The Non-negotiables

Have non-negotiables.

If they are in fact non-negotiable, then don’t negotiate.

Well this sounds pretty simple – and obvious. But when it comes to issues of love – not so. It is obvious to not negotiate non-negotiables, but it is certainly way easier said than done.  If you’ve ever found yourself in a relationship but cannot pinpoint why it’s not working or why it just seems like you’re not on the same page, or if you are struggling with whether or not the relationship could actually work long term- it may be a question of identifying what’s important to you – and even non-negotiable.  I have found that constantly reflecting on this and making it a priority to identify yours is vital to navigate the worlds of both singleness and dating while minimizing your potential for heartbreak.

So why is it important to have them? The non-negotiables are tied to your values. There must be things that you have to have in a partner. I promise you there are – even if you have not thought about them or identified them, they are there. There are things that you could or could not live with/without. There are some probably very obvious ones like: someone who doesn’t abuse me or someone who is not married, etc. (haha – hopefully you agree here). But what about the things that do not necessarily apply to everyone? It’s important to have some items that go beyond the obvious, some items that will help you determine if the next person that gives you attention should actually be someone you entertain the idea of dating.

The non-negotiables are a form of a filter. You should filter every prospective partner through the non-negotiables before embarking on something long term. If they don’t align, wait for someone who does. I’m going to make this very black and white for you and I pray that it gives you some guidance as you explore dating.

When I first became a Christian, which was at the age of 22, I remember asking questions about what it means to date as a Christian. One thing I was told was to make a list of everything that I want in my husband, pray about it, put it at the foot of the cross (i.e. leave it up to God), and move on. I heard so many stories from happily married women that confirmed this actually happens. Their husbands actually have every single quality they write down – even to the point of being uncanny! Some even cautioned to be careful what you write down because that’s how in line it is! One said that she had written that she wants a man that loves singing – but had forgotten to write down “in tune” – but boy did he love to sing!

So, I have made my list. I have gone back and revisited it, but I will admit as more time has passed and I’ve gotten older, I have questioned whether or not I need so many items. Right or wrong, my list, rather than getting longer as I age and would seemingly start to become longer and more specific with what I like… has gotten shorter. I have started narrowing it down to the things that are the most important. It went from about 53 items which included things like height range preferences, to a worldly taste for food, to someone with sisters… all the way down to 3. Three of the most important things: 3 non-negotiables if you will. These are the items that I cannot let up on or compromise no matter what. Sure, I still have the other things, and some are still extremely important, but a lot of those have also simply become preferences. Do I believe the Lord will still honor those? Sure. I believe He put those on my heart to match my man. However, this isn’t about the 50 preferences, this is about the 3 requirements.

I think that it is very important to have some things that you stand on. I want to help you think through these things. How do you identify what yours are? Here are some categories to brainstorm and I challenge you to think about them without any certain person in mind:

  • Faith – This can also apply to just values in general. Do you need to be on the same page here or not? For me, the answer is yes, but that doesn’t have to be the case for you. What do you believe and how in line do you need them to be?
  • Family – Do you want children? This is a big one for many people. If you feel that you have a strong desire one way or the other, make sure you know that. Is it a “deal-breaker” if they are different?
  • Future – How flexible are you in how you see your future? Are there certain goals or ambitions you have that you need your spouse to align with or not?
  • Finances – Finances are one of the biggest stressors in a marriage. How important to you is stability in this area? This is a personal preference as well. What kind of lifestyle you want/can live with?  Is it important to you who would manage them?
  • Fun – Are there certain hobbies that are important to you? Travel, athleticism, or being out-doors, but even things like how you spend your free time? Home body vs. social, including role of alcohol, fitness, etc.
  • Physical – Are there things that are non-negotiable to you in this area? Including height or age preferences. Be careful with this one. I have learned through dating that a lot of what I wanted here moved from non-negotiable to preferences. It doesn’t mean that I don’t look for what I want with this category, but I stay open minded. Again, mine personally are not “non-negotiables.”  This can also include personality characteristics like sense of humor or communication style.

Now that you may have brainstormed a few things, remember what I stated earlier. I was able to narrow my list down to absolutes such that if this absolutely amazing man came along and didn’t have one or some of these, I would be willing to be flexible. There were 3 that I wouldn’t be flexible on. I could not see a relationship working without them. As you identify these, keep these points in mind:

  1. You have to know what they are. You have to know what you are unwilling to compromise on and then don’t compromise on them. I know that there will be people that will come along and encourage you to loosen up on those things. I know that because it happens to me all the time. Not once or twice – but constantly. I may need to disclose one or two of mine just to illustrate (I’ll do so in italics). // The first one is someone who shares my faith. This is non-negotiable for me.
  2. Then, you have to know WHY they’re non-negotiable, because sometimes situations that are “gray” will come along and you have to have to be able to ascertain if you will move forward in light of the ambiguity. Why is this important to you? Questions will come like // What if he has faith – but it’s just not the same as yours? And identifying the why – in my example // It shapes my worldview: How I love, how I forgive, how we would raise children, where I go for strength. I want to be able to rely on someone that I feel goes to the same place as I do for strength because I feel that I can fully then trust in that person as it pertains to my own life decisions.
  3. I encourage you to think about what it would be like to compromise this. If you were not on the same page in this area, what are the potential consequences? I think knowing this will be something that you may have to remind yourself of from time to time. // If we didn’t share the same faith, then there could be conflict in how we raise our children. Would church or community be valued for both of us? Inevitably, there will be hard times in marriage – loss of job/income, loss of a loved one, discontent/distance in the relationship, etc – if we don’t share the same faith, we may approach how to deal with it differently and it could cause one of us to not trust the other.
  4. It’s ok to hold these non-negotiables close to your chest. You can protect them – like your dreams for your life. In other words, you do not necessarily have to broadcast what they are. You have to know your audience. If you’re not careful or discerning in who you tell, there will be people who will try to talk you out of them and they may even suggest that these are the reasons you are still single. They will suggest that you introduce gray into these areas that really should be black & white. While they are not trying to hurt you and are surely trying to help you, they are in fact typically aligning you with their own standards – which may be different from yours. It is quite possible they will not understand. // Continuing with my own example, if I share the particular non-negotiable of “someone who shares my faith” with a friend who does not actually share my faith themselves, then that is not a value that they will necessarily agree with and by nature, may even debate why that is so important, possibly putting doubt or “gray” around what you had previously stated was highly important and something you don’t want to compromise. While it may not cause you to back down from that, it does make sense to keep this value as strong as possible to minimize the temptation to waiver in it. I think that we are naive to think that temptation to negotiate these values does not come. It absolutely comes and is why I am writing this.
  5. Don’t expect someone to change to match these non-negotiables. You have to wait for someone who already has them. NO ONE wants to be changed. No one wants to be a project. For me, if someone doesn’t have my non-negotiables, it doesn’t mean they never will, but it does mean that our time to date is not now. That’s all I know – it could be later if these things change on their own, but I can affirmatively say that it is not now. I cannot enter the relationship “on faith” that they will develop these things because if they never do, then well, I have negotiated what should have never been.

So, dear friends, my heart is for you to stop finding yourself in these relationships that will never work or that will cause you to back down from things that have shaped your identity.

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, then you won’t really know with confidence when you find it.

I have been single for these years because I know what my non-negotiables are and hadn’t met an available guy who’s interested in me that necessarily had all 3. Now, because I have met married guys that have them, and have maybe guy friends I’m not dating that have them, then I know confidently that they exist in someone over and over again. However, it also means that I have not wasted time in relationships with an inevitable end.

You may desire so badly to be in a relationship, to be loved, and to “have someone,” but I never wanted to be in a dating relationship that I was in for the sake of being in one, and once attached –  I couldn’t walk away without a huge heartbreak. I’d rather be single than be with someone that I’ve compromised something so valuable to me as my own value system.


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