Mind the Whiplash: Managing the Stress of Renegotiation

a bullrider riding a bull at a rodeo with a large audience. the rider is wearing a cowboy hat. the image catches him in mid-buck of the bull, so he has a startled expression on his face.
Image by Paula R. Lively / CC BY

So you’ve taken the leap into polyamory. Worked hard on your insecurities. Found partners to explore relationships with. Heck, you’ve even negotiated effective relationship agreements.

You’re living the dream!

And they all live happily ever after, right?

Well. Not so fast.

It’s very common to find that your relationship agreement works out differently in practice than it did in theory. And when this happens, it’s important to check back in and discuss. Even renegotiate the terms. Seth and I personally negotiated our agreement many times over the years. We started out as a package deal couple and after many months (and explorations) ended up as essentially relationship anarchists (more on that later).

As much as the rules of an agreement can comfort us, give us a sense of structure, a sense of control? Well, they can easily be just as oppressive. Especially when formed and applied without context.

Part of what is most exciting (and occasionally terrifying) about relationships with others is that we don’t quite know how they’ll play out before we enter them. We can have hopes We can have expectations. But we don’t really know.

They call them relationship dynamics for a reason — they’re in motion.

The context of those dynamics is the living, breathing, acting part of a relationship. It’s the pulse.

If we honor old rules without honoring the present context, the relationship we’re addressing as well as all the others that we have?

Especially when everyone involved agrees that it’s more than appropriate to break or bend them?

Well, we needlessly kill a relationship — steal its pulse — by assuming the rules know better than we do.

Checking Back in to Renegotiate

So you’ve road tested your agreement, and stuff needs tweaking. It’s a fairly simple matter if everyone bound by the agreement thinks the terms need to be renegotiated. Technically speaking, a renegotiation operates very similarly to an original negotiation, with the added benefit of being able to focus more on details and fine tuning.

But what if not everyone agrees that things need to be tweaked? What if the agreement is working well for some people and not others?

Well, that’s where it gets a bit tricky.

If You’re the One Who Wants to Change Things

  • State your observations clearly. Directly. Use as non-blaming language as possible.
  • Don’t dictate. Discuss.
  • And allow your partner/s some time to digest what you’ve said. Don’t expect instant agreement or an instant change.
  • If your partner asks for time and space to consider your request, grant it. Don’t pressure them to make a decision before they’ve had time to process what you’ve said.
  • Be open to counter-suggestions and compromise.
  • See Crucial Conversations for a good framework for handling difficult talks.

If You’re Being Asked to Change Things You Don’t Feel Need Changing

  • Avoid being defensive. If you start feeling defensive, take a deep breath and let the other person know in as calm a manner as possible.
  • Try to take the other person’s perspective. Consider how you would be feeling if you were in their shoes.
  • If you need time and space to consider what has been, ask for it. Kindly and calmly.
  • If you see a good compromise that can be made, suggest it.
  • If after reflection something is still unacceptable to you, be honest about that.

Remember: Renegotiation Isn’t a Red Flag, It’s Normal

And above everything else, everyone should remember that needing to revisit or renegotiate an agreement isn’t a red flag. It doesn’t mean there’s something “wrong” with the relationship. It’s fairly normal. Keeping this in mind can go a long way in helping the person asking for changes not be judgmental and the person being asked not be defensive.

 

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