Saturday, May 9, 2009

The DTR Dance: Avoiding the Talk

I wrote in prior posts about ambiguity and how that is one of the defining features of romantic relationships in this day and age. The motive for keeping things not quite clear about what a relationship is and where it is heading is simple: ambiguity gives couples a way to avoid breaking up in a relationship that is desirable for now, but where one or both senses the future is unclear.

Ambiguity can protect fragile relationships. There’s some good and a lot of not good in that.

The acronym, DTR, stands for Define The Relationship. It means having The Talk. DTR is a modern day antidote to ambiguity.

I have some thoughts about why people avoid DTR. There are a number of possibilities.

1. It’s just too soon to have the talk, and bringing it up too soon makes one look desperate.

2. It’s hard for one or both partners to talk about things that are emotional or sensitive because the most important conversations often don’t go well. In this case, the issue is communication not commitment. In the work I have done with colleagues such as Howard Markman, Natalie Jenkins, and Susan Blumberg, we focus a lot on helping couples to learn how to talk openly, clearly, and with emotional safety. Stuff for another day, but if you need help there, now, try one of our books listed on the left of this site (except the commitment one).

3. The big reasons why people avoid DTRing is that there are issues with commitment.

When it comes to commitment, I merely mean important dynamics such as the willingness to commit to the future, interest in marriage, etc.

When it comes to commitment, let’s assume two possibilities about hypothetical couple AB, which is made up of person A and person B.

One possibility: A and B are nearly equally committed.


Second possibility: A and B are not equally committed.

In this second case, either A is more committed to B or B is more committed to A. Let’s just focus on A being more committed to B. It happens all the time. It’s pretty much a normal part of couple development, except that if it goes on and on and on, it’s a serious problem. In fact, the problem version of this now happens so commonly that bestselling books have been written about this painful dynamic: He’s Just Not That Into You, comes to mind. (The title is a link if you want to read more about it.) It’s an excellent book—humorous, brutal, a bit coarse (that’s a warning if such things bother you)—describing these dynamics of differences in commitment.

I think situations where there are serious differences in commitment levels between two people are the situations where DTR talks are most likely to be avoided, and for some pretty logical reasons.

I’ll give you my sense of those reasons in my next post. For the time being, think about the possibilities in the reasons people avoid doing the DTR talk. I suppose the DTR talk is then a DTR dance.