in a perhaps awkward conversation. Why put a label on things? Why the rush? Why can’t we just go with the flow and let life take us on a journey? Well firstly, our intentions have a huge impact on how we address and deal with other people. If you know that the person you are seeing is ‘just’ a casual fling, you are not going to invest more of your precious time and energy into getting to know their friends and family for example. You won’t make an effort to get involved with their social ‘stuff’. Whereas if you know your partner is a long term, going-to-stay-around-for-ever, person in your life, you will need to engage in teamwork with that person. You need to coordinate your lives and collaborate on serious topics such as finances, kids, extended family and lifestyle. Granted this doesn’t always go to plan, but for healthy relationships and for those that last well, both parties need to commit to hanging around when the going gets tough. If there is a misalignment in this expectation, then the relationship will fall apart eventually and the person who invested into the longevity of it walks away very wounded. And that’s what we want to avoid with ‘the conversation’; needless hurt, pain and disappointment.

So when do we talk about exclusivity? Well, how long does it take for you to decide to buy an item of clothing? For those of you who have heard me talk about how to approach dating and online dating, you will know I advocate for a stance whereby you curate a checklist (yes, I said checklist) made up of your values and deal breakers. This enables you to do your due diligence on your partner. I know this sounds unromantic, but in order to make a good decision about your life partner, you sort of need to check this person out: are they reliable? trustworthy? kind? financially sensible? It’s all very well to be swept away by our passions and lust, but you don’t want your life partner to be a regrettable impulse-buy. Doing your due diligence sets things up well to have the conversation about the future together, as you will have brought the topic up early on in the dating (because your no 1 deal breaker is presumably ‘committed relationship’, as in if the person is not looking for a long term relationship, then they are not worth your time as dating material). I know other date coaches advocate slightly differently here, but I would argue that one of your first questions when dating someone is to ask what they are looking for; Long term? Fun? Friends with benefits? Marriage? Kids? I mean what is the point of trying on a coat that is not your size, you look at the size tag before trying it on, right?

If you didn’t manage to have a conversation about intention, it’s not the end of the world. You can still bring it up. My personal preference would be to talk about relationship intention and exclusivity around the 5th or 6th date, under the assumption you would have connected a bit before, and communicated between dates over a period of 4-6 weeks. This conversation doesn’t have to be ‘are we boyfriend/girlfriend; boyfriend/boyfriend; girlfriend/girlfriend’, but more ‘do we like each other enough to not see other people and concentrate on getting to know one another exclusively’. It’s not a marriage proposal by any stretch. I see this as a preliminary probation period, where both parties try on the coat coat for size and have perhaps a 3-6 months returns policy.

This is of course a recommendation and needs to be tailored to your specific situation. I will say though, that if you thought this was too forward, too quick, too needy or some such, I invite you to think about any reservations you have within yourself about commitment. Why the balking? Why the reservation? Why would it be difficult to have conversations about going exclusive  in the first place? What is holding you back? If you think you need that extra support to navigate any of these issues, get in touch today.

by Dr Madeleine Mason Roantree


Madeleine has over 15 years of experience in psychology, where she is trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Applied Positive Psychology. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Counselling Psychology, and is member of the British Psychological Society, the International Positive Psychology Association & Dating Industry Professionals Network.More by this author

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