COMMITTING

COMMITMENT DOESN’T JUST mean a trip to the altar anymore. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 5.5 million unmarried couples have committed to cohabitation. No matter how you define it—matrimony, living together, or simply clearing space in the bathroom drawer—commitment can be scary. Even so, bidding the dating world farewell can be the most rewarding phase of adult life, especially when you’re armed with the tools you need to make a smooth transition from merely dating to utterly devoted. And we’ve got them all right here.

Couples Tips —SET THE RULES

PORTLAND-BASED marriage and family therapist Brian “Dino” Paris, 46, has counseled hundreds of couples grappling with commitment issues. He’ll be the first to tell you that there are no guarantees that any commitment will lead to a life of fulfillment and bliss. Still, you can vastly improve the odds that yours will, with these four tenets.

1 Be selfish, in a good way. Shortly after he started dating his wife 16 years ago, Paris recalls that she asked him what he calls “that difficult question”: What do you really want? (He didn’t know.) Putting oneself first is often considered a negative trait, but if you know what you need and don’t settle for less, your odds of relationship success markedly increase.

2 Make rules and stick to them. Establishing rules early on can prevent a lot of unnecessary heartache. “I have a lot of young couples come in, and the guy says, ‘I want to be able to glance at a pretty girl on the street without getting hit on the arm,’” says Paris. “It sounds silly, but having a formal agreement to ‘look but not touch’ is very healthy.” Agreeing on emotional rules (and by “rules,” Paris doesn’t mean issuing edicts) creates a sense of security and decreases the likelihood of your partner committing the ultimate rule-breaker: infidelity.

3 Duke it out sooner rather than later. Don’t wait to address issues in your relationship until you’re 10 years into a marriage or partnership; at that point, resentment can become unmanageable. So make a date with the couch—a therapist’s couch, that is. “All commitment issues can be traced back to our upbringing and family life, and can be helped through therapy,” says Paris. “These are extremely normal, extremely common scenarios. We all need help sometimes. There is no shame in seeking it out.” And if your mate isn’t willing to commit to counseling, then that in itself speaks volumes about her commitment to you.

4 Accept uncertainty. You may want to feel that love is forever, but no commitment is a surefire insulator against loss or a broken heart. “This gets into spiritual territory,” says Paris. “But if we look at our fragile existence as humans, commitment is an illusion. If each person accepts that, in the end, they can only really count on themselves and their beliefs or faith, it can actually strengthen a partnership.”

Couples Dates — SET THE MOOD

ENTERING FULL-ON “couple mode” not only means you have license to engage in spontaneous PDA, but also that you can, and should, step up the romance factor. These two nights away are guaranteed to keep the butterflies fluttering.

HOT DATE IN TOWN

NOTHING SAYS “We’re officially together” like dropping $200 on a steak dinner. And there’s no better place to tuck into a filet than the thoroughly hedonistic steak house El Gaucho (319 SW Broadway; 503-227-8794). With its suited-up waitstaff, live Latin guitar music, tableside food preparation, and cavernous booths, the downtown supper club is the Rose City’s unofficial haven for lovebirds with deep pockets (or at least very good credit).

After the complimentary fruit-and-cheese plate has been cleared, it’s a short walk to the Heathman Hotel—voted one of the “World’s Best Places to Stay” by Condé Nast Traveler—where your night of excess continues with the hotel’s pleasantly over-the-top “Romeo and Juliet” romance package. For about $280 per night, you and your sweetie can lounge in a luxury suite adorned with candles, sparkling wine, and chocolate truffles (503-241-4100; www.heathmanhotel.com). The next morning the love continues with breakfast in bed: fresh-squeezed orange juice, croissants, and coffee. Of course, you should feel free to skip the continental spread and hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door instead.

HOT DATE OUT OF TOWN

WHEN YOU’RE IN that twitterpated frame of mind, it’s easy to get sucked into a lazy Portland weekend of brunching, watching DVDs, and walking around the neighborhood. But a day and night out of town can do wonders for bolstering romance. For roughly $70 per person round-trip, let Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) shuttle you north for a day and a night in the Emerald City. Book a room at Seattle’s ultra-romantic Inn at the Market (206-443-3600; www.innatthemarket.com), situated just feet away from Pike Place Market. Nearly all the suites in this 70-room boutique hotel have views of Elliott Bay, the perfect backdrop for that in-room couples massage.

Once you’re loosened up, head across the courtyard for dinner at Campagne (206-728-2800; www.campagnerestaurant.com). This famed bistro has seen more than its share of marriage proposals, and it’s easy to see why: Its expansive dining room windows overlook the market and the bay, a picturesque complement to rustic French dishes such as lamb shoulder marinated in anchovies and garlic, and salt cod and curry fritters with aioli. By the time the gâteau au chocolat has arrived and your chardonnay buzz has melted into an all-consuming stupor of satisfaction, you may find yourself ready to say the “L” word. Or at the very least, “I’m glad I found you."