Is this a date or a relationship?

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(Second in a six-part series)

MANHATTAN, Kan. – After two people meet and go out on a few dates, there can be some questions as to whether there is a relationship and if it is going anywhere.

According to Kansas State University Research and Extension family systems specialist Charlotte Shoup Olsen, there are some distinct differences between a date and a relationship.

Date vs. relationship.

Olsen said dates equal having fun. Relationships occur when the couple feels more integrated into each other’s lives. They see each other together in public and they begin to form a commitment to the other person.

As a relationship develops, getting to know the other person is imperative. Communication, both verbal and nonverbal, is the best way to really get to know your partner, Olsen said.

Key components.

Love is an important characteristic in a relationship, but one of many. Other important components in a relationship include:

* liking each other as people

* communicating well with each other

* resolving conflict in a constructive way

* owning realistic expectations for the relationship

* agreeing on bigger issues – spiritual, ethical, etc.

* learning to balance couple and individual activities.

The way a couple handles a disagreement also is important to a relationship, Olsen said. Each partner may have learned to resolve conflict differently in their home. Partners can, however, learn to resolve conflicts and strengthen their relationships in the process.

For example, learning to use “I” messages instead of “you” messages can diffuse many conflicts.

Red flags.

The inability to resolve conflicts may be a red flag that the relationship is not moving in the right direction. One partner’s lack of respect for the other’s feelings – using critical language and insults – is another red flag.

So is any threat of physical violence. The I-can-change-him/her attitude is not realistic; it also isn’t likely to change abusive patterns, Olsen said.

The expectations for a developing relationship are related to values, Olsen said. Traditionally, the expectations are dating, relationship, engagement and marriage.

Problems can arise when one partner is looking for a lifelong companion, and the other partner may be looking for someone to date and have fun with.

Dating expectations.

Attitudes may change as the relationship develops, but each partner needs to be aware of their own and their partner’s feelings of the relationship’s commitment level, Olsen said.

Values and life goals, which are present from the beginning, are important. At first, they may be unspoken, but they are evident in actions and expectations.

Some values, such as the potential expectation for sexual activity, may need to be discussed early on. If partners do not agree, then communication and respect for each other is imperative.

It takes work.

Building a relationship involves many steps. It can be work, but the quality of the relationship is likely to reflect the effort and benefit from it, Olsen said.

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