by Chris Lewis, Ed.S., LPC

On second thought, it might be easier to first look at a few signs that you aren’t ready for relationship commitment:

  • When your date comes over for an evening together, you have already set up two friends, a co-worker, and your dog walker to call with “emergencies” just in case you need an out.
  • When the person you are dating recently suggested a vacation to a sunny beach, you went. Alone. And had a great time.
  • The idea of going to a wedding with your date sparks memories of your last root canal.
  • When the person you are dating recently suggested an exclusive relationship, you thought she meant with someone else. And you were fine with that.

If any of these ring a bell, you probably don’t need to read further because you aren’t ready for commitment. If, however, you are in a relationship with someone and one or both of you are talking about taking things to the next step, whether that means becoming exclusive, living together, or getting married, it is wise to ensure you are both ready.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself, and to discuss as a couple, to help determine if, and how, ready you might be to make a commitment.

1.  Do we share core values?

Couples often talk of having a lot in common when they describe their relationships. They may say they enjoy sports together, like similar music or movies, or have other common interests. These things are great, but when you are considering a life-long commitment with someone it is more important that you share deeper core values.

If one partner values commitment to living simply and raising a large family, and the other values financial gain and doesn’t want children, there’s a problem. Perhaps one partner values loyalty to his or her family of origin and wishes to live nearby, and the other partner values fierce independence and wishes to travel and live abroad.

Even values such as honesty, generosity, and compassion can create conflict if a partner values ambition, success, and winning at all costs. Give thought to what your own core values are, and what those of your future partner may be. Are they consistent or compatible?

2.  Do we successfully negotiate conflict?

You may have heard this many times, but if you and your potential partner don’t get along well now, it won’t get any better after making a commitment. In fact, it might just get worse. How do you and your partner get through conflict? Do you fight over and over about the same things and never get anything resolved? Does one of you always “win” and one always “lose?” If so, neither of you is winning and you both will lose down the line.

Pay attention to how you both deal with conflict. In successful relationships conflict, while it may be at times heated, is talked through. The feelings of the other person are respected and valued. The focus of successful conflict negotiation is always on finding resolution, not on winning the argument. If your relationship is fraught with poor conflict negotiation skills, get some help before making a commitment to see if these are communication patterns that can be changed or personality issues that may be harder to change.

3.  Do you like who you are in this relationship?

A good, healthy relationship is one in which our partner encourages and supports us, strengthens us, and nourishes us emotionally. A healthy relationship is a place of refuge from the “slings and arrows” of our external lives, a place of comfort and compassion. Healthy relationships cause us to want to be the best we can be and to want to give our best to our partner.

If your relationship lacks these very important features even before making a commitment, it might be good to slow down and think more about your decision to move forward. Good relationships go through tough times, and it is critical to have a strong foundation of mutual love and support to last through those times. A relationship without this foundation will easily crumble when times are tough.

Additionally, our primary relationship should be one that uplifts us. If your potential partner is often critical, blaming, or negative, think twice. When you are with your partner, if you often end up feeling bad about yourself, questioning yourself, or feeling you aren’t “good” enough, these are red flags. Big red flags. Think again about making a commitment with this person, and preferably find someone to talk to about your concerns. These may be traits of an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship.

These three questions are meant to help you to think critically about the qualities of your current relationship. It can be easy at times for us to think that we should move forward into a committed relationship simply because we have been dating someone for a long time, but this is a mistake. I believe that we sometimes put more thought into buying a refrigerator than we do entering a committed relationship.

Spend time with these questions. Talk with your potential partner about them. How you discuss these questions, as well as what you learn both from their answers and how they went about talking about their answers will in itself give you great information about them. And about your relationship. Maybe even about yourself.

Chris Lewis, Ed.S., LPC is a therapist who specializes in individual, family, and couples and marriage counseling in Denver CO. She provides services through Maria Droste Counseling Center.