Know Your Marriage Negotiables and Non-Negotiables

Know Your Marriage Negotiables and Non-Negotiables

When couples come to me to resolve conflicts, I help them reach an internal map of reality by clarifying their individual negotiables and non-negotiables.
We typically start by looking at areas where each partner has a different perspective, and determine the individual wants and needs. Together, we clarify what are willing to give up in a relationship and what are the deal breakers.
A person’s non-negotiables can be simple, or significant, but they are something he or she feels so strongly about that there is no compromise. A negotiable is something a person might compromise on with his or her partner for the sake of the relationship.
Here are five areas that are the main sources of conflict for couples where determining negotiables and non-negotiables can improve relationships.

Let’s say your spouse wants you to visit your in-laws every Sunday. Are you willing to do that? Agreeing to the weekly visit may be something you consider a negotiable. However, you may feel that spending Christmas with your family is a non-negotiable because it is an important tradition. Working through these family matters is something I spend a lot of time on with my clients.
One big non-negotiable for some people is children. If one partner wants to have children and the other considers it a non-negotiable, this is something that needs to be worked through.
Religion and political beliefs falls into this category, too. If a person’s religion or politics differs from his or her partner’s, there may be areas where compromise is possible and where it is not, but clarifying the non-negotiables can be life changing for a relationship. Couples often discover establishing each partner’s negotiables and non-negotiables can reduce repeated arguments and stress.

Whether one partner works or both, there are expectations and responsibilities at home regarding the division of labor. Most couples do not speak about these issues until problems arise and then they struggle with resolving them. The key is to understand how expectations differ around work and home responsibilities and where a partner is willing to bend. For example, a husband might consider food shopping and laundry a negotiable, but child care, such as diaper changing, a non-negotiable. Some partners still believe in traditional roles at home. When I coach couples, we look for solutions and aim to achieve agreement.

Some people enter relationships with money, while others enter with debt. These financial differences can cause conflict in relationships. Another source of conflict arises when one person generates an income and the other does not. This disparity can lead to an abuse of power in the relationship and arguments over control. In another situation, one partner may feel that being open about finances and avoiding money secrets with each other is non-negotiable. As a coach, I help partners reach agreements about their relationships regarding money in a more equitable way.


Often, the woman believes a fulfilled sexual life integrates romantic love. The man has fantasies of sexual encounters that may not include romantic love. A man might be willing to make romantic gestures a negotiable, but he might consider not having a regular sex routine a non-negotiable. Talking openly about wants, needs, and unsaid expectations of each partner can bring issues to the surface and improve the couples’ sex life.

Issues around friendships and a social life can create disharmony in relationships. One partner may be social, the other may be a homebody. Before long, there is a conflict or hurt feeling. Another conflict may arise when one spouse depends completely on the other to create a social life for the couple. There may also be disagreements when partners want to hang out with their individual friends without their spouse or partner. When I coach couple, we find solutions and areas of compromise that will make each partner feel validated. A solution may be to create opportunities for each partner to spend time with friends, or home alone, without the other person feeling resentful.

Having non-negotiables goes beyond defining, verbalizing and sharing them with your partner. If your non-negotiables are to succeed, and you are to feel respected, you must stand by them. Most couples don’t pay a lot of attention to their individual negotiables and non-negotiables, however, working with a coach to establish or clarify them can resolve conflicts in relationships and bring new satisfaction.