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

In “Relationship Deal-making, Part 1,” I introduced you to Karen and Henry. While Karen loved Gary, and Henry loved Hannah, each had the desire to shift the love they experienced in the present into a committed life-partner relationship that would last into the future.

It is a common experience among singles to confront life factors that can conflict with the love they have for a dating partner, thus forcing them to decide what compromises, or “trade-offs,” to make in order to make theirs a relationship that lasts. As I presented in Part 1, a life partnership becomes, in essence, a “deal” created between two people, requiring negotiation and agreement on a number of important life issues. So the ability to live with the one you love indeed becomes “a big deal.”

Karen and Henry each faced the dilemma of how to move their relationships forward towards commitment. Here’s how they identified the trade-offs and deal-breakers in their relationships, and went about cutting the best deal.

Karen’s dissatisfaction in her relationship with Gary motivated her to solve the problem by addressing it directly. She told Gary that she loved him and wanted to spend more time together, and Gary said he felt the same way. She then suggested that they make a schedule for being together, similar to one he uses for visiting his son. Gary responded by telling Karen that he felt she was pressuring him. He said he was doing the best he could. She explained how she supported his business and parenting endeavors, but needed more time alone with him in order to continue in the relationship. Gary said his needs were to be with Karen as much as possible too, but he could not guarantee that he could stick to a schedule.

Karen noticed that Gary perceived her as a nag, which was clearly not an outcome she wanted. But she could understand why he reacted to her in this way if he was incapable of meeting her need to spend more quality time together. On the other hand, Karen perceived Gary as giving her an ultimatum —this is all that I can give you, take it or leave it. Karen understood after their conversation that the deal to stay in the relationship required her to accept the time he gave her, and trade-off working on a future together. Otherwise, they would be in a continuous power struggle. Even though she loved Gary, this deal was ultimately unacceptable to Karen — Gary’s inability to make her a higher priority was enough of a deal-breaker to end the relationship.

One night at dinner with Hannah, Henry brought up his concerns about her dependency on her mother and sisters. He shared his vision of the type of marriage he wanted – one in which each of them had their primary loyalty to the other, committed to creating a separate loving home that met their mutual needs. He specifically stated his discomfort with Hannah’s “ultra-closeness” to her mother and sisters; he then asked Hannah if she was willing to separate from them in order to create this type of loyal partnership with him. Hannah listened and thought about Henry’s request. She admitted that it would be challenging to disengage from her mother and sisters, but that with his love and support (which she honestly wanted and shared), she could make their partnership her number one priority.

One week later, seeing how Hannah’s behavior was consistent with what she said, Henry proposed marriage,
and Hannah accepted.

You may remember from Part 1 that Hannah initially dismissed Henry’s concerns about her attachment to her family, and even suggested that he take advantage of the benefits such closeness could provide. But Henry had rejected this type of relationship with her family as a condition for staying with Hannah, i.e., he wasn’t willing to make the “trade-off,” and instead 1) shared his feelings with Hannah and b) asked for what he wanted. Hannah herself then had to weigh the pros and cons of the deal as presented to her by Henry. She understood that to create the loyal partnership that they both envisioned, she would have to “trade-off” her dependency on her family.

An interesting aspect of love is that, especially in the initial stages, singles can be oblivious to the life factors that could potentially become obstacles to their relationship’s future. “But we’re in love! We have to be together! We’ll work things out!”

And that is exactly what the challenge becomes — to “work things out” by communicating and negotiating and compromising to determine what you can and cannot live with, seeing if you can create a pathway to love into the future. It doesn’t sound “romantic,” but neither does nagging or engaging in power struggles. And that’s why love IS a “big deal” — the deal of a lifetime.

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