Relationship Deal-Making – Shifting Love Into a Long-Term Commitment, Part 1 of 2

Loving someone doesn’t always translate into a relationship. This is the hard cold truth singles often have to accept if they ultimately want a healthy life-partner relationship. That’s because love can’t survive alone and pure in a world complicated by so many other elements. We all have jobs or careers, family relationships, spiritual practices and historical emotional experiences that not only define who we are, but also affect how we want to live our lives.

Shifting the love you experience with someone into a healthy, committed relationship is often more challenging than we would want it to be. After all, once you find someone to love, shouldn’t the rest just fall into place? The answer, unfortunately, is “no.”

A life partnership is, in essence, a “deal” created between two people requiring negotiation and agreement on a number of important life issues. Therefore, being able to live with the one you love indeed becomes a “big deal.” I have seen singles struggle in their relationships when confronted with life factors that challenge their love for one another.

“Cutting a deal” is the phrase I use to describe the process of reconciling what you’re getting and not getting in a relationship. Compromises, or “trade-offs” are frequently necessary when cutting a deal. But if there are too many trade-offs, they can become “deal-breakers” — reasons for ending the negotiations and, ultimately, the relationship.

Here in Part 1, I present examples of two couples who experienced how “love is a big deal.” Then in Part 2, I’ll show how these couples implemented the best problem-solving and decision-making techniques to understand the trade-offs they faced, and cut the best possible relationship deal.

Karen and Gary met online, and began an exclusive relationship after a few weeks. They enjoyed being together and recognized and appreciated each other’s intelligence and sensitivity. They tried to be together as much as possible, but this turned out to be limited due to Gary’s unstable business situation, as well as his need to spend time with his teenage son. As much as they loved each other, Karen felt that spending time together always competed with Gary’s business or son. They hardly went out to restaurants or movies or the theatre because Gary didn’t have either the time or the money, which displeased Karen. After dating for 8 months, she felt frustrated that their relationship was not progressing towards a commitment, so she asked Gary how he saw their future together. Gary loved Karen, but could not promise anything would change; he had to keep working to build his business and support his son. Karen was understanding and supportive, but after another 3 months, not much had changed. She continued to feel unhappy about not being a priority in Gary’s life and his inability to work on building a future together.

Karen recognized that she had to decide if she could accept the trade-off of feeling neglected in exchange for the love and attention Gary was able to, and did, occasionally give her. The deal she had to cut to be in the relationship also required that she trade off working towards, and securing, a future together, in exchange for loving each other in the present.

Henry and Hannah met at a synagogue event. They shared the same devotion to their religious practices, which provided them with many holidays, classes and rituals to spend together. Since most of Henry’s family was out of state, he would spend

many holidays with Hannah and some part of her extended family. After 6 months of dating exclusively (with the goal of marriage clearly understood), Henry took Hannah on a trip to meet his family. Upon their return, Henry began to feel especially worried about marrying Hannah, given what he saw as her over-dependence on her mother and sisters. He told her his concerns about her family’s constant involvement in her life. Hannah dismissed his concerns, and said that he would be welcomed into her family and could benefit from the same love and advice she’s received from them her whole life. Henry felt uneasy about this closeness and potential lack of independence.

Henry recognized that he had to accept Hannah’s close relationships with her mother and sisters as a trade-off for being together. The deal he had to cut to be with Hannah meant he’d have to trade off some independence. While he and Hannah had made some decisions about their relationship on their own, he worried that Hannah might always be inclined to ask for her mother’s and sisters’ advice, at the expense of

their privacy and autonomy.

These examples are meant to demonstrate the importance of paying attention now to what could be the source of the demise of your relationship later. Even though it seems contrary to being in love, doing so protects us from experiencing even worse suffering in the future.

Knowing all of this, how does one go about determining if factors other than love become deal-breakers? Since cutting a deal to be together in the future requires decisions about trade-offs in the present, good decision-making and problem-solving are essential. Using these skills now will also help couples to communicate, negotiate and compromise throughout the course of their life partnership.

So while you might accuse me of leaving you hanging, stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll describe how Karen and Henry used specific problem-solving and decision-making techniques to identify the deal-breakers in their relationships, and attempt to cut the best possible deals with the ones they love.

© Copyright 2005 Janice D. Bennett, Ph.D.

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