What Does It Mean to Be in an Exclusive Relationship?

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If you’re seeing someone casually and things are going well, the thought of being exclusive with them may start to cross your mind. 

Exclusive Relationship

An exclusive relationship is where both partners agree to focus on each other and not see other people.

“An exclusive relationship is typically the natural progression on the path to a more committed, monogamous relationship,” says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University, New York City.

This article discusses what it means to be in an exclusive relationship, how to tell if you're ready to be exclusive, and offers tips on how to transition to exclusivity.

How Exclusivity Changes Your Relationship

Being exclusive with your partner can alter the dynamics of your relationship and also have an impact on your mental health. Romanoff explores some of the implications of exclusivity below.

Implications on the Relationship

The label of exclusivity often serves as a test drive for relationships, as people try out this deeper level of commitment and get to know their partner in this new role.

Being exclusive can be a trial period in which you and your partner can test and determine whether you can manage and enjoy this progression in your relationship. It allows you the opportunity to make a commitment without taking on more serious labels and all the expectations and changes that might come with them.

This level of commitment is likely to lead to a sense of comfort and an increased sense of safety for you and your partner. As a result, the relationship often gains more depth. For example, once your partner makes a commitment to the relationship, you might make more self-disclosures, which in turn deepens trust and has a cyclical effect. 

Impact on Your Mental Health

Many people experience a feeling of comfort and relief during this stage of the relationship because it moves out of the territory where they are constantly questioning their role in their partner’s life and having doubts about where they stand.

Removing these doubts can free up space to get to know the other person better and also allow you to reveal more of yourself without the threat of abandonment looming overhead.  

Are You Ready to be Exclusive?

Romanoff lists some signs that can indicate you’re ready to be in an exclusive relationship with your partner, as well as some signs that you’re not ready yet.

Signs You’re Ready for Exclusivity

  • You spend a lot of time together: If this person already occupies a significant place in your life, it could be a sign that you’re ready to be in a committed relationship with them. For example, you speak to them daily and spend time with them multiple times per week. 
  • You've had an argument and resolved it: Another important consideration is that you have experienced small fights or misunderstandings that you were able to manage. Small ruptures in the early stages of a relationship are crucial because they are diagnostic of how you will work together to manage problems in the future and can signal if disagreements will make you stronger or pull you apart.
  • You see this person in your future: It's a good sign if you envision a future with your partner. For instance, you might be able to visualize their presence at a family gathering or be excited to invite them to an important event that's a few months away.

Signs You’re Not Ready for Exclusivity

Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD

A major sign that you are not ready for an exclusive relationship is that you cannot envision yourself being with this person long-term.

— Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD
  • You cannot see a future with them: The exclusive label is usually a stepping stone to a more serious commitment, so if you do not intend to take that step, it generally is not in your best interest to become exclusive.
  • You still want to meet new people: If you still have the desire to meet new people, wonder what else could be out there, think you could find someone better matched to you, or still want to maintain contact with other potential romantic partners, these are signs that being exclusive might not be something you are genuinely interested in doing. 
  • You feel pressure to be exclusive: It is important to identify and understand factors contributing to your decision to be exclusive, such as pressure from your partner, parents, or even yourself to be in a committed relationship, without considering the actual person to whom you would be making the commitment to.

Making the Transition to Exclusivity

If you think you’re ready to commit to exclusivity, Romanoff shares some tips that can help you broach the subject with your partner:

  • Know what you want: First, be clear with yourself and identify what you would like from your partner. It usually is not helpful to enter these conversations asking questions like, “What are we?” because it gives your partner all the power and reduces you to a passive position. Instead, be clear about what you want and see if they want the same thing.
  • Have the conversation in person: Once you are clear that you want to be in an exclusive relationship, you should have this conversation with your partner in person, if possible. Although this might seem daunting, it’s the best way to have these discussions because you can gauge your partner’s reactions and there is less room for miscommunication.
  • Share your feelings: People usually are most satisfied with these conversations when they disclose more of their own thought processes and feelings to their partners. For example, you could tell them how you feel about them and explain why you want to make this step.

A Word From Verywell

Deciding to be exclusive with your partner is often the next step after seeing someone casually. If you like them and think you may have a future with them someday, it can give you an opportunity to explore how you feel about them, without taking on a major commitment. 

Moreover, not knowing where you stand with your partner can be stressful, so being exclusive can offer you a sense of comfort and lead to a deeper sense of intimacy with your partner.

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