Exclusivity can take your relationship to a whole new level, but what does it mean? And are you and your partner ready?

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You’ve been seeing someone, and it might be going really well.

Being with them may feel different from other people you’ve dated. Perhaps they make you feel comfortable and happy, and it seems like it’s really progressing in a positive direction.

Maybe you want to take it to the next level by going exclusive — but dating has also changed so much, so what does being exclusive mean these days?

Labels mean different things to people, but one of the simplest ways to think of “exclusive” is a transitional phase between “dating” and “relationship.” This can also mean agreeing to not see other people while on your way to — potentially — becoming a couple.

According to Whitney Goodman, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Miami, Florida, “exclusive relationships vary depending on the relationship and the people in that relationship.”

“People will often define their terms for being ‘exclusive’ and agree to them. I have seen couples discuss exclusiveness around seeing other people, physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, and other areas of the relationship.”

Another way to see exclusivity is how Ariana Grande puts it in her 2019 hit, “Boyfriend.” The lyrics in the song say:

“You ain’t my boyfriend
I ain’t your girlfriend
But you don’t want me to see nobody else
And I don’t want you to see nobody”

Exclusive relationships typically mean a deeper connection and more intimacy. This could also come with changes to your mental health.

For example, one 2019 study showed that individuals in monogamous couples show greater emotional distress thinking about their partner getting involved with someone else.

On the other hand, being in an exclusive relationship could also boost your overall mood thanks to an increase in serotonin. An older study even found that high marital quality can be associated with lower stress and less depression.

Exclusively dating your partner is an exciting step in your journey together, but how do you know if you’re ready to take that step?

How to tell if you might be ready to be exclusive

  • You aren’t interested in seeing other people.
  • You find yourself imagining them in your future.
  • You resolved disagreements or misunderstandings healthily.
  • You feel yourself letting down your walls with this person.
  • You’re ready for a deeper connection with this person.

How to tell if you might not be ready for exclusivity

Wherever you are, that’s OK! Being ready to be exclusive doesn’t mean you have to be 100% certain that your partner is “the one,” or you’re ready to move in together.

Similarly, not being quite prepared to be exclusive doesn’t mean that your potential for a healthy relationship is doomed.

What about your partner? Are they ready?

You may or may not be ready for an exclusive relationship, but you’re only half of the equation.

So, how can you tell if your partner wants to be exclusive? They may want to be exclusive if they:

These are all positive signs that could mean they’re ready to commit. But if you’re unsure, some other signs may mean they’re not there yet.

How to tell if your partner may not be ready to be exclusive

  • They don’t prioritize you in their plans.
  • You have very unpredictable communication together.
  • They haven’t introduced you to family or friends.
  • They haven’t deleted their dating apps.
  • They overwhelmed you with affection early on in the relationship, but that attention sharply declined.

Whether you’re ready to be exclusive or not, it’s important to have open communication with the person you’re seeing so that you both know where you stand.

How to tell your partner you’re ready to be exclusive

“The best way to communicate this is to be direct and clear about what you want,” says Goodman.

“You can start by bringing it up to the person and saying something like, ‘I want to talk about our relationship and make sure we’re on the same page.’”

How to tell your partner you’re not ready to be exclusive

“We almost always end up hurting people more when we aren’t honest or when we say something to make them happy and then do the opposite,” Goodman admits. “It might hurt the person in the beginning, but in the long run it will be so much better.”

“You can be compassionate, kind, and honest by saying something like ‘I’m not ready to make that type of commitment right now,’ and then clarify what you would like for the relationship.”

“It’s important to talk about your definition of exclusive and different scenarios that might come up,” says Goodman. “I see so many couples assume that the other person shares their vision, so they don’t discuss it… It never hurts to talk about it and confirm.”

And exclusivity aside, in all relationship stages, you deserve to be with someone who makes you feel wanted, special, and sees the truly incredible person that you are.