Dear Dr. Jenn,
I get that we all have to be flexible in a relationship but are there some things that we should not negotiate on? I am not talking about deal-breaker bad behavior, but bigger issue stuff. How do you know when someone is really never going to be the right choice for longterm? —Lines in the sand
You are right, all relationships require some negotiation. But, there are certain core issues that both people in the relationship have to be on the same page about. These are issues that, in my clinical experience as a therapist, when one person gives up their desire or need, it very often results in long-term and debilitating resentment. Below are my top-five big relationship requirements. You can treat this as a questionnaire for your partner, but better to ask yourself "do we align on…" and see how YOU feel about every item on the list.
1. Monogamy. If both partners do not want the same thing, it is not a good match. In order for a monogamous or an open relationship to work, both people need to be in agreement, and have the same desire in terms of their level of commitment. Compromising on this issue will only lead to enormous pain and conflict. I've explored the pros and cons of polyamory in a different column — it's an undertaking that requires 100% consensus from all involved.
2. Marriage. If marriage is important to you, you should not give up on this, no matter how much you love your partner. Staying in a relationship where you have to give up this level of commitment will lead to anger and resentment. It will always feel as if the other person is getting "their way," or worse, denying you of something you truly and deeply want.
3. Kids. If having a child is important to you, you should not give this up. Likewise, if you know you do not want children, it is unkind to enter into a serious relationship with someone whom you know does want to be a parent, as ultimately you'd be getting in the way of their ability to pursue that. You also should not try to pressure, guilt, or force someone else into having a baby with you. Having a second or third (or more) babies is, however, negotiable. Those are decisions that partners should make together.
4. Core Values. Core values are defining values that guide your life and behaviors. You should not be with someone who wants you to compromise your morals and values. Of course what you value as core is up to you — for some, a religious or political alignment is an absolute requirement, for others, faith and voting habits aren't the biggest reflection of their belief system and other traits more clearly express them. This is one of those "you know it when you see it" things: If someone's basic humanity is in disagreement from the parts of yourself you feel most solid about, that's a good indication it might not work.
5. Character. People can improve their communication, become more insightful, and learn new behaviors, but they cannot learn character. You cannot change someone’s nature. Building off of the core values, character is essentially the face they put out into the world. Think of values as the substance that informs who a person is, and then their character is the outward expression of that identity. It's a package deal, and if it's off-putting or doesn't feel like a fit: It never will be.
If you are in a relationship with someone that is pushing you on one 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 hurt the longevity of your relationship, not to mention your own confidence in who you are and what you most love about yourself. And that should never be up for debate.
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