Is it time to renegotiate the terms of your relationship?
Both your partner(s) and yourself will inevitably change and evolve throughout your relationship. You can expect that some of this growth will occur between you, and you can also expect to grow as individuals. This idea of change may seem intimidating for some, but it is a natural and necessary feature of our human development. Although there may be romantic sentiment attached to the idea that partners should remain the same individuals as they were the day they met, this is certainly not a realistic expectation. With this in mind, we should consider how we can respond to these changes in a way that allows us to embrace these personal evolutions, rather than stubbornly resist. One of the ways we can do this is by renegotiating the terms of our relationships.
Renegotiating the terms of your relationship simply means to discuss your current and expected needs as individuals and as a partnership, and how you can offer the best support to help meet those needs.
Esther Perel, my favourite couples therapist (and probably yours too), is famously quoted as saying, ‘We all will have two or three relationships in our adult lives. Some of us with the same person.’ While the line may be intentionally provocative, it speaks directly to the idea that we must welcome new variations and evolutions of our relationships throughout our lives. When you renegotiate the terms of your relationship, you are opening the door for honest communication by creating the space to express your fears, concerns, hopes, gratitude, and aspirations as they relate to your relationship.
As we grow and change throughout our lives and adapt to the other life changes, such as new job demands and evolving families, your needs and expectations of you and your partner(s) are likely to change. By renegotiating the terms of your relationship, you can help your partner understand what you might need from them to sustain your wellness, as well as gain insight into what your partner will need from you. Perhaps you have already responded and adjusted to these changes without having to engage in this formal process. Still it never hurts to examine and evaluate the current conditions of your life to give you the confidence of knowing that your relationship is still working for you and your partner(s). It is also worth noting that this process is not exclusive to romantic relationships and can be just as valuable when applied to other relationships in your life. By engaging in this process, you help sharpen your communication skills, as well as your ability to be honest with yourself and with others.
Here are some tips for renegotiating the terms of your relationship:
Before you begin this process, it is best to take the time as individuals to reflect on how you think you have changed, how you have perceived your partner to have changed, and how your needs and expectations might be different now. You should also contemplate the things that make you feel sad or anxious and alternatively things that might make you feel excited and hopeful, as they relate to your relationship. This reflection can be made into a formal task of taking the time to journal your thoughts and feelings, or you may wish to just take a few moments, or a walk by yourself to consider these thoughts and feelings. By coming into the conversation prepared with an idea of how you would like your relationship to respond to these demands, you will be in a better position to be able to authentically communicate exactly what you need. With that said, it is also important to remember that you must be open-minded as you come into these conversations. Although this is a conversation about meeting your needs, it is ultimately a conversation of how you can best collaborate together.
The process of renegotiation should be a collaborative effort. For this process to work, there must be mutual interest and reciprocity from both individuals in the relationship. This is an opportunity for you and your partner to work together to address any new challenges, needs, or concerns you have in your relationship. This is also a time where you create goals together and come up with ideas of how you want your relationship to look moving forward. Knowing that you are not alone in this process and that you can work as a team can help provide the security needed to explore some of those more difficult thoughts or feelings.
If you’re seeking to reflect on and identify the changes that have occurred in your life, and to explore how your needs and expectations have changed as a consequence, vulnerability is a requirement. Through this process, you may have to confront thoughts or feelings that you have been otherwise ignoring or suppressing. The level of honesty required in this process might not be easy and it is important to allow yourself the time and space to have these reflections. When you are engaging in this process with your partner, you should provide the same level of honesty and vulnerability with them as you did with yourself. Through this process you could discover that the change in needs of both you and your partner are irreconcilable. This also will require deep vulnerability to confront. If you are finding that through this process, your relationship is at a crossroads, then this might be an appropriate time to seek couples therapy. Although the renegotiation process is intended to help individuals reach the healthiest outcomes for themselves and their partners, this does not mean that it is on you as individuals to navigate this transition alone.
In the case where you and your partner can renegotiate the terms of your relationships to a place where you both feel like you can meet each other’s needs and expectations, you will find that you have a new sense of security within your relationship. Before this process, you may have felt unsure of how you or your partner were functioning within the relationship, or perhaps that you were both blissfully complacent within that current state. The security you feel in your relationship will be strengthened through this process as you reconcile the changes that have occurred for both of you.
Through this experience, you have the opportunity to bring vitality back into your relationship. It is very common for us to become complacent within our relationships. Though this complacency may help us provide stability in our lives when perhaps other areas of our lives remain uncertain, you are likely missing out on feeling a sense of vitality and excitement that you once had during the early stages of your relationship. Many often assume that this feeling of vitality is reserved for the ‘honeymoon stage’ of a relationship, but it can be maintained through open discussions of what gets you excited about a relationship. Perhaps some of the new terms of your relationship can be to surprise each other with a new date night activity a few times a month, or maybe it is making time for you to both have more alone time, as that time apart creates the space for your curiosity for each other to grow.
Lastly, this process can help promote accountability within your relationship, and for yourselves personally. By communicating your needs and expectations of your partner, it leaves little room for miscommunication and eliminates justifications for why one person might not be making you as fulfilled as you could be. It also encourages you to be accountable for your own needs and well-being.