Negotiables Versus Non-Negotiables

Compromise is a huge part of life. Most of our parents started teaching us that very early in our lives, and this is a case where the lesson that was hammered into us from early on was absolutely applicable across the entire lifespan. We live in a society based on compromise and the understanding that getting everything “I” want is not possible while those around us are trying to get what they want. So, instead of creating a situation where everyone strives for all their wants and ends up mostly falling short, we compromise with one another. Compromise is not only something we do with other individuals. We do it with our environment, time, and even ourselves. If it is raining outside, we may not be able to go to the park like we wanted, but we will compromise with the environment and reschedule the park visit. We may not have the time to watch our favorite TV show right now, but we will compromise with time and make a 45-minute time slot dedicated to enjoying the show later tonight. We may not get our favorite candy right now as we are on a diet, but will compromise with ourselves by getting ice cream on our cheat day this weekend. Compromise is all over our lives, and I like to refer to things we commonly compromise on as negotiables.

There is another side of life though, areas where we should not choose to compromise. These are our core values that we build ourselves around. They come from our upbringings, culture, religion, and partially from societal norms. These are often very important parts of ourselves and compromising them leaves us feeling weak or that we betrayed ourselves. There will be times in life where the world around us forces these non-negotiables to be bent. It is almost always unpleasant, but we live in an imperfect world, so it is a fact of life. But if these non-negotiables are sometimes going to be forced to bend, we want to avoid bending them when it is up to us. The difficulty usually is most prominent in our relationships, either romantic or social. Most of us go into any kind of relationship knowing our negotiables will be constantly bent due to compromise. We are usually open with our friends or partners about these areas of life and find some kind of middle ground between our negotiables and theirs. There is some room for conflict, but good communication often prevents this and creates good results for all involved. Non-negotiables on the other hand, are often far less pleasant to discuss. Discussing non-negotiable values in our life can often come off as ultimatums or demands and there is an underlying fear that if our values don’t line up with another individuals’ than there is no hope for a continued relationship. It is not truly hopeless though, as there are strategies, we can use to increase the odds that negotiables and non-negotiables are discussed clearly and in ways that lead to positive results.

Negotiables and Non-negotiables with Friends

Compromising negotiables with friends is often very easy. We expect our friends to have changes in life, both in simple material terms and in their opinions and views. Things will go downhill only if there is a lack of communication. Keeping friends up to date with our plans, where we are mentally, and our current variables in life allows them to adjust expectations. Then, with this info they can provide us with their desires for friendship and we can compromise with very little difficulty. This works the other way around of course, with friends who keep us up to date with how they are doing or what is on their mind. We then have the information we need to compromise with them and keep the relationship strong.

Non-negotiable discussions with friends are scary. Not only are we worried that taking a stand on our values will drive a friend away, but we also worry that a friendship may be too casual a relationship to justify such a big topic of discussion. Friendships are relationships of pure choice, but that doesn’t mean that sometimes we won’t have to discuss our non-negotiable values with friends when there is a clash between us. When these situations arise it is crucial to first establish with our friend that the purpose of the discussion is to clarify values so we can create a stronger relationship, or to peacefully reach the conclusion that as friends we are not compatible. A common example that is occurring in present times is differences in values regarding COVID-19. Some people are choosing not to vaccinate, and friends who find vaccination to not only be healthy but also a strong sign of one’s values are struggling with feeling that they may not be able to keep the friendship going. If vaccination status is a non-negotiable for you, you owe it to yourself and your friend who may disagree to discuss this. Perhaps the friendship need not end, but instead needs to be reframed into a different style of friendship. Nothing can move forward though until a non-negotiable like this is discussed.

With Partners

Communicating your negotiables with a partner is a process that will last as long as a healthy relationship does. It starts when we first start seeing someone in a romantic fashion, and does not end until the relationship does either through break up or the end of life. In counseling, it is rare that a couple presents that does not understand the importance of compromising their negotiables. What is shocking is the amount of couples who do not recognize that this is a fluid and continuous process, and doesn’t end when they move in together or get married. Life changes all things and even things we agreed upon in the past in the form of a certain compromise needs to be updated over long periods of time. Division of household duties is one of the most common areas where couples fail to recalibrate their compromise from time to time. Household duties are almost always negotiable, but what the standard was when a couple first moved in together may be very different after children are born, after moving, after career changes, health changes, or simple changes in a person over time. It is crucial to check in with one another frequently and see if the current standard is one that is still agreeable to your partner and compromise a new standard if it is not.

If discussing non-negotiables with friends is scary, having these discussions with our significant other is terrifying. The same risk we fear with friends, that it may lead to an end of the relationship, is often too anxiety driving for couples to even approach these issues. Unfortunately, without addressing these issues a relationship is often set up to have a major conflict in the future. Let’s look at a huge non-negotiable issue that at least most couples do discuss early on in relationships to show that it is not impossible to have these discussions. Having children is an all or nothing decision. As the old saying goes, you can’t have half a kid. Many of us have had the discussion of if we want children during the dating time of a relationship. If we are committed to one day having a family and the other person is committed to not, that can be an end to a relationship before it gets too serious. As sad as that may be, it is better than years into a relationship being surprised to find out your partner does not want children and having the relationship end after so much time.

While the example of whether one wants children or not is a common example of a non-negotiable, there are other things that make up our core values that need to be discussed in relationships. Clear expression of our non-negotiables is key. It is tempting to be less than definitive when telling someone these values of ours, as we want to sound like we are not making harsh demands, but being indirect about communicating these thoughts always leads to trouble. Setting the rules of conversations like these beforehand is important to make sure they go well. Agreeing that in a conversation about non-negotiables there will not be interrupting, there will be a need for each person to express what they are hearing from the other, and understanding that the intense nature of a conversation like this is not indicative of how everyday communication will go are all crucial elements. It can be summed up as:

  • Be direct
  • Be clear
  • Use active listening, don’t simply only wait for your turn to talk
  • Trust these conversations have to happen to avoid major conflict

The unpleasantness or challenge of these types of talks is not something we can ignore if we hope to have strong and compatible relationships.

If you would like to work on communicating your negotiables and non-negotiables, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.


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