Meet Melissa Klein, Keepler’s in-house dating expert! Melissa is a licensed marriage and family therapist, relationship coach, and all-around generous soul. In this installment of her monthly advice column, Melissa drops some insight on how to find balance in your relationships — whether navigating dealbreakers, creating personal space, or making time for friends. (Got a question for Melissa? Drop her a line!)
Is it okay to compromise on a deal-breaker if everything else about someone is amazing?
Hi Liliana! This is a question I often get asked in sessions with couples because at some point in the relationship one or both people are likely to feel this way.
An interesting definition I’ve come across regarding “compromise” is as follows: “an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.”
I like this definition because instead of accepting something that doesn’t gel with your values, it’s more about agreeing. I’ve often shared this definition with couples and individuals, and it’s allowed them to see this as a way to work together versus against each other.
The first thing I ask my clients to do is to metaphorically weigh their deal-breaker(s) with the positives of their relationship. Questions you can ask yourself: Does this deal-breaker weigh more than the good things your partner brings to the table? Would this deal-breaker cause you to be resentful towards your partner? If yes, then you probably have your answer.
For example, I had a client who wanted children but his partner did not. Ultimately his partner not wanting to be a parent was truly a deal-breaker for him, and he had to end things. He was devastated, but ultimately he knew he’d made the right decision for his future.
If your deal-breaker represents more of a want than a need, then I would suggest taking a deeper look. For instance, I’ve had clients come to see me right after leaving their partner (and fresh back into the dating world), just to realize that they had wished they stayed with “the one they let get away.” This is best described by the 80/20 concept—a relationship theory that states that you can only meet about 80% of your wants and needs within a healthy relationship, while the remaining 20% you need to provide for yourself. Sometimes people will leave their relationship in search of that 20%—just to realize they found their 20% but ultimately lost the 80%.
There will always be behaviors about ourselves or another person we want to change (we’re all human, after all), but if we can get most of our wants and needs met by our partner, and we’re overall happy and content, this likely signals a healthy relationship. The other 20 percent can be filled with friends, family, careers, hobbies, and ourselves.
How does one maintain a core emotional balance in their relationship?
I appreciate the fact that you mentioned the word “balance,” because in my many years of coaching I have found that if couples can find and practice balance in their relationship, it can truly be the key to a healthy and happy life together.
Emotional balance is of utmost importance because it allows us to stay grounded in our minds and hearts, no matter what situation may arise. Let’s face it: relationships can be wonderful but they can also have their hardships, so having tools for those tougher times is essential.
I like to envision a pie chart where each equal slice represents the various components of our core emotional balance system. While each slice may look different for different people, here’s a template I like to use: family, friends, career, exercise, hobbies, romantic relationships, and self-care.
The idea is to nurture each “slice” of our emotional pie chart continuously, rather than relying on just one area to satisfy our emotional needs. If we’re constantly turning to our romantic relationships and forgetting about all the other areas, we might end up putting too much expectation and responsibility on our partner’s shoulders (which could ultimately lead to contention).
By equally accessing other aspects of our pie chart when in need, we build a muscle that will only get stronger with practice. As this emotional balance muscle develops, we will intuitively know how to maintain core emotional balance in our romantic relationships.
So get out that pen and paper, and make yourself a good old-fashioned pie chart! Good luck—you’ve got this.
How do I share what I need in a relationship without asking someone to change who they are?
It’s easy to relate to this question because it’s nearly impossible to accept 100% of any one person, no matter how much we love them. In my experience, the best place to start is in asking ourselves the following questions:
- How important is it?
- How would we want someone to approach us if the situation were reversed?
The first question allows us to work through this potential issue before bringing it to our partner. Is this something we can work on within ourselves to just accept? Will accepting this about them help us grow?
In terms of the second question, we’d probably hope they would approach us with love and gentleness, leaving lots of room for honest conversation.
So we do just that! We think it through (and maybe even write it down) before approaching our partners. An example might sound like this:
“I am not here to change you. I love you, and I was hoping to have an open and loving conversation around our relationship when it’s convenient for you.”
From there, it’s really about being clear and concise about your wants and needs and having a goal in mind to where the conversation might lead. Ask yourself: will you table it for another day if emotions run high? Are you willing to let it go once you’ve shared your concerns if a solution can’t be reached? Remember that sometimes it’s not a one-and-done conversation; it might need to be ongoing.
Lastly, the ability to strike a balance between speaking up when necessary and accepting our partners as they are comes with time and practice. No need to be perfect, but even just being aware and using these tools can go a long way.
How do I not bail on my friends when I meet a new person I really like and want to spend all my waking hours with them?
How is it that we can meet someone and within such a short period have them turn into the sole focus of our attention? It’s happened to the best of us, and you are most certainly not alone.
First, it’s helpful to know that there is actual science behind this madness! In a nutshell, certain hormones get released in our brains when we are attracted to another person that trigger high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. While it’s an exciting time, research shows this phenomenon can also start to slowly edge out the other loved ones in our lives pretty quickly.
So how can we still love on our BFFs while allowing our brains to go gaga over this new and exciting person? I’ve got some simple and great tools for you:
- Put reminders on your phone to check in with your friends. A simple text or call can go a long way, especially when they know you’re seeing someone new.
- Keep the lines of communication open. If they reach out, make it a point to call or text them back promptly. They will assume you’re with your new honey, but not changing the way you normally communicate with them will keep them feeling loved.
- Keep scheduled events on the calendar and try to not cancel, especially if it’s to hang with your new boo. Nurture that bestie love—you’ll be happy you did.
Above all else, continue to remind your friends how much they mean to you. Reminding them they are valued and important—just as they always were—will go a long way.
My partner and I want to move in together but I am worried I will lose all sense of my personal space. What should I do?
You are in luck because I have personal experience with this question! My husband and I moved in together a long time ago, and we both went through some pretty big feelings around our own space. We moved out of our big places into what felt like a smaller space for two people. It seemed a bit nerve-wracking at first, but ultimately we were excited about taking this great big step together.
After the “honeymoon stage” of living together wore off, we quickly learned that it was imperative to have our own space both literally and figuratively. Creating these spaces in our house allowed us to have sacred areas to unwind, get creative, or just be alone (even if it was the corner of the living room — yep, you guessed it, that was where mine was!).
One of the most important things we did was make a point to allow the other person to be at home alone uninterrupted every week. When tensions ran high, we knew we could count on that uninterrupted “me-time.” I am happy to report that these tools worked pretty well for us for many years. We are happy we implemented them when we did because we’re now adjusting to life with a 9-month-old who has no idea what the term “personal space” means!
Lastly, remember that this is a big step to take together, and as humans, we often need time to adjust to our new normal. Cut yourselves some slack and enjoy the highs and lows of what’s to come and congratulations on taking this next step with your honey!