There’s a transformation that happens when you go from being single to falling in love and getting into a relationship that’s often overlooked.
And I’m not talking about how the world suddenly looks brighter and you feel like you’re one of the “lucky” ones.
No, I’m talking about the stance you take on your nonnegotiables.
Ask anyone who is currently single or has recently left a long-term relationship and they’re clear on their must haves and nonnegotiables. They’ll tell you exactly what they won’t tolerate in a relationship and how they plan on handling any situation if they feel their boundaries are being crossed. They remember the sting of their last relationship and vow never to allow themselves to step over their needs again.
The problem is that when you’re in a relationship again, you remember how hard it was to find someone who checked off most of the boxes and made you feel excited about being loved again.
You remember the lonely nights and the times you longed for a partner and you begin to wonder . . . are my nonnegotiables as important as I once thought?
Your friends and family begin to reinforce your doubts by reminding you that “no one’s perfect” and they begin to extoll your new partner’s best qualities.
And so it begins . . . You let one thing slide. And then another. Until one day you wake up, trying to remember what your list of nonnegotiables looked like in the first place!
The truth is that most of us are guilty of having stepped over our strictest boundaries in the name of love.
But the problem is that over time, we begin to resent our partner, nitpick and even begin to issue ultimatums because we have no idea how to get our needs met. We hope that our partner will hear us, but we can’t even find the words to effectively manage expectations.
Perhaps that’s where you are right this very moment. Wondering if you should stay or should you go?
I often tell clients that it’s ok to sit with the decision and get some clarity . . . take the attention off of the decision itself and put it back on you.
It’s important you learn how to reconnect to your own personal boundaries so that you can understand what it is that you can or won’t tolerate in a relationship.
The first thing to remember is that boundaries are not about building walls or making demands.
Boundaries are a limit that you set to define what you will and will not do, or what you will or will not accept or tolerate from others.
Boundaries are completely natural and automatic. When the body hits its limit, we feel physical pain. When the heart or emotional system hits its limit, we feel anger, sadness, or hurt.
These boundaries come pre-loaded into the human experience.
Yet, sometimes we train ourselves to push past them or to ignore them. And, as you probably already know my dear, the cost of ignoring them results in feeling like you’ve been ignored or put to the very bottom of yours (and your partner’s) priority list.
So, what can you do?
What do you do when you find yourself feeling like you no longer even know what really matters to you?
To start, recognize that wherever you are right now, you can reconnect to what’s most important to you and learn how to set effective boundaries.
It’s never too late.
Right now, if you’ve been blaming your partner or feeling like your needs no longer matter to them, I want you to do something radical.
I want you to pretend that they no longer exist - just for this exercise. So that if you’re going to reconnect to your nonnegotiables that you are doing so with 100% responsibility over your life.
This may be a hard message to swallow, but when it comes to your nonnegotiables, it’s you who has been crossing your boundaries, and it’s your responsibility to maintain your boundaries as often as necessary, or leave situations in which your boundaries are infringed.
The good news, however, is that you do have the power to step up and take ownership.
There’s an exercise in my book Permission to Put Yourself First, (it’s coming out next month!), called Determine Your Nonnegotiables, and this is a piece of it:
Nonnegotiables in Yourself
Let’s pinpoint your nonnegotiables. Make a list of five or more nonnegotiables—behaviors that you won’t tolerate or that you must have in yourself to feel satisfied, whether you’re in a relationship or not. Here are some examples from my clients:
“I must have the time and space for myself that I desire.”
“I must go to sleep and wake up on a schedule that suits me.”
“I will not tolerate any more rescuing of others; I can’t save anyone. I’ll simply support them in a way that doesn’t compromise my own happiness as they solve their own problems.”
“I must take responsibility for myself and work through my issues as they arise.”
“I choose to believe I’m worthy of love no matter what.”
Nonnegotiables in Your Partner
Next, make a list of five or more nonnegotiables—behaviors that you won’t tolerate or must have in your partner, whether you have one now or not. For instance:
“I won’t allow passive-aggressive communication or verbally abusive words.”
“I won’t tolerate physical abuse.”
“Honesty is an absolute.”
“I must have a partner who’s willing to work on his or her own issues and not rely on me to take care of his or her needs.”
“We allow each other space to be alone and creative.”
Nonnegotiables are often the hardest boundaries to set because they can come with unpleasant consequences - whether someone is willing to meet our boundary or not.
It is why I often recommend getting some experience handling tough conversations first before you dive into the decisions that might change your life.
Getting clear on some of your “less important” needs and wants can help you build up to the point where you can finally reconnect with what those nonnegotiables are and set the boundaries you want.
Remember, nonnegotiables are not ultimatums, but rather the blueprint for how you want to live your life, and what you are no longer willing to sacrifice.
It may take some time to get to the point where you can be comfortable with your nonnegotiables (like you were when you were single), but building up to those points is doable.
This week, give yourself permission to put yourself first, whether you’re in a relationship or not, and identify your nonnegotiables (see exercise above) and make the commitment to honor yourself.
It will do wonders for opening the door to some of the bigger things you want in life!
P.S. One of the biggest reasons people don’t set boundaries is that they don’t know the words to use. I’ve created Boundary Badassery, The Pocket Guide, to help you get started! This is the complete guide to having the tough conversations, and navigating difficult situations, so you can set effective boundaries with ease! And, since you can keep it right on your phone, it’s like having me with you in your pocket! Grab yours today!