At the outset of Sarah and Jason’s formal, long-term commitment, each partner took on specific responsibilities that seemed to be expected and permanent. Clearly, now it was time for a renegotiation of their situation to determine how modifications might be made to accommodate both partners as individuals, and to help continue to nurture their seemingly healthy relationship. Although Sarah and Jason did not have an “official” written contract at the beginning of their relationship, they had made a verbal agreement as to how their roles and responsibilities would be carried out.
Now, let’s look at another scenario. Beth and Kevin have been living together in a committed relationship for several years. When the relationship launched, Beth was finishing her university education; Kevin was already in an established career and was the primary earner. There was never a discussion at the beginning of their co-habitation about roles and responsibilities. Instead, assumptions were made by each partner; so one can easily see how the balance of power got out of sync from the get-go. Since Kevin was a bit older than Beth and the major financial contributor, Beth automatically relinquished most of the decision-making to Kevin and was content to let him be her guide in most matters of importance. Beth was happy making decisions on what she termed as “the day-to-day,” while she focused on her studies, considered her part-time income as discretionary, and relied on Kevin to take the relationship lead.
As one can imagine, Kevin took the reins on all the finances, travel plans, and even decisions about participation in social and family events. After all, when finances were concerned, his choice mattered most, to him and to Beth. That situation lasted until Beth completed her education and landed a job in her chosen profession. As household income changed, time available for the “daily” responsibilities did, as well. Along with those modifications to the relationship, Beth now had newly found confidence in herself. She began to assert her desire to ensure that the relationship scales were in balance. Kevin was unaware that during their journey, Beth would evolve as an individual and that at some point, the terms of endearment would need a thorough review.
Unfortunately, the constant bickering over power and control, and, more importantly, the lack of ability on Kevin’s part to compromise, eventually led to the demise of the relationship. Kevin could not accept the fact that Beth had changed and that she wanted an equal role.
There can be an unspoken belief that people should and will remain the same throughout a relationship, and so the original terms and roles of the partnership are set in stone. However, we know that change happens, so why wouldn’t it happen even in the best of relationships?
It does! Every relationship evolves, as do the people in it, both as a couple, and as individuals. And so, the established roles formed at the start of their partnership may very well no longer fit the individuals or best serve the relationship.
These changes may involve job changes, such as increased travel, longer work hours, or relocation. For many couples, a significant change involves starting and growing a family, and for older couples, it’s the change brought on by their adult children leaving home.
For a healthy relationship to mature, deepen, and endure, it is vital to embrace evolution, welcoming new iterations of ourselves and our partners.
A relationship, and the people in it, should never be locked into any specific terms, roles, or expectations. But how do you go about this relationship renegotiation process in a harmonious and loving way?
Negotiate first: Begin the relationship with equality in mind
You can’t renegotiate a contract, if you haven’t made one in the first place. A couple should have an initial discussion to acknowledge the present situation, and to agree that future modifications may need to be made to relationship expectations. The goal is to seek a true “balance of power” in which each partner feels loved and respected. It is important to note that contributions made to the relationship by either partner, whether material or non-material, should be acknowledged and appreciated.
The couple may need to have several “deep discussions” and ask the hard “What if?” questions before arriving at a consensus. Ensure that each partner is comfortable with the terms of his or her roles and responsibilities at the outset, and that both partners agree to be flexible. Take some time to do some imaginative thinking around what could change, and how the couple might address ambiguities or obstacles that might arise at some point.
Renegotiate later: Identify current and desired needs, as a couple and as individuals
Each person should reflect on how they and their significant other have changed over the years, and what needs, challenges, and expectations have resulted from those iterations. What does your partner like, or need more of? Is there anything lacking completely? Consider what areas or ideas make you feel excited, stressed, anxious, or concerned. Think through possible solutions that could meet your and your partner’s needs.
Just keep talking: Plan your regular “partner renegotiation summits”
Come together for a collaborative conversation, sharing your respective lists. Focus on open communication and a positive “team approach” that is rooted in mutual interest and reciprocity.
Partners who cultivate a safe space to share their dreams, goals, aspirations, fears, and concerns are more likely to receive the support and understanding they need. As a two-person team, create new goals, ideas and strategies that will benefit each individual, and the relationship as a whole.
Strong relationships hold “renegotiation summits” as frequently as needed. They don’t even have to occur because of a significant life event; simply ask for what you want. It could be something like, “Honey, I’m tired of paying the bills. I know you’re sick of doing laundry — I’d be happy to switch tasks. How does that sound?”
By communicating the needs and expectations of both partners, the renegotiation process can reduce (or perhaps even eliminate) miscommunication and pent-up resentment. This method also empowers you to take accountability for what you want, rather than hoping your partner will “figure it out” even though you are silent. And, who knows, switching things up may even add a little “spice and adventure” into your somewhat ho-hum partnership.
Originally published at http://www.pam-evans.com on May 12, 2021.