Managing expectations is the key to any successful relationship, but unfortunately most romantic relationships do not start with an upfront negotiation as to the rules of engagement. Instead, we dance around our wants and needs in the beginning, rarely letting on as to our preferred frequency for communication, contact, or time together. We don’t typically speak candidly about our attachment styles and triggers, and instead we wait to tackle these issues when we hit a speed bump, often without ever having the benefit of a warning sign. This is usually when things start to go sideways, but what if you tried a different approach from the beginning?
Imagine if you could talk to a potential partner early on about what you envision as appropriate boundaries, just as you would in any business dealings. What if you went out on a limb and told this stranger within the first week of meeting that you don’t want to waste time on a relationship that isn’t exclusive and that your desire is to find a life partner, who can commit to working things out. Could you put your cards on the table and show your vulnerabilities in the beginning of your courtship in order to ensure that this person is able to deal with not just the good and the bad, but the ugly parts from your past that we all carry?
I know this isn’t typically how the dating game is played, but when you tire of the games perhaps it’s time to open your mind to alternative tactics. At this point in my life, there is no hiding that I have a complicated family dynamic or a colorful past, and my career as a divorce attorney for over two decades has undoubtedly left an indelible mark on how I view romantic partnerships. It’s not that I am jaded, but after witnessing enough War of the Roses scenarios it’s simply impossible for me to lead with my heart and not weigh the pros and cons of each situation presented.
Normally, people try to present as easy going as possible when they first start dating, and then slowly as they become more comfortable they start to raise little pet peeves, unless they are passive aggressive and just bottle it all up inside until they simply bail or act out in other ways. But when you tire of this pattern ask yourself this question: what would be the down side to clearly stating upfront your personal desires and dealbreakers? It certainly would spare you a lot of time and aggravation if you could share your must-haves and can’t stands with a potential partner, who can then self-select out if s/he realizes they can’t meet your needs.
If you are self aware, then you should already know the degree to which you want a partner that is available, responsive, punctual, tidy, fiscally responsible, healthy, and focused on solutions rather than a problem accumulator or what I lovingly refer to as birds with broken wings. By mid-life you should know that little habits can be modified, but you can’t change someone’s character. Furthermore, for a relationship to really go the distance you need to both be aligned in your dreams and aspirations for the future. Of course there will be bumps along the way, so try to establish some ground rules.
These are my top 10 discussion points for engaging in a healthy partnership: (1) agree on the duration of a needed time-out/cease fire; (2) don’t go to bed angry; (3) impose a statute of limitation on bringing up past arguments; (4) don’t use sex as a weapon or give someone the silent treatment; (5) ask how important something is to your partner on a scale of 1-10 before rejecting the proposal or arguing a counter-proposal; (6) set proper expectations for each other; (7) give each other the benefit of the doubt; (8) make no assumptions, instead ask questions; (9) avoid being harsh, critical, or defensive; and (10) avoid the blame game and instead focus on problem solving together.
Ultimately, the right person will come along that will eliminate any FOMO (fear of missing out) tendencies you may have had in the past. When you do meet your match, in order to avoid veering off track I encourage you to set appropriate expectations early on about your availability and real needs, educate each other on your triggers and the standard operating procedures that work best to disarm you when someone steps into an emotional landmine. Sharing your owner’s manual with your co-pilot can be scary, but if you take the emotions out of it you know it makes perfect sense.
The right person will find your candor refreshing, without passing judgment. Those willing to embrace a discussion early on about the rules of engagement are the ones truly committed to a joint venture, and those that aren’t simply need more time to get the games out of their system. Make no apologies for what you want and deserve, and hold out for the love that makes you feel like they are wrapping you in a warm blanket by a fire, giving you a complete sense of safety and security while the rest of the world simply ceases to exist. This will be your forever person.
By Regina A. DeMeo