We talk a great deal about standards in relationships and “wishlists” so to speak. This typically leads to the question of if people’s checklists for their significant other are unrealistic, shallow, or just generally impossible. I’ve learned to refrain from critiquing people, but especially Black women, for their set of standards that they’re unwilling to compromise on. I’ve observed that Black women are the only ones who are questioned for having and maintaining standards – even seemingly superficial ones.
So though a standard or non-negotiable might not be my criteria for men, more power to the sista who has the gumption to ask for and receive exactly what she wants out of her partner. But, in my own experience, I’ve learned that many people will compromise. Tera Stidum, online dating coach of She Dates Savvy, highlights this sentiment to xoNecole, stating, “It’s not unusual for people to compromise values, boundaries, and standards in a relationship. There are times when those compromises may actually be beneficial to the person and the relationship.” The question then becomes – what is deemed as ‘acceptable’ compromises? And more than that, what is non-negotiable when it comes to selecting a partner?
A great example that Stidum provides of when compromise looks okay in relationships is the following scenario: A single [person] with a height requirement who decides to open their height standards and finds herself/himself in the best relationship ever, just by shifting a standard. She adds, “I believe things become problematic when the compromise is of values and boundaries, which essentially make us who we are or our belief system.”
According to our dating expert, any expectations, standards, or boundaries that fall within these categories are non-negotiable: “Any compromises in the areas of sexual boundaries, religion, alcohol use, drugs, and even whether to have or not have children are the types of non-negotiables that should not be compromised under any circumstances. These areas can lead to deep fractures in a long-term relationship, including resentment and breakups.”
So, what exactly do those look like, in specific terms? Well, here are the five non-negotiables i.e. standards you should not compromise on.
This is relatively self-explanatory but I’ll reiterate that this is a non-negotiable as parenthood for some people is literally as fulfilling as careers. If you and your potential partner don’t share the same values of wanting to have children, it is likely to lead to lots of resentment down the line, since it’s such a large chunk of one’s values and purpose (for some). Obviously, this is for people who desire children and deem parenting to be a valuable opportunity FOR THEM. Again, not everyone feels this deeply about parenting but for those who do…dassit!
Are you more spiritual than religious? Is it important to you that you and your partner are able to have conversations where God is at the center and a relationship based on faith? Are you agnostic and wish to have a partner who respects that? Is important that your partner isn’t faith-based too? Religion is yet another extreme value held when presented in a person, which means that this will factor into so many other aspects of your lives together. This includes but is not limited to the aforementioned topic of…children. That’s the biggest beef right there is, how will a couple who don’t share the same religion raise their children?
3. Sex and Sexual Boundaries
I will stand on this until the day I die but talk about sex and talk about it often in your relationship. Many couples will avoid this topic because they think there are more important things when, in reality, sex proves to be just as important. You truly cannot set more in-depth sexual boundaries without discussing things that you all enjoy in regard to sex. Perhaps, your partner has a fetish or kink you’re not aware of. You want to create a safe space to be able to discuss these things openly so that it doesn’t pop up 30 years into a marriage and it feels out of left field.
The sooner you can discuss the fluidity in sexuality with your partner, the sooner you will know how to structure your relationship, whether it be dissolving the relationship altogether, opening the relationship, or setting up space in time to explore these sexual differences (while respecting boundaries) in a monogamous relationship.
4. Alcohol and Drug Use
Even the smallest of differences between a person who smokes marijuana frequently versus one who doesn’t have the ability to hinder the growth of a relationship. Think about cigarette smokers and the depths that they may go to for a smoke. The money spent, the lingering smell in the house, sitting in uncomfortable environments just to smoke – consider the lopsidedness of the dynamic and the constant compromise necessary–now replace cigarettes with drugs or alcohol. If you’re more into a sober lifestyle and your partner isn’t on the same page, that clash in lifestyle could cause problems in the future and vice versa.
Finances are one of the largest, if not the largest, disruptions in relationships. And while I do think the non-negotiable pieces of this particular non-negotiable vary from person to person, there are certain things you simply must not compromise on. It is imperative that you speak to your partner about finances early and often (if you’re on Black Twitter, you’ve seen the discourse around $50 dates – you know what it is). Seriously, from Twitter, I’ve come to see the value in dating in your tax bracket if you have certain standards for your partner financially. Whether you want $300 dates and surprise vacations or a summer house in addition to your year-round home, or just want to meet the basic criteria for being financially well-off, there does need to be some commonality here.
The need to be transparent about debts and budgets is also important. For example, are your approaches to money compatible? Furthermore, she adds a major red flag in regards to finances we should keep our eyes peeled for is a scenario of a partner who judges you for the way you spend money despite it being money well within your budget. Typically, when this does occur your partner might try to make you feel guilty for your lifestyle/spending. Many people fail to realize that money is the root of so much trauma, which can lead to more drama and trauma in relationships.
Stidum recommends considering these questions when discussing finances with your partner:
- What's your financial picture?
- Would you consider yourself a spender or a saver?
- How do you handle financial emergencies?
- What are your thoughts on couples and household bills/responsibilities?
- How much debt do you have?
- Do you owe any taxes or child support?
- Do you pay your bills as they come or at the beginning of the month?
- If you thought I was spending too much, how would you have that conversation with me?
How to Communicate Your Standards in a Relationship
First off, Stidum suggests referring to your standards or non-negotiables as a wishlist. “Consider this to take the negative [connotation] away and instead of calling it a ‘non-negotiable’ list, share your ‘wishlist’ with your potential partner. This list will give you an opportunity to share what you’re seeking in a positive manner, versus negative, with the label ‘non-negotiable’ – it sounds so final and, well…non-negotiable.” But generally speaking, “complete honesty” is recommended.
The She Dates Savvy dating expert states, “I believe in complete honesty from the beginning–no matter if it means the person will walk away or not. I believe once you know you’re interested enough in someone that you can imagine yourself with them long-term, you need to communicate your non-negotiables. You are not saving yourself or your potential partner any troubles by not sharing with them very early on. One of the big non-negotiables I’ve seen come up with clients is when a woman is celibate. The question is always, ‘Tera, when should I let him know?’ and my reply is always, ‘As soon as you can. Immediately!’ Why? Because that’s a decision she has made and not his. So if he is not interested in a celibate relationship, she should disclose that immediately so he can determine if a celibate relationship is one of his non-negotiables.”
Relationship Stages and Its Impact on Standards and Compromise
I asked our expert how relationship standards and non-negotiables might look different depending on the stage of the relationship. Ultimately, while it shouldn’t look different, it does – and this tends to go back to the lack of openness early on. Stidum explains, “In the dating phase, some daters have not really allowed themselves to be completely vulnerable with their prospective partner, so therefore I’ve witnessed people cutting off a potential partner because of non-negotiables. Surprisingly, I believe people are more forgiving of non-negotiables once they are in a relationship or engagement phase, because at that time they are weighing out things like ‘time together’ or ‘how will this look if we break up’ or ‘I don’t want to be single again’ so they find themselves more accepting of their non-negotiables than they were in the dating phase.”
If you walk away with nothing else from this, please do leave with the courage to ask and discuss the seemingly hard stuff early on – it doesn’t get any easier just because you’ve buried it. More than anything, being upfront is the key to building a solid, authentic relationship that can sustain the test of time. Regardless of what your relationship looks like, opening up this dialogue will create a more rosy, harmonious aspect between yourself and your partner.
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