How to Agree on Sensitive Issues in a Relationship

If you're in a relationship, you might tend to assume that there are certain implicit agreements between you. However, this often isn't the case. In fact, on occasions, conflicts often appear that you didn't even know existed. It's important to know how to deal with these kinds of situations.
How to Agree on Sensitive Issues in a Relationship
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 26 September, 2022

Have you ever found yourself in a really uncomfortable or stressful situation in your relationship? For example, maybe you felt obliged to do something you didn’t want to do. These kinds of experiences don’t tend to be talked about much. That’s because it’s often assumed that, in the universe of emotional ties, flexibility is higher than it really is.

As a matter of fact, you’d probably be surprised at the number of everyday situations that require explicit mutual agreement from both parties in a relationship. However, when you think about it, many of your problems in the field of love come from an overload of unaddressed frustrations, annoyances, and anxieties.

Consent and agreement in emotional relationships involve more than simply giving permission for a specific activity or behavior. A joint discussion is necessary as to why certain behaviors are better to restrict or not carry out at all. It’s also important that there’s understanding and respect for the consensual limits that favor well-being in a relationship.

Consent implies knowing how to communicate in each situation, thus knowing what your partner wants and doesn’t want. Therefore you both avoid assuming that everything is permissible.

boy and girl talking about consent in affective relationships
Mutual respect requires knowing what the limits are that each one of us has in each situation.

Agreeing on sensitive issues in a relationship

When we talk about the issue of consent, the first thing we might think of is the sexual aspect. This can be a controversial field as it’s common to think that both partners in a relationship want the same thing. Nevertheless, this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, it’s an area in which it’s extremely important to reach satisfactory agreements. To do this, both partners must express their wishes and needs.

However, consent in relationships extends beyond sex. For instance, imagine a situation in which your loved one has the habit of using you as a wall on which they project all their negativity. In other words, they pile all their frustration, hatred, and resentment caused by their work or their family, on you.

Naturally, being a partner means leaving space to share your mutual problems and offer support to each other. That said, there are emotional limits that must be respected so one partner doesn’t become overloaded with the other’s problems. Indeed, you should never be used as a receptacle for all your partner’s problems. This kind of behavior can lead to an immense overload of stress onto you.

Therefore, let’s look at the kinds of boundaries and agreements that should be agreed by a couple.

Personal privacy is a right that’s often violated

As we mentioned earlier, many relational tensions are often the result of behaviors that go beyond our limits. These are certain behaviors that we don’t know how to stop and that, sooner or later, overpower our patience, dignity, and well-being.

There are countless examples. That said, there’s one specific area where disagreements are frequent and where implied consent is often assumed – privacy.

  • Consent in a relationship involves respect for privacy in all its forms. Perhaps your partner has the habit of picking up your cell phone and reading your messages, or they use your personal computer or tablet. They may even have the habit of sharing your problems with their friends and family. Or, maybe they come into the bathroom when you’re in there, and you don’t like it.

All of these situations related to intimacy require adequate communication in order to agree on what’s permissible and what isn’t. There must be respect, understanding, and compliance with these marked boundaries.

Being a couple doesn’t give carte blanche for us to share everything with our partners. There are certain areas that require privacy and intimacy and which we don’t want to share.

Emotional boundaries and the blurred lines that separate them

Boundary violations in a relationship are linked to the emotional realm. However, they can generate certain contradictions. Earlier, we gave the example of the partner dealing with work stress or family disputes. As a couple, you should agree on the most appropriate time to talk about such worries.

After all, you don’t always feel willing and able to listen to your partner as they wish and deserve. Furthermore, you must take into account the type of communication you use in these situations. That’s because, often, the emotional charge associated with the problems is so intense that, almost without realizing it, you end up using violent communication toward each other.

Research conducted by Kobe College (Japan) indicates that emotional contagion within interpersonal relationships is extremely high. Therefore, it’s necessary to set limits in this aspect. Indeed, although it’s okay to share problems, we must take care of the way we do it.

You can listen to your partner’s problems, but you’re not obliged to solve what’s happened to them. You can provide emotional support and validation, but you won’t always be in the mood and feel willing to do so. Therefore, it’s best to agree when it’s better to talk about certain things.

couple representing the need to reach consent in affective relationships
In sexual relations, there must also be mutual consent.

“Do I have my partner’s consent to have physical contact or sexual interaction with them whenever I want?” As shocking as it may seem, not all partners ask this question. In fact, it tends to be assumed that the mere fact of being in a relationship means the agreement of the other is implicit.

It’s never a good idea to assume or take things for granted, especially in a relationship. Consent in affective relationships also requires knowing if the other person wants to have sex or practice certain sexual techniques. Therefore, communication in this area is a priority, as is clarifying and articulating limits.

In essence, it’s true that when you’ve been with a partner for a long time, you usually settle into a relational routine. For this reason, it’s easy to assume that everything is allowed. You might neglect the important act of going back and actively monitoring those agreements that you built earlier in the relationship. So if you haven’t done so or if you’ve forgotten this important aspect, take action now.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Jawer, Michael. (2013). “Our Boundaries, Our Selves: Emotional Thresholds and Personal Psychosomatic Health” – in Journal of Interpersonal Biology Studies.

  • Kimura, Masanori & Daibo, Ikuo & Yogo, Masao. (2008). The Study of Emotional Contagion From the Perspective of Interpersonal Relationships. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal. 36. 27-42. 10.2224/sbp.2008.36.1.27.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.