8 Signs Your Relationship is Ready for the Next Step

close up photo of two person s holding hands
An atmospheric stock photo of an elderly couple enjoying a tender moment.
I do not know their names or who they are, but I hope that they are alive, happy, and enjoying another sunset somewhere peaceful.

When I first met the man who would later become my husband, I was a mess.  I had just ended a long-term, serious relationship with my college sweetheart and my preferred attire could best be described as Gremlin-chic.  If you are envisioning messy buns, baggy sweatpants, with matching raccoon-esque eye bags, you would be exactly right.  I was hurting, ashamed to have ‘failed’ at love, and trying to figure out how to navigate my life in an entirely different way than I had envisioned even 2 weeks before.

What is “ready”?

It was our dogs that initially got the conversation started.  We were usually at the dog park around the same time, and after a few friendly sniffs, our furry companions determined that they were compatible playmates and left us humans to make polite conversation and small-talk.  It was agony.  I was deep in Gremlin mode, and as a devout practitioner of the way of the introvert had little interest in speaking to strangers, especially cute, male strangers.  Weeks passed, curt but polite ‘Hellos’ turned into ‘How are yous’ and initial questions about each others’ dogs turned into questions about each other.  A friendship began to sprout from our mannered start as acquaintances.  He was seeing someone, I was in no way interested in a romantic relationship, and it felt nice to just have someone to talk to without the usual pressures of needing to be my most presentable self.  Weeks turned into months, months became a year.  Our friendship had continued to grow and deepen, and at some point we found ourselves both single and curious to see if something more might spark between us.  One genuinely great date later, there was, and that is how our story as a romantically-paired couple began.

When is “ready”?

Now, that’s all very sweet (if I do say so myself), but how did we know that we were ready to take things to the next level, from friends to romantic partners?  I mean, I had clearly made some glaring errors in my previous relationship.  How could I know if I was ready to try such a risk again?  No matter where your relationship currently stands — are you casually dating or contemplating adding a dog to the mix? —  you may be wondering if it’s time to level up.  How do you know if you are ready for your relationship to enter its next phase? Below are 8 signs your relationship may be ready for the next step!

Here’s your sign…

  • You Feel Ready
    • No, I’m not being cheeky or trying to restate the obvious.  At least, not exactly.  One of the first signs that you and your partner are ready to take things to new levels of commitment is a shared desire for more, and it is an important one.  If one partner is looking to focus in, and the other is focused on keeping it casual, then this relationship is not going to move forward.
  • Sharing Values
    • Another important sign that your relationship is ready for the next step is that you both agree on what this next phase looks like for you. This could mean many things – maybe you’re both ready to move in together, or you’re ready to take a big trip together, or you’re ready to make a lifetime commitment to each other. Whatever it is, you should be on the same page about the specifics of what this next phase looks like for your relationship.
  • Establishing Trust
    • Trust is an essential component of a forward-moving relationship. If you and your partner have built a foundation of trust, then you are more likely to feel confident in taking the next step together.  Trust takes time and effort to build, so if you don’t feel completely confident in your partner yet, it may not be the right time to take the next step.
  • Feeling Safe
    • Much like trust, vulnerability is a vital component of a healthy relationship. You should feel safe with your partner – not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. This means that you feel comfortable expressing your thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or retribution. If you don’t feel safe with your partner, then this isn’t the right time to take your relationship further and you may want to consider whether this is a relationship that has your best interests at heart.
  • Respecting Boundaries
    • Part of what helps us feel safe in relationships is when our partner respects our boundaries. This includes everything from your physical boundaries to your emotional and intellectual boundaries. If your partner consistently crosses your boundaries or doesn’t respect them, this may be a time to pause and consider whether you think your relationship is really ready for a deeper level of commitment.
  • Sharing Needs
    • Can you and your partner construct a piece of furniture with an unpronounceable Swedish name without completely losing it?  If so, congratulations!  It seems like you and your partner are able to communicate clearly and compassionately.  Communication requires being able to listen, understand and empathize with your partner and their concerns AND being able to express your own thoughts and feelings without judgment.  While no one is a perfect communicator all of the time (including us therapists!), if your relationship demonstrates healthy communication more often than not, signs are good that you and your partner are ready to navigate the challenges and complexities that come along with taking your relationship to the next level.
  • Fighting Clean
    • So what happens when the Skarsgård dresser has a wonky leg and the doors won’t shut, or you and your partner just flat-out cannot agree on whether colby jack or cheddar is the superior cheese?  Do your disagreements become about one-upping the other and end in name-calling and hurt feelings?  OR, do you and your partner take accountability for your missteps and try to take each other’s point of view after the dust has settled? Life is full of twists and turns and unexpected challenges. If you and your partner are able to approach these scenarios as a team from an “Us vs. That” mentality rather than a “Me vs. You” mindset, chances are good that you are ready to take the plunge into your next adventure.
  • Your Space
    • Finally, it’s important that you both have space to be yourselves within your relationship, while being open to the possibilities that come from sharing life more deeply with a whole other person. This means that you don’t have to change who you are to please your partner, you feel supported in pursuing your own interests and passions, and vice versa. If you are in the early phases of romance, you might not even want or feel the need to explore spaces or interests that don’t include your partner.  But it is important for each of you to stay true to who you are — that’s what made you interested in each other in the first place!  Being able to honor who your partner is and having your own autonomy respected and celebrated in return is a good indicator that your relationship is ready to take the next step.  Plus, you might just find a new hobby!

Taking the next step in any relationship is a big decision — there’s big risk and vulnerability that will be required of you each step of the way.  There are likely some things in your relationship that are still a work in progress, and there are sure to be signs unique to you and your relationship that are telling you you’re ready.  Ultimately, taking any relationship to the next level involves a willingness to take a chance and a desire to continue to grow towards each other.

If you and your partner are contemplating a big commitment, but there are a few things you’d like to work on to make your relationship even better before you take that step, we can help. Contact us today to learn more about scheduling a consultation with a relationship therapist.

Puppy Tax! The dogs that started it all.

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