The Psychology Behind Why Some People Are Scared To Define The Relationship

by Kristine Fellizar
Originally Published: 
Morning concept!. A beautiful young passionate couple in bed.

Not knowing where you really stand with someone is a situation that's so common when dating. It's frustrating, confusing, and it can leave you with a lot of doubt. After all, when you've been seeing someone every week for the past three months, they should be excited to have the conversation in order to make your relationship official, right? But it's not always that easy. For some, defining a relationship can actually be kind of scary.

"If your relationship isn't defined, you're not in one," Nikita Banks, LCSW, psychotherapist and relationship strategist, tells Bustle. "The truth is, if there are no titles, there are no roles. Would you take on a job without knowing what's in your job description? No. If you don't have a title and description you don't know what's expected of you or if you're doing a good job. Relationships work the same way."

According to Banks, having the relationship talk tells you what's expected of you and what you can expect to get back in return. It sets boundaries and helps you to manage your expectations.

According to the Match's 2019 Singles in America study, the average person wants to define the relationship after four months of dating, and younger singles are two times more likely than older age groups to stop seeing someone who doesn't want to label things.

But as the study also found, over a third of people have either tried to avoid having that talk, or have been in situations where their partner has tried to avoid it. According to relationship experts, there are a few major reasons behind why this happens.


They Learned Early On That Relationships Are A Bad Thing


"Defining a relationship for some people can bring up a lot if narratives and stories about what being in a committed relationship actually means," Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT, licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships, tells Bustle. For instance, if you grew up in an environment where your parents yelled at each other and fought all the time, you may learn that relationships are probably unhealthy. The same applies to those who were in bad relationships early on. "We all come to relationships in our lives with different emotional baggage," Thompson says. "If you aren’t aware of yours, it can keep you away from a healthy and good relationship."


They Feel Like Defining The Relationship Will Change Things For The Worse

"The biggest fear I see is people believing things will change," Banks says. "For example, some people are conditioned to believe that relationships signal the end of fun, although it's not actually true." How you view relationships in general can affect whether you actually want one. For instance, if you associate being in a relationship with a loss of freedom, you're going to be more hesitant to put a label on your situation. But it doesn't have to be this way because all relationships are different. According to Banks, having a clear discussion about your expectations and needs can help to take away some of the fear.


They Don't Want The Responsibility That Comes With Making A Commitment


When you're in a relationship, there are expectations. As Lia Huynh, marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle, some people try to avoid making a commitment because they're scared of the expectations that come with the new label. "When there's no label, a person can 'technically' do whatever they want like see other people or ghost you," Huynh says. "If you're not officially dating, why should you be angry about this?" Saying you're not technically together is a way for some people to excuse their poor behavior and mistakes. This really comes down to immaturity. They're not ready to take on the responsibility of being in a relationship, and they lack accountability.

If you're with someone who's hesitant to define the relationship, helping them to see that relationships can be a good thing can make it seem less scary for them. But it's also important to be honest with yourself about what you want. Sometimes it's a compatibility issue, and you may be with someone who really doesn't like to label their relationships. If that's not something you can deal with, you should reconsider if that's the right person for you. No one can tell you that you're wasting your time on someone but you.


Nikita Banks, LCSW, psychotherapist and relationship strategist

Lia Huynh, marriage and family therapist

Melissa Divaris Thompson, licensed psychotherapist


Singles in America tell all. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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