You’re in a new relationship, and you’re starting to see some red flags, warning you that the relationship may not be a good bet, but does that mean you should leave? How many red flags does it take to make that decision? How do you know if the red flags mean future disaster, or are just a warning?

These are tough questions to answer. But if you’ve identified your red flags, you can begin to get clear about staying or leaving by looking at your negotiables and non-negotiables. These are the patterns of behavior in the relationship that either you can deal with (negotiable) or you can’t (non-negotiable). A negotiable item does not go against your integrity, but a non-negotiable does. For example, if you value honesty in your relationships, and your partner is continually lying to you, that is a non-negotiable. How could you really have a healthy relationship with someone whose very behavior goes against the essence of who you are? If you compromise on this behavior by deciding that sometimes lying is okay, you are cutting into the deepest part of your psyche. Non-negotiables are those issues that you will not compromise on because it goes deeply against your values.

Negotiables are not deal breakers and are those issues that don’t cut as deeply. For instance, maybe your partner is messy and you value neatness. However, messiness doesn’t cut into your integrity and though it may never change, you could live with it and not feel you’ve compromised your very essence.

It is important to know your negotiables and non-negotiables. That way, you can decipher which of these two categories the red flags fall into. If in your current relationship most of the red flags are non-negotiables, it will be nearly impossible to have a loving relationship for more than 2-3 months. Our integrity can only be compromised for a short period of time – the honeymoon phase – before we get angry and resentful of our partner. If your negotiables outweigh your non-negotiables, it makes sense to continue the relationship.

Use these 5 tips to help you identify your negotiables and non-negotiables:

1. Make a list of issues you know you can compromise on that your partner is displaying. “She’s late all the time, but I can live with that.”

2. Make a list of issues that you know you can’t compromise on. “He says he’s going to call me and either doesn’t or calls much later than planned. He always has an excuse, and I want someone who keeps their word 99 % of the time. I can’t see living with this much inconsistency.”
3. Make a list of issues you would compromise on within yourself for another person. “I know I’m messy, so I’d either get an organizer to help me with this or be willing to hire a housekeeper.”

4. Make a list of issues you could not and would not compromise on. “I am an independent woman, and could not be with a partner who wanted me to give up my work or my friends for him.”

5. If you’re not sure which category your red flags falls under, ask yourself this question: If this behavior never changed, could I live with it? You have to assume it may never change and that alone should help you determine if it’s a negotiable or non-negotiable.

If you know your non-negotiables, there’s still the issue of infatuation/love/passion/fantasy that clouds our judgment and overrides our good senses. Sometimes we ignore the signs of disaster and plunge forward anyway. That’s just called being human, so don’t beat yourself up if this happens. Nevertheless, knowing your negotiables and non-negotiables is important because when the fantasy dies down and you’re wondering what happened, you can look at your list as a reminder. This will help you pull back, reevaluate, and have a clearer sense of what to do. The negotiables and non-negotiables are exactly the framework and boundaries needed when trying to decide to stay or leave. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been involved, the negotiables and non-negotiables are always there to remind us of who we are, what we want, and what we don’t want.

Author's Bio: 

Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in O Magazine, Reader's Digest, and Sharon has appeared on local TV, appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. For more information, please visit her website at