Dear Dr. Jenn,
I understand that we all have to be flexible in a relationship, but are there things we shouldn’t be negotiating about? I’m not talking about bad behavior in breach of contract, but more serious issues. How do you know someone will really never be the right choice in the long run? —Lines in the sand
You are right, all relationships require negotiations. But, there are some basic issues on which the two people in the relationship must be on the same page. These are problems that, in my clinical experience as a therapist, when a person gives up their desire or need, this very often results in long-term and debilitating resentment. Here are my top five relationship requirements. You can treat this as a questionnaire for your partner, but it is better to ask yourself “let’s align with …” and see what you think of each item on the list.
1. Monogamy. If the two partners don’t want the same thing, it’s not a good match. For a monogamous or open relationship to work, both people must agree and have the same desire in terms of the level of engagement. Compromising on this issue will only cause enormous suffering and conflict. I explored the pros and cons of polyamory in another column – it is a business that requires a 100% consensus of all parties involved.
2. Marriage. If marriage is important to you, you should not lose sight of how much you love your partner. Living in a relationship where you have to give up this level of commitment will lead to anger and resentment. It will always feel like the other person is “in their own way” or worse, denying you something that you really and deeply desire.
3. Children. If having a child is important to you, you should not give it up. Likewise, if you know you don’t want children, it’s not nice to enter into a serious relationship with someone you know doesn’t want to be a parent, because, in the end, you would be harming their ability to pursue this. You also shouldn’t try to pressure, guilt, or force someone else to have a baby with you. Having a second or third (or more) baby is however negotiable. These are decisions that partners must make together.
4. Fundamental values. Core values define values that guide your life and your behaviors. You should not be with someone who wants you to compromise your morals and values. Of course, what you value as a core depends on you – for some, religious or political alignment is an absolute requirement, for others, faith and voting habits are not the greatest reflection of their system of belief and other traits express them more clearly. It’s one of those things “you know it when you see it”: if someone’s basic humanity disagrees with the parts of you that seem most solid to you, it’s a good indication that it might not work.
5. Character. People can improve their communication, gain more insight, and learn new behaviors, but they can’t learn character. You can’t change anyone’s nature. Based on core values, the character is basically the face he gives to the world. Think of values as the substance that determines who a person is and then their role is an outward manifestation of that identity. It’s a flat rate, and if it’s unpleasant or if it doesn’t suit you: it will never happen.
If you are in a relationship with someone who is pushing you on any of these five issues, you may want to reconsider the relationship. Compromising on any of these five issues is likely to lead to problems and damage the longevity of your relationship, not to mention your self-confidence and what you love most. And this should never be the subject of debate.