How Do I Successfully Negotiate Boundaries in My Romantic Relationships?

Note that the following question was answered in greater detail on the embedded podcast episode above. For more in-depth discussions to questions like the below and more on the topics of relationships, sexuality, roommates, workplace, health, culture, politics, and everything in between, subscribe to Hannah and Matt Know It All on iTunes.

Listener Gestalt Asked:

I am realizing that my idea of "The One" is someone who shares my same boundaries (as defined by this article from Esther Perel, “Why successful couples have boundaries”) but I'm learning that it's not uncommon for couples to negotiate. What are your thoughts? Any tips/advice on how to go about discussing/defining boundaries with a partner (casual or serious)?

The Know It Alls Answered:

The article in question here is about boundaries, and espouses how important they are, especially at the outset of a new relationship. Perel discusses how relationships are forged on boundaries from day one, giving examples of the negotiation of what is in and what is out: who you spend time with and how and when, what is shared and what isn’t, whether the couple goes to bed at the same time, whether finances are combined, who the holidays are spent with, etc.

This is an interesting listener question because those boundaries—how your lives mesh with each other—are the foundational make-or-break things in a relationship. The goal of setting boundaries should be to make sure that nobody has to compromise on anything that would result in making them extremely unhappy. Compromise is okay in some places and not in others, and everybody’s “no compromise” issues are different.
 

Why OkCupid Works So Well for Setting Boundaries—Online and Offline

One of the things we love about the dating website OkCupid is the ability to answer questions about your boundaries and preferences and how important they are to you; it’s such an amazing time saver to be able to look at the answers other users have given on those questions most important to you and then filter out people whom you can’t see yourself having in a relationship with for the long-term.


The goal of setting boundaries should be to make sure that nobody has to compromise on anything that would result in making them extremely unhappy.

But even in the convenient world of online dating, it’s beneficial to take the time to think about and even write down these kinds of questions for yourself, even going the extra mile of rating their importance to you. Questions like:

  • Do you need to have a partner who wants or doesn’t want kids?

  • Who practices a particular religion?

  • Who is a vegetarian?

  • Who is a morning person?

  • Who is willing to move for you to pursue your career goals?


In order to find someone you can have a good life with, you need to know what a good life looks like to you.

As polyamorous people, we (perhaps unsurprisingly) don’t really ascribe to the idea of “The One.” There are billions of people on the planet, so there are likely many people with whom you could potentially have a successful relationship and life. Because it’s really unlikely that someone is going to 100% fit the picture you painted yourself of your perfect partner, you’re going to end up compromising on different things with different people. However, it IS important to try to find a partner who can make you the happiest you, which means it’s important to know what your deal breakers are.
 

What Are Your Relationship Deal Breakers?

While most things are negotiable to some extent, there are a few things that are pretty black and white with no real space for compromise, and there will likely be some that aren’t negotiable just because they are really and truly that important to you. Some of the more weighty considerations:

  • Wanting to have kids, for instance, is not something that is really negotiable. Either you want children or you don’t; you can’t KIND OF have kids.

  • The role that faith plays in your life can also often fall into the non-negotiable space, especially if one partner is deeply observant and wants a partner who will share those core beliefs with them.

  • Where a person is happy living is an issue that can be a deal breaker—if one partner wants to live out in the country and one wants to live in the middle of the city, the suburbs aren’t a compromise; they’re a solution that will make everyone involved miserable.


Know your “must haves” and your “nice to haves,” and be really honest with yourself about which things belong on which lists.

It is, however, often possible to compromise on things like family holidays (where you can spend half with one family and half with the other and alternate years or pick based on family values)—the solutions may not be perfect for both of you, but some compromise 15 days a year is probably worth 350 other days of enjoying each other’s company. Issues like going to bed at the same time or merging finances are definitely things where a conversation can and should be had to find something that works for both partners. It’s important to look for red flags, such as unwillingness to compromise or lack of transparency, but it’s much easier to do that when having open conversations.

In terms of “The One”: as you realize what your absolute needs are and what your “nice to have but negotiable” things are, you’ll start to see a lot more potential “The Ones.” In HGTV speak, know your “must haves” and your “nice to haves,” and be really honest with yourself about which things belong on which lists.

While it’s nice to have partners who like the same things as you, having a partner who also practices yoga or like the same TV shows as you do is not necessarily essential to a successful relationship. How frequently you want to have sex, however, could be a deal breaker—if one of you wants to have sex every day, and one would be fine with twice a year, one of you is likely to end up really unhappy.


Anything that is a definite deal breaker is worth bringing up on the first date if you’re looking for more than a casual sexual connection.

What your deal breakers are might be different when you’re looking at serious versus casual dating, but it’s good to be aware that casual dating can often turn into serious dating whether you want it to or not, so things that don’t seem like deal breakers up front might actually cause problems later on—so be honest with yourself about those possibilities.
 

Setting Boundaries Is so Important, It’s Non-Negotiable

Ultimately, err on the side of discussion and disclosure. Anything that is a definite deal breaker is worth bringing up on the first date if you’re looking for more than a casual sexual connection. It might not be super romantic, but, honestly, if someone’s reaction to talking about things that are important to you is “whoa, this is too much,” they probably aren’t looking for anything serious anyway—otherwise they have as much of a stake in making sure that you’re compatible as you do.

“Nice to haves” are probably easier to discuss on an as-they-come-up basis; you don’t need to negotiate every detail of your prospective lives together up front. If you’re doing (or planning on doing) something that a reasonable person might be bothered by—like getting lunch with an ex—it’s always a good idea to check in with your partner first to avoid unnecessary conflict, but that’s about it in terms of due diligence.

The main takeaway is that you shouldn’t put yourself in a position where you’re likely to get your heart broken or have someone force you into compromising your values because you weren’t on the same page from day one. There are way, way too many other fish in the sea (as they say), so don’t waste your time on someone who won’t make you happy!

What Can Liberals Do to Harness Their Post-Election Rage?

Note that the following question was answered in greater detail on the embedded podcast episode above. For more in-depth discussions to questions like the below and more on the topics of relationships, sexuality, roommates, workplace, health, culture, politics, and everything in between, subscribe to Hannah and Matt Know It All on iTunes.

Listener Andre Asked:

What's the best way for leftists to harness the current wave of anti-conservative fervor sweeping liberals and centrists, and not let it peter out into individualist wheel-spinning like what happened after the '08 election?

The Know It Alls Answered:

We love this question, because in terms of things we’re qualified to speak to, at least 90% of our respective Facebook feeds are very politically charged or activism-related, so we obviously have some really strong feelings on these topics.

That said, we’re NOT qualified to answer this; we don’t know how to keep a movement going on our own and have obviously never been in a position to have to do that!

However, we tried to answer this to the best of our abilities.
 

If You Are Worried, You’re Not Alone

Our gut reaction is that the most important thing to focus on in this moment is intersectionality. We need everyone to continue to show up for one another’s causes, and not just the ones that affect them directly—what we need is A MOVEMENT, not a bunch of small movements that occasionally overlap. In order to drive any kind of systemic change, we all need to care about the things that are wrong in our country, regardless of whether they affect our lives personally.

It’s also important to remember that activism is nothing new. There has always been activism. There have been groups fighting on all sorts of issues for as long as there have been humans who have been treated unfairly (so, always). It’s important at this juncture not to try to reinvent the wheel, but to find out who is already doing the work and support them.


We need everyone to continue to show up for one another’s causes, and not just the ones that affect them directly.

Additionally, it is important to remember that advocacy shouldn't only happen in response to crises; we, as residents of a democratic nation, are obligated to participate in our government if we are to expect it to work for us. One resource we’d like to point out is the Indivisible Guide which is a newish resource released in the aftermath of the Trump election that uses Tea Party tactics to help people actively advocate to their members of Congress on the things they care about. There’s a lot of concern about what people are doing or can be doing now that might ACTUALLY WORK, and connecting to existing movements and your elected representatives are the simplest, most effective ways to drive change.
 

A Better Tomorrow Is Not All or Nothing

One point we really want to drive home is the need for us all to be willing to compromise and work with people who share a common enemy, if not identical goals. Remember that our government is supposed to represent the needs of ALL of its people, so you may not get exactly what you want, but that doesn't mean that you can or should take yourself out of the game.

During this election cycle, a lot of people who weren't wild about Hillary Clinton as a candidate chose to “take their ball and go home” rather than choose what they considered to be the lesser of two evils—which was partially responsible for us ending up with just straight up evil running our country.

In continued activism at this point in time, we have to remember that a win is moving things back in a direction where people are safe and not having their rights stripped away, not necessarily putting a super liberal, uncompromising candidate into office. The reality is that very few people are 100% represented by the platform of any one political party or candidate, but the system that governs us requires that we come together to elect a group of people to lead us, and if everyone who is not 100% represented chooses not to participate, we’re leaving it to a very small group of people to make our choices for us.
 

Use Your Voice—And Your Vote

We have to hold the people in power accountable—it’s not about party, it’s about policy, and we need to support candidates and groups that will move forward policies that we believe are safe and fair and correct regardless of who put their name on them.


Your representatives work for you, regardless of their party affiliation.

Part of the reason we’re in such trouble right now is because things have become so divided along party lines that representatives refuse to support measures headed by someone on their opposing party even if they agree with the policy itself, just so that they can say that they haven’t compromised. That’s a really dangerous, black and white way of looking at things, and it’s not how our government was designed to work.

Your representatives work for you, regardless of their party affiliation: demand and attend town halls, make phone calls and visits, write emails and letters—insist on being heard on what you, as their constituent, care about.

TL;DR: to harness the political energy that is happening right now,

  1. Get involved in local and state politics as well as national/remember that president isn’t the only elected office that matters;

  2. Work intersectionally and continue to be active on issues that don’t affect you directly, because they are affecting people who are on your side, and

  3. Don’t think that the only way to win is to get 100% of what you want.

There is no victory in the battle of good versus evil; evil will always be there. All that we can do is continuously push it back, look out for each other, and continue to fight for the common good. This thought brought to you by watching too much Angel, but for real though, there will always be another battle to fight, so pace yourself and commit to being in it for the long haul.