3 Tips for Renegotiating Relationships

Recently I read a plea for help from a person struggling with a relationship that had begun as a sex only arrangement; that is that they openly discussed wanting nothing serious and went into their interactions from that standpoint. It then appeared to have escalated to what looked more like a close friends with benefits relationship. Now she was developing stronger feelings for the person and their consistent presence in her life combined with her perceiving changes in their behavior was throwing her for a loop. Why weren’t they just naturally progressing to something more serious? Why didn’t the quiet moments between them pan out into him eschewing the company of other women or acknowledging his changing feelings? Why wouldn’t he just call her his girlfriend in front of other people already?

Whether a person is in a friends with benefits situation that they would like to escalate to serious dating or a dating relationship that would perhaps do better as something less, renegotiating relationships is a skill set that is increasingly more useful in a time when the definition of ‘relationship’ is variable. In the past I’ve seen the need for renegotiation pop up more in ethical non-monogamy than I have in monogamous relationships; but now more monogamous people are spending time in a sort of dating limbo, where they perhaps have a friend with benefits while still pursuing other dating interests. Though these people ultimately intend to be monogamous with a person, their time in limbo and transitions to and from it means the skill set applies across the board.

Back to our person in distress: there was clearly a lot of projection of her own feelings, assumptions about his feelings, and ultimately a failure to have a new open and honest conversation like the one that had clearly set expectations that this would be a relationship of an other than serious nature in the beginning. Many people were encouraging her to just lay it on the line, say what she was thinking. This sounds good in theory, except that we were all reading what she was thinking and while most of the respondents were women who I imagine could directly relate, I was concerned that so many honestly counseled her to share those particular thoughts as is with her lover. Her saying the exact things that were on her mind at this precise moment likely wouldn’t go well.

Going into a relationship negotiation requires something of a plan. Not because you hope to manipulate the outcome of the situation, but because a loud, confrontational “why the hell aren’t we on the same page?” is just pointless and unlikely to end in anyone’s happiness.

Here are some ideas to help get ready for a conversation that could make or break a relationship for you.

1. Keep your ‘crazy’ on your side of the water.

I live in an area full of bridges and tunnels. I literally tend to live on a different side of the water from just about anyone I date, making this mantra make a lot of sense for me. I’m sure you can come up with an equivalency after I explain it. Before going into a potentially emotionally charged conversation I try to make sure that I have worked through all of my own emotional baggage and irrational thought processes as it relates to said topic. I don’t cross the water to go speak to them, or even contact them via phone, when I know that I am extremely emotional. I’m an over thinker with baggage to spare and while I won’t be able to mitigate all of the effects of that, I can consciously calm myself before I unnecessarily tank my relationship. This definitely applies to all big relationship talks, not just renegotiation.

Emotions have a funny way of blocking out logic with the absolute efficacy of an eclipse at times. Ask yourself if you are emotionally prepared for any conversation you have with your partner before you have it. Work through any emotional gut reactions that you have had to things that might have triggered this conversation before you go into it. Make sure you aren’t putting too much importance on one small event or phrase. Address any overthinking that may have been going on. Get a good nights sleep, or three. Anxiety and the need for resolution may make a slow and steady approach to the situation causing extreme discomfort seem painful, but rushing into it is not likely to yield the results you would have preferred. Take a breath.

2. Give adequate space and time to process.

I wrote an article about communication that includes asking the other person you’re in a relationship with how they would like to be communicated with when it comes to serious issues. I explained in depth why it is important to know and embrace their communication style for the best possible outcome. I’m going to go cliffs notes here and focus on the most important aspect as it relates to this sort of conversation. One needs to take into consideration that a person’s first response to a big revelation, such as I have stronger feelings for you I want this relationship to be a committed one, may not be their best response. That is NOT the same as saying that their best response would be the one you want to hear, but that their knee jerk response is likely to at a minimum be worded poorly as compared to one that they have had time to put more thought into.

People have a natural tendency to want immediate gratification. Sometimes we go into these conversations after all of our preparation, after maybe weeks or more of feeling as we do, nearly bursting to get it off of our chest. In that moment perhaps we feel as though we are owed, or at the very least desperately need, an immediate response. I would strongly suggest that you fight that urge. In fact, prefacing your conversation with a statement such as, “I need to talk to you about how I feel about our relationship, but I want you to take whatever time you need to process what I’ve said and get back to me about it” is an option. Also setting a more concrete time frame, such as you’d rather they didn’t say anything about it until the next day is an option. You know your partner well enough to know what kind of time is reasonable.

I am absolutely NOT suggesting you cut your partner off if they try to express feelings immediately, rather I’m suggesting you begin by encouraging them to take time to process everything the same way you’ve given yourself time to walk through it all before you spoke to them.

3. Decide what your deal breaker is in advance and stick to it.

If the status quo was completely acceptable to you, you wouldn’t be having this conversation. The thing about negotiation is that we seldom anticipate getting exactly what we are asking for. Sometimes we do not need to get everything on our wish list in order to be happy and other times we are asking for the bare minimum we need to feel okay. Before you enter into the renegotiation know what your bottom line is. Know what the minimum is that you need to be happy and commit to yourself that you will not settle for less. I know that is exceedingly easy for me to sit here and say.

As an aside, your deal breaker only needs to make sense to you. Often times we have at least a few little birds chirping in our ears, usually well intended birds, that this or that is the type of relationship we should be having or this or that is how we should be treated. Decide what it is that you need and want. What is worth it to you. In the end you are the only one who has to live your life. Be kind to yourself.

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