Whether you’re brand new to non-monogamy or a seasoned practitioner, negotiating the scope and terms of a new relationship can feel daunting. What should you discuss up front? How do you reconcile mis-matches? How do you communicate what you do and do not want?
I hate to regurgitate the word “communicate” over and over, but that’s what so much of this boils down to.
When getting to know someone, I have a laundry list of fundamental incompatibilities , but every component of that list has a gray area into which I need to figure out how I fit or if I even do. The same goes for whomever I’m working through it with.
I’m going to risk sounding a little clinical here, but whether you’re consciously moving through these steps or not, a well-rounded negotiation will include the following:
- Knowing what you’re looking for
- Communicating what you’re looking for
- Listening to what’s available from the other person
- Deciding if that will work for you
- Hearing what the other person is looking for
- Communicating your availability as it pertains to that
- Knowing what your boundaries/relationship deal breakers are
- Communicating the things you’re unwilling to accept
- Listening to whether or not those things exist in the other person’s life
- Deciding if that will work for you
- Hearing the other person’s boundaries/relationship deal-breakers
- Communicating whether or not those things exist in your life
And then we take a long nap, yes? Yes.
Let’s work the following situation under the assumption basic attraction and desire is established:
Person A has a nesting partner and while they can host dates in their shared home and have a guest room, it’s rarely guaranteed that Person A’s nesting partner will be out of the home. Person B also has a nesting partner, but they cannot host because they have an agreement with that partner that they will not host dates in their shared home.
Know what you’re looking for and communicating it:
Person A is looking for an emotionally close romantic and sexual relationship that will hopefully include overnight stays and extended time together every other weekend or so.
Listening to what’s available from the other person:
Person B is available for overnights and extended time together, but it would need to be at Person A’s home, or at another location that is not their home.
Deciding if it will work for you:
Person A considers if this would work for them, and part of that involves asking questions about whether this limitation in Person B’s life is permanent or if there is an ongoing discussion about potential adjustments – say, if Person B’s nesting partner is out of the home, would there be an opportunity to host in that space someday?
Person B says they don’t see any of their agreements as written in stone, but that this particular one feels static at least for the foreseeable future.
Hearing what the other person is looking for:
Person B is primarily looking for a casual sexual relationship but is open to something more emotionally intimate. Ideally they’d be able to see this person three or four times a month, but again, they’re open to and available for more.
Communicating your availability for that:
Person A has that amount of time available for dates but they know that their sexual relationships eventually involved emotional intimacy and romantic love so they don’t see themselves satisfied long term with a purely physical connection. Since Person B has already communicated they’re open to more-than-casual, this isn’t a deal-breaker.
Knowing and communicating your boundaries and deal breakers:
Person A is unwilling to be in a relationship where someone outside of the relationship has a say in what that relationship looks like. The “no hosting” agreement Person B has with their nesting partner feels a little close to that boundary.
Listening to whether or not those exist in the other person’s life:
Person A delves a little deeper into other events at the shared home such as social gatherings or parties hosted by Person B – would they need to be excluded from those as well?
Person B assurres Person A that those types of events are not considered “dates” for the purposes of their nesting agreement and that ultimately, they’ve simply agreed not to be sexually intimate with anyone else in the shared home; keeping dates outside of the home avoids limiting the date at the behest of someone else. As long as there are no expectations of sexual intimacy, Person A is more than welcome in Person B’s home.
Deciding if that will work for you:
Person A concedes that having physical limitations placed on a date by someone else doesn’t feel quite right and that they would likely opt out of dates hosted at Person B’s house as a result. They are relieved, however, to know they’d be welcome at holidays, game nights, birthday parties, etc.
Hearing the other person’s boundaries and deal breakers:
Person B is not open about their non-monogamous relationship structure to their employer, so there are a few times during the year when they would be unable to acknowledge Person A as a partner, but those would be industry events that Person A could opt out of. Person B has a boundary that they do not want people to post pictures of them on the internet without their express permission.
Communicating whether or not those things exist in your life:
Person A wants the ability to acknowledge their partners publicly, but does not see this request as unreasonable and does not anticipate feeling badly about it moving forward.
Both A and B see a path forward.
Person A has some concerns about being the primary host when a private space is desired because of their own nesting partnership, but will initiate a conversation with their nesting partner regarding those concerns and return to their negotiation with Person B when they have more information.
Person B has no concerns as Person A can host dates and overnights, and is available for the amount of time they’d been looking for in a new relationship.
Alternative: If, for example, when Person A delves a little deeper into the agreement Person B has with their nesting partner they discover the ban on dates in their shared home extends to not being allowed to attend important gatherings there, Person A might feel this limitation interfers too much with their desire for an independent relationship. Likewise, if Partner B’s need to have dates occur outside of their home conflicts with a situation in which Partner A is also unable to host, the amount of time they want to spend with a new partner might be more than would be available given those circumstances. None of these things can be known without digging deeper into how folks structure their lives.
So many of us feel at a bit of a loss when it comes to communicating what, how, and why when it comes to relationships, but practice makes progress and I’ve never wished I hadn’t done the work. So, while these types of conversations aren’t exactly titillating, they’re necessary if you value your wants and needs, and having them on the front end will save you from pain points that could have been uncovered prior to emotional investment.
Bonus: Not only will you lay the foundation for future negotiations with this person, because all healthy relationships include occasional conversations in this vein, but you’re bound to learn more about yourself in the process.
** PS – I resisted the urge to end this blog channeling Martha Stewart and writing “It’s a Good Thing” at the end of the last paragraph, so you’re welcome.
(I like to give myself credit for not being obnoxious whenever possible.)