Given the month and upcoming Valentine’s Day, I wanted to spending some time talking about relationship non-negotiables. Now the first words that come to mind when I think about relationship non-negotiables are boundaries and structure. Admittedly, not really words that make you think of love. Though as someone who has had her fair share of dating and experience working as a couples therapist, love and boundaries actually coexist far more than we have been led to believe. In fact, healthy relationships have both. 

Relationship non-negotiables are ways we are able to communicate our needs for a healthy relationship in which we feel emotional safety. This can apply to any and every relationship you have in your life, be it romantic, familial, or platonic. Relationship non-negotiables are helpful across the relationship monogamy/polyamory spectrum. Ultimately the only tricky part about them is recognizing what your relationship non-negotiables are for you. So here I am, an early career therapist, sitting in front of computer, all in hopes this blog might help you find them. 

Ready? Great! So ideally, you’d find your relationship non-negotiables when you are single. I know, but hear me out. Often times when we think about what we need in a relationship when we are actively in a relationship, we tend to structure our relationship non-negotiables within the framework of our existing relationship. Which means, we may put the relationship first when creating them, and not ourselves. I will also acknowledge that it can be difficult to find them when we haven’t had much experience with relationships. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have a starting point. Here are some questions I find can be helpful guides to finding your relationship non-negotiables regardless of your experience.

  1. What would your IDEAL relationship look like? Let your imagination run wild.
  2. What do you wish you had in previous relationships? (this includes friendships that may have fizzled out)
  3. What are some things in other people’s relationships that have made you envious?
  4. What are your values for yourself? What are they in relationships with others? 
    • Got a list of values? Rate them on a scale from necessity, very important, important, not so important, or not important at all. Then, focus on the necessities.
  5. Who are your relationship goals from your life or media? Think of a few couples that you idealize and see what some of the common attributes of the relationships are. 
  6. What would make you leave a relationship?

As you go through these questions you may develop quite the list and if so, great! You now have a solid starting point on finding your non-negotiables. If you go through these questions and have even more to ask or are filled with uncertainty, that is perfectly fine too. This just means you get to continue exploring in a different way. Sometimes our relationship non-negotiables come up organically through dating. There’s no rush and honestly, all this introspection takes time. Give yourself space to explore.

A word of caution when it comes to that list you’ve developed: You can have as many relationship non-negotiables as you want, but it is helpful to have a manageable list of no more than five to 10 items. One, it’s hard to talk to others about your non-negotiables/needs if you have a list of them as long as the Willamette. So it is helpful narrowing down to about five to 10 non-negotiables you think will be consistent for you as you grow. It is also completely normal for your non-negotiables to change and evolve as you do. You’re not locked into them forever. How you relate to others today may look totally different from how you relate to others five years from now.

Before I step off this soap-box, I want to normalize that this can feel like a lot to take on. So, I want to reiterate that this will take time and it is important to give yourself compassionate space to explore. I hope these questions are fuel for thought and helpful as you explore your relationship needs. And remember, when it comes to your needs and relationship non-negotiables, the last thing I want to leave you with is this: you deserve to have your needs met. 

Mariah Beltran, MS
Doctoral Intern