Deborah contacted me and asked a question I get often: should I commit to a relationship with the guy I’ve been dating?
She and John have been dating for 4 months and she was wondering if there were specific questions she should ask before she commits. They were falling in love and had started talking about moving in together.
They both had been through ugly divorces and she was determined to get it right this time, but she wasn’t exactly sure how.
Step 6 of my 6-Step Find Hope Then Find Him System is called: Should I Stay or Should I Go?, which is really at the heart of Deborah’s request.
He may be a great date, but there is a lot to consider when deciding if he’s a potential great mate.
Instead of approaching this emotionally or with your intuition, this is the time to balance your head with your heart.
So I called my colleague and dear friend, Tina Tessina, to ask her to weigh in on this. Here she shares powerful insight into how a grownup woman can assess if her man is commitment worthy.
Tina is a longtime friend of Date Like a Grownup. She has contributed to my webcast Grownup Girls’ Night out and was previously a guest writer, giving guidance on how to cope with criticism in a healthy way.
Tina is a strong-ass expert. She is a PhD, LMFT, psychotherapist and author of many, many books including her latest: Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today
Read on to get Tina’s advice about what you should know before you commit to a relationship.
(This is part two of my interview series with experts (part one is here.):
Q: What are the top two things you want women over 40 to know about finding love today?
Women over 40 should know it’s not too late, and they deserve to be loved. The “get a life” method of finding love is fun, easy, and it works.
Q: I just love that you have a list of intimacy do’s and don’ts. What is your top DO and your top DON’T for women over 40 and why?
DO learn that you are loveable and you deserve to enjoy intimacy and sex.
If you have a painful history, do the work to get it resolved so you can be open to a good man.
DON’T assume that what you want is not OK. Be willing to ask for it. He’ll love that you want whatever it is.
Q: In your book, you have a list of questions one should ask before committing to a relationship. Can you share a few of those questions and why they are important?
Here are five important questions to both ask and answer:
1. What is your definition of commitment?
Whether you know it or not, you and your partner will define your relationship. If you don’t know what your relationship means to both the of you, you risk repeating past mistakes, getting stuck in uncomfortable roles, or fighting about what a healthy relationship is.
Talk about what you mean by words such as relationship, commitment, love, and faithfulness. You’ll be amazed by what you learn.
2. Have you discussed finances? Next to sex, money is the biggest generator of problems, arguments, and resentment in long-term relationships. Couples tend to assume that money should be pooled, but it usually isn’t that easy.
A disparity in income can mean struggling about who pays for what, or whose income determines your lifestyle. Different financial habits (one likes to save, the other spends more, or doesn’t keep track) can become a source of argument.
For many couples, separating your money makes things run smoother; you don’t wind up struggling for control. You can split expenses evenly, or work out a percentage share if your incomes are different.
3. What about household responsibilities? If you’re not yet living together, take a tour of each other’s homes. Drastically different decorating styles, neatness, and organization levels can become sources of argument, and so can housekeeping and chores.
If you have different tastes, it may require a lot of creativity and negotiation to decorate a joint home in a way that makes both of you comfortable.
Additionally, think hard before moving into your partner’s established home.
You may have trouble feeling as if you “belong” in a home that was previously established by your partner unless you participate together in reorganizing and redecorating it.
4. How do you handle anger and other emotions? We all get upset from time to time. If you are usually good at diffusing each other’s anger, and being supportive through times of grief or pain, your emotional bond will deepen as time goes on.
If your tendency is to react to each other and make the situation more volatile and destructive, you need to correct that problem before you live together.
5. How do you show love to each other? Sharing what actions and words mean love to you may be surprising. Even if it’s a struggle, discussing how you give and receive love will improve your relationship.
You will understand what makes each of you feel loved, and how to express your love effectively.
Q: When is the right time to ask these questions and how can you do it without chasing him away?
These particular questions are not for the first few dates. They’re for couples who are seriously considering moving in together or getting married, and if you can’t ask him questions without chasing him away, you are not yet ready for this level of commitment.
To make a committed relationship work, you both need to know these things about each other. However, you don’t have to grill him.
You can ask the questions here and there, in a relaxed fashion; and offer your thoughts first.
For example, after seeing a movie with a good or bad relationship in the plot, you can say: “Wow, that relationship looked really scary (or really great.) I think I’d like the kind of relationship without as many secrets as they had (or with the kind of devotion they had.) What do you think?”
These kinds of questions are easier to talk about when you’re sharing information about your friends and families, too. “I had an aunt and uncle who fought all the time about money. I hope I can have a relationship where we can talk about money as partners. How do you feel about it?”
If he stonewalls you, and won’t talk about it, that’s a red flag for the relationship. But, although he may not answer immediately, you may find that he thinks about it and comes back later with his thoughts.
There’s no getting around it. A relationship won’t succeed if you can’t talk about the tough issues together.
If you keep that in mind, and keep the conversation open, and listen to what he says and believes, you will learn how to talk with each other as partners, before committing to a relationship.
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 40 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 15 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences; The Real 13th Step; How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together and How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog , and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance.” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, TV, video and podcasts.