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What's the deal with... NEGOTIATING in RELATIONSHIPS?

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

You’ve heard it all before. Relationships take work! This goes for romantic relationships, friendships, and any other ‘ship you experience or become a part of in your life. It is important to consider that your needs and expectations in relationships can come and go with time or change altogether depending on circumstances and personal growth. Therefore, it is crucial to practice active and open communication with your relationship counterparts to ensure you are aware of what the other person needs. Here are some thoughtful tips to guide you on what it takes to negotiate needs effectively within any relationship:

Know Your Love Language

You may have heard of Love Languages; however, I find that many clients I encounter have no idea what theirs is, let alone their partner’s. Love Languages can help you understand how you personally feel love and what you tend to do for others to show them love. The 5 Love Languages are: Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Gift Giving, and Quality Time. This can vary person to person, which as you can imagine can greatly impact the dynamic in a relationship. If, for example, I give gifts to my husband over and over, yet he is yearning for words of affirmation, he may go on feeling unloved or unappreciated while I go on thinking he feels great. The key here is once you are aware of your partner’s Love Language, you have important information on small, simple ways to help them feel considered, desired, valued, and cared for. I think this is a great way to introduce conversations about needs because it is quite straightforward and actionable. Take the Love Languages quiz online and see what you come up with!

Determine Where You Are Flexible vs. Inflexible

As we get into deeper conversations about needs, it is important to think about that some needs are negotiable, and some needs are non-negotiable. As you enter any relationship, I believe it is crucial to understand your core needs and where you have some wiggle room. A nice exercise to do is taking a piece of paper and drawing a circle in the middle--listing some core needs in the circle. You get to decide what, in your core, you absolutely need in a potential partner. Once you have completed that inner circle, you can draw some outer rings of more flexible needs that you are willing to negotiate on or let go of entirely. I encourage you to complete this exercise with your partners to build awareness of core needs while also learning where you can be more flexible and negotiable together. Breathing room and space for compromise in any relationship feels good!

Know the Difference Between a Need and a Preference

The flexibility exercise brings me to my next point, which is that knowing the difference between a need and a preference can be somewhat of a learning curve in relationships. You may learn in that exercise that you have core needs of affection and having a partner with the same faith. As you list things, though, be mindful of what could be considered a preference. Preferences can be things such as: being an athlete, loves seafood, dresses a certain way, etc. It is a common myth that having similar preferences makes you more compatible with someone. The truth is, relating to your partner and having openness with one another’s true needs is far more important than having all similar qualities and interests. It’s less about what you are doing and more about how you are doing it together.

Build A Safe Space for Communicating

Now that you are more aware of your core needs as well as areas where you have some flexibility, you now must learn to TALK ABOUT IT. Having a non-judgmental, open, safe space to put your needs on the table is the best way to build awareness within your relationship. This is where I like using structured exercises, such as the Love Languages quiz or the core needs exercise, because they can introduce and normalize such conversations about needs and expectations in a disarming way. It is a great thing to have a space to talk about this effectively because needs can sometimes clash or differ. If a partner brings up a need, such as wanting more date nights or increased affection, and that is met with defensiveness or responses like “You are trying to change me!” or “I am never enough for you!” you do not have a safe space to bring up needs. If the partner who learned they have a core need of affection learns that their partner does not have this same core need, having a safe space to talk about it would determine if affection is negotiable with the second partner. Maybe the second partner does not feel comfortable being affectionate in public just yet, however is willing to meet this need in a small way with more handholding or cuddling at home. There are ways to negotiate so that everyone is happy. This does not need to get taken to a conflictual, defensive place with communication. Listening to understand, keeping your cool, and leaning in to the conversation will help it feel effective. The goal is to simply bring needs to the forefront and discuss how you can take action in your relationship to better make one another feel loved.

Be Intentional

What I mean by intent is making and sticking to routine check ins and conversations about needs. As I mentioned in the beginning, needs can change. Your core needs may not, however your more negotiable needs may grow and change over time and that is okay. Schedule time together to connect often on this topic. Even as simple as asking “How can I make you feel more loved this week?” can be enough to spark light, open, and caring conversations about needs throughout the week. And who doesn’t want more of that?


Our 'What's the Deal With...' series includes posts discussing trending topics and ideas that we find interesting and thought provoking. Any opinions that we may share in these posts are unique to us and we encourage you to complete individual research on any topics that you find interesting as well.

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