Premium Podcast Help Contact Dr. Laura Dr. Laura Designs Return to
Join Family Premium Login Family


The 4 Principles of Relationship Negotiation

Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA

Relationship negotiation doesn't sound very romantic or sexy, but it is the foundation upon which love is based. Without strong, conscious relationship negotiating skills, couples are bound for disappointment and frustration. Here are four principles of relationship negotiation.

Principle 1:  Fairness Is What You Create, Not What You Deserve

We live by a myth that life is supposed to be fair to us. If we follow "the rules," eat our vegetables, be nice, and work hard, we will be rewarded for our goodness. In relationships, the myth is if I am nice, loving, kind, and affectionate, my partner will reciprocate. There is just enough truth in the myth to make it believable, but it's mostly bogus. Life is not fair, and you are not entitled to fairness. There, I said it. If you want to be treated fairly, you have to work at it. Fairness is not some gift bestowed by your fairy godmother. On other hand, a good life is not about grabbing everything you can for yourself to the exclusion of everyone else. That's not fair either, to you or to those around you. There has to be a balance, and that balance is created by you through relationship negotiation. Fairness is what you create, not what you think you are entitled to because you are good person.

Principle 2:  You Have to Ask for What You Want

As infants and small children, we could not ask for what we needed. We could only make a lot of noise to get someone's attention. It was up to someone else to figure out whether we needed a diaper change or a bottle. Miraculously, Mom or Dad appeared and took care of us. While we learned to negotiate many other aspects of our lives as adults, we were never taught how to ask for what we needed and wanted in relationships. Instead, we carry a belief our unspoken needs will be recognized by our partner and met magically. Of course, when that doesn't happen, we feel rejected, frustrated, unloved, and neglected. The principle is you have to ask for what you want in your relationship. Whatever it is you want is not going to appear out of the blue. If you don't make your needs known to your partner, don't expect him or her to read your mind.

Principle 3: Don't Be Afraid of "No"

The corollary to having the courage to ask for what you want is having the courage to accept "No" with grace. Just because you ask, doesn't mean that you get. You must give your partner free choice without guilt-tripping him or her into capitulating to you. If you ask for a hug and your partner says, "No," you have a great opportunity to find out why. Maybe the timing is not right. Maybe the place is not right. Maybe your partner is in another mind-set at the moment. Your best response is not to get angry or feel rejected, but to negotiate. If not now, how about hug in 15 minutes. "No" is usually never the final answer. The secret is to welcome a "No" as an opportunity to negotiate something better later. Most importantly, "No" is rarely a rejection of you. If you take the time to find out what is going on, you will learn that the "No" is all about your partner, and not about you.

Principle 4: Doormats Are For Dirty Feet

Relationships are about power. When couples feel like the power is balanced, the relationship tends to be happier and more fulfilling. When one or the other partner feels disempowered, the relationship is in difficulty. Do not allow yourself to be a doormat. If your desire for love, attachment, and bonding is so great you suppress your own needs, you are in deep trouble. Learn how to take care of your needs by having the courage to say "No." This is the flip-side of Principle 3: Don't be afraid to say "No" when you need to. Be prepared for anger and rejection and question the maturity of the relationship if your partner throws a tantrum. 

Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA is an award-winning lawyer, author, speaker, and trainer. After a successful two-decade career as a trial lawyer, he devoted himself to understanding the root causes of human conflict. Today, he shares his knowledge with those interested in transforming their lives and relationships from drama and chaos to peace and love. For more strategies visit Permission granted for use on

Tags: Attitude, Behavior, Dating, Marriage, Relationships
< Back to Relationships Archives