Can they count on each other? Jinger Duggar's whirlwind romance with Jeremy Vuolo has been front and center on this season of TLC's Counting On, as viewers await their fast-approaching proposal scene. Before the pivotal moment airs, psychotherapist and relationship expert Rhonda Richards-Smith tells Us Weekly exclusively what the couple are doing right — and what they should still focus on.
The pair's romance has unfolded quickly over this recent batch of Counting On episodes, with Duggar making no effort to hide her excitement about spending time with the former soccer player. (As fans know, Duggar, 22, and Vuolo, 29, got engaged in July after a brief courtship.)
The two have endured a few awkward moments with her dad, Jim Bob Duggar, including Vuolo putting his arm around Jinger on the couch in front of her family during the September 13 episode, after which the realtor — who is famous for the dating restrictions he and wife Michelle place on their brood — told the couple to hit the "brake pedal."
Richards-Smith — who has never met the reality TV family in person — tells Us that she likes what she's seen from the couple on the show, including Vuolo making an effort to show affection toward his sweetheart.
"Jinger and Jeremy seem to have a very strong physical connection, despite their courtship restrictions," Richards-Smith says. "Jeremy appears to be taking Jim Bob's skepticism in stride and is handling himself well, given the situation."
"By putting his arm around Jinger, Jeremy created a visual and physical boundary between the couple and Jinger's parents, asserting himself as the primary male in her life," she continues.
The couples counselor sometimes worries when parents are overly hands-on about their children's dating lives. That said, clearly Jinger's older sisters Jill Duggar and Jessa Duggar were given similar constraints prior to their weddings, and both are currently thriving in happy marriages. (Jill, 25, married Derick Dillard in June 2014, and they have 17-month-old son Israel; Jessa, 23, wed Ben Seewald in November 2014, and they are raising 10-month-old son Spurgeon with another baby on the way.)
"The kinds of restrictions that Jinger and Jeremy adhere to can affect their relationship negatively if they are not equally committed to them," Richards-Smith says. "Restrictions imposed by individuals outside of the relationship [can sometimes] lead to negative consequences over the long haul."
In order to ensure that the lovebirds remain on a blissful path, the expert recommends Jinger and Vuolo ensure that their "emotional connection" is as strong as their "spiritual foundation." This includes establishing how many kids they each envision having, given Jinger recently told Us that this topic hadn't yet come up between them.
"Jeremy and Jinger should engage in some serious self-reflection about their likes, dislikes, deal-breakers and where they see themselves in the future as individuals, as a couple and as a family," Richards-Smith says. "Jeremy and Jinger must take the time to separate their own thoughts, feelings and preferences from those imposed by others."
"By taking the time to reflect on their own hopes and dreams for the future, they can better determine whether this is truly a match made in heaven," she adds.
Tell Us: What do you think of Jinger and Vuolo's relationship?
Counting On airs on TLC Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET. Click here for more information about Rhonda Richards-Smith.
Sign up now for the Us Weekly newsletter to get breaking celebrity news, hot pics and more delivered straight to your inbox!