Why I wrote a negotiable and non-negotiable list before dating

Developing feelings for my boyfriend when we first met a year ago was something that took me by complete surprise.

Man, when the feels hit, they hit hard. Before I knew it, I found myself wondering, now what? What do I do with these feelings of infatuation, admiration, care and concern that I don’t have for other people? 

Once you realise that a friendship may actually be more than just a friendship – when you find yourself suddenly desiring a certain person and being attracted to him – logic tends to leave you and you end up becoming this messy pool of emotions. 

In this situation, what could help guard our heart against making bad calls is to create what I call a Negotiable and Non-Negotiable List – a list of negotiables and non-negotiables to decide on about your would-be spouse.

Just note that this list is not for your future boyfriend or girlfriend – but your future husband or wife!

My list of negotiables and non-negotiables was an anchor that kept me from being blindsided by emotion. 

The world would have us know that dating is a matter of trial and error, and encourage us to move from partner to partner until we find the “right one” for us. But that to me is a haphazard approach to dating.

We need to have an idea of who might be “right” for us, even before we think about dating. To do that, we need to identify what is important to us and decide which traits are negotiable and which are non-negotiable for our future spouse. 

  • Negotiable traits: Though a potential spouse doesn’t have these traits, marriage is still a possibility.
  • Non-negotiable traits: If a potential spouse does not possess these, then marriage is off the table.

In my own example, family is important to me, so one non-negotiable was for him to prioritise and honour his family. 

Negotiable traits, on the other hand, are closer to preferences. I enjoy art and I love taking photographs, but that’s something I don’t mind making compromises on. So a spouse who also enjoys taking photos is a negotiable for me.

I’m really grateful that I wrote my list of negotiables and non-negotiables way before meeting my current boyfriend, because it was an anchor that kept me from being blindsided by emotion. 

It helped me objectively assess whether he was a potential partner. It reminded me of what I shouldn’t compromise on, regardless of how attracted I was to him, and it helped me see whether he aligned with my personal values and the things I thought of as important.

The three Cs of compatibility

 

Before I decided to date, I had to wrestle with my own perceptions about what a relationship really is. I used to think it was just unnecessary work for an already busy life. But I was led to eventually let go of these skewed perceptions and receive God’s vision of marriage – a covenantal relationship that glorifies God and reflects Christ and the Church.

While having preferences are fine – admittedly one of my mine was that he must love big dogs over small dogs – we shouldn’t let it be the priority. We need to be honest about whether we are dating with God’s purpose of marriage in mind, or dating for some other purpose.

I realised what was not negotiable to me was this: A husband who is broken before God, serves others and loves God above all things. 

Having understood that, I began to ask myself what kind of husband would make for a marriage that honours and uphold God. I realised what was not negotiable to me was this: A husband who is broken before God, serves others and loves God above all things. 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for a person to fulfil our needs and desires. But a person cannot do what only God can do – He’s the only one who can totally satisfy us. So we need to be real with ourselves as we evaluate what or who we prioritise in life before entering a relationship.  

So you want to get married

An important caveat: This list shouldn’t be treated as a guarantee for a perfect relationship. My current boyfriend met all my “criteria”, but expressing the love Christ has for the Church is something we’re still learning to do. There’s grace to give.

In our journey, I learnt to stop holding idealised expectations of what a boyfriend should be or do. Instead, I try to see him the way Jesus does and love him all the same.  

Any relationship boils down to two very flawed people. I don’t think you can ever be 100% sure or 100% equipped and ready to enter a relationship. But we can have greater clarity on who we want to marry.

Let’s be real about why we want to date and guard our hearts better, so we can build a relationship that’s centred on Christ!

THINK + TALK

  1. What is the purpose of a relationship?
  2. How would you know your relationship honours God?
  3. What would some of your negotiables and non-negotiables be? 
  4. Before looking elsewhere, how can you grow to become The Right One?
About the author

Justine Ocampo

Justine doesn't wear a watch, but she's always just-ine time, just-ine case you were wondering.