In the epic words of Meatloaf, “I would do anything for love, but I just won’t do that.”
The best relationship advice I ever received did not come from my parents, I did not learn it in high school, and it wasn’t something I read online. The best relationship advice I ever received came during a planning meeting for a national leadership program and was given to me by one of the most successful businessmen I know. The best relationship advice I ever received wasn’t even intended for me, but still managed to change how I view dating.
At the time I was 20, brought on to intern for this program and asked to participate in regular planning meetings. There I sat, a young college student in a room with some of the most successful business people I knew. These individuals embodied accomplishment, having reached the pinnacle of their respective industries. And as one of the senior members of this group, Dick was a man I admired greatly. It was during one of our curriculum planning sessions, surrounded by business men, that Dick passed down the best relationship advice I have ever received.
Our meeting had reached a natural breaking point and the conversation during this time turned to us catching up on personal lives. One of the primary focuses was on a committee member, Ken, as he shared about his upcoming wedding. Reviewing preparations, Ken excitedly told us how in the coming month, he and his fiancé were spending a weekend away discussing their future marriage.
As Ken mentioned this getaway, Dick followed with, “Make sure that when you are there, you talk about the non-negotiables.”
Non-negotiables? As described by Dick, non-negotiables are the things you are not willing to give up in a relationship. These can be simple or they can be momentous. Regardless of scope, they are non-negotiables because you do not sacrifice them. A non-negotiable can be anything from spending Christmas at a specific relative’s house, only getting one breed of dog, or never living in a certain city. No matter what they are, your non-negotiables are the things you don’t comprise and you cannot sacrifice.
Although I am only 24 with a few failed relationships under my belt, I trust Dick, a successful business man with a 20 year plus marriage who excels at everything he touches. His theory works. When you ponder it, we all have non-negotiables. They vary depending on who you are, your background, your relationship, and what you want in life. Everyone has non-negotiables, though.
Categorizing your non-negotiables is critical for successful, long-term relationships. They are areas of concern that allow us to ensure we are satisfied in a relationship. The question then is how do you define these, how do you share them, and what role should they play in your relationship?
Defining your non-negotiables
It is hard to base a relationship around non-negotiables if you do not know what they are or have doubts. It is impossible to define them without strong conviction.
When considering non-negotiables, a good starting point can be what things would end a relationship for you or what you would never tolerate. Try to distill this list as much as possible, finding the most critical pieces. For Dick’s wife, one of her non-negotiables is that they spent every Christmas with her family, which Dick accepted. For me, one of my non-negotiables is that my partner and I would not have children. Each of those is based on personal preferences that only we can create.
Non-negotiables are the things that we will not accept or change. And they do exist. While this list probably shouldn’t be 20 items, everyone has at least one or two. It is important we decide these deliberately as opposed to realizing them after a relationship begins.
When talking on non-negotiables in the past, I have had people argue that these can be petty, that I will meet the perfect woman who would convince me to change my mind, or that I am young and my mind will naturally change. Except those people are not me. I know to my core that no matter what, I would not be happy willingly having children. For me the perfect woman doesn’t want children, no one could change that. I could always give this up, but I have experienced the thought of that sacrifice and I made me miserable. When you acquiesce what you promised you would never give up, you set yourself up for failure.
Sharing your non-negotiables
If you agree there are some things you wouldn’t give up and have determined these things, what next? Once you have decided your non-negotiables you have to share them in your relationship. It is important that once established, these are a part of your conversations.
If you are in a relationship and haven’t already had this type of conversation, I would encourage you talking with your partner about both of your non-negotiables and what they mean for the relationship. Hopefully by this point you already know some of the topics that will emerge.
The trickier piece can be when dating and looking for that special someone. How do you share non-negotiables, especially big ones, with someone new? After all, it is kind of weird on the first date to share, “Hey, we have to spend Christmases with my family.” That is a great tactic to scare a date away. So at what point do you share your non-negotiables?
Deciding when you share is partially communication tact and partially figuring out what works for the situation. Your non-negotiable can be something you bring up after a few dates or only talk about once the relationship intensifies and you’re ready to make things Facebook official. It really depends on you and the person you are talking with.
It also depends on the non-negotiable. I am at an advantage because it is easy for me to bring up the concepts of kids. Even with how intense a subject children are, it is much easier for me to drop information that I do not want kids once we encounter the little tykes in a social situation and the girl I am on a date with gushes over the little fellows. This is easier for me opposed to someone on the opposite side of the sentiment who wants kids. It’s very specific to my non-negotiable, though. Determining when to talk about non-negotiables is based around your culture, environment, and the relationship, but only you can define when it is best done.
Having non-negotiables goes beyond defining and sharing them. If your non-negotiables are to succeed, you must stand by them. When you really have something you are not going to give up, it’s simple. You do not give it up. This is where I have seen a lot of people fail, myself included.
Since that conversation with Dick, I have solidified my non-negotiables, including that I am not willing to have kids. I know this, and no matter what other people tell me, this is not changing. As frequent as I am told I am wrong, too young, or will be surprised, I am certain this is set in stone for me.
Although I decided this non-negotiable over four years ago, I have been in a few dating situations where my partner wanted children. The problem is that in a few of these circumstances I maintained the relationship after finding this out. I was foolish, I was naïve, I was blinded, and I ultimately was an asshole. In the back of my mind I knew it would never work because no matter what, children were never on the table for me.
Yet I compromised. I was lured in by the false comfort of the relationship. I let myself believe that I could settle for children. I didn’t want to lose a good thing. So I would tell my partner we could figure it out later when really in the back of my mind I was having horrific images of a future where I was stuck at a park with a leash child pelting me with rocks. It was awful.
It takes a lot to reinforce your non-negotiables; to put your foot down, especially when everything else with a partner seems fantastic. Standing by our few non-negotiables though is the most important thing that we can do in our relationships. For me, those relationships would have never worked because I never wanted children. Where ultimately each of these relationships ended for reasons unrelated to children, even when they seemed to be going great, the concept of kids haunted me. My future would never have been a happy one.
Once you figure out your non-negotiable, you need to stick to it. You cannot give them up. That is why they are called non-negotiables. I firmly believe if we give up our non-negotiables, we are pushing ourselves to unhappiness and failure. When we truly define the right non-negotiables though, they remain a consistent truth.
So let me know, what are your non-negotiables? What are the things you are never willing to give up? Or tell me I am crazy and why you think this is wrong. I am excited to hear your thoughts and please, feel free to tell me I am going to end up with kids, I am used to that.
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