Relationships can be tricky. You might find yourself wanting to give in to everything your partner wants, but it’s important that your partner is not walking all over you.
How do you put your foot down in a relationship?
You put your foot down in a relationship by clearly and respectfully stating your expectations on an issue and the consequence if those expectations are not met. For example, you might say that you expect complete loyalty and no cheating in the relationship. The consequence might be ending the relationship.
In this article, we’ll talk about how to put your foot down in a relationship without getting into an argument with your partner.
What Does It Mean To Put Your Foot Down in a Relationship?
Putting your foot down in a relationship means that you are taking charge, taking a stand, or setting expectations. Usually, you put your foot down about an issue of high importance to you, such as loyalty. Many times the issue is one you do not like or one that you want to avoid.
Let’s say one day out of nowhere your significant other asks you if you want to get a dog or move to a very cold climate.
You may not want a pet and feel strongly about not having a pet.
In this case, you might calmly and respectfully tell your partner that you do not want a pet now and will never want a pet. Then you discuss how both of you think and feel about the issue, mention any consequences, and seek agreement with your partner.
Ideally, the both of you will understand and agree.
When I talk about “putting your foot down in a relationship,” I’m talking about setting expectations.
Sometimes, partners want to exert control, gain control, or regain control in a relationship. In my experience, any effort to control another person in a relationship is unhealthy.
Efforts to control predictably backfire because most people don’t like to feel controlled. I wrote about this in my article, Who Wears the Pants in the Relationship? (Solved).
Mutual respect and clear expressions of your wants and needs will be much more effective.
How To Put Your Foot Down in a Relationship (Step by Step)
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As someone who has taught evidence-based relationship skills for 13 years, I’ve learned a proven process for setting expectations.
I’ve outlined this process below. Feel free to bookmark this page or otherwise save a copy so that you can refer to it later.
First, let’s look at an overview of the process. Then we’ll break down each major step so that you know exactly what to do in your relationships. By the way, you can use this process for any relationship—friends, family, co-workers, kids, and romantic partners.
Here’s an overview of the process:
- Express your expectations early
- Express your expectations clearly
- Discuss consequences
- Seek understanding and agreement
- Follow through with consequences
Now, let’s briefly dig into each step for even more clarity.
Express your expectations early
The earlier you express your expectations in a relationship, the better.
If you wait until later in the relationship, you may not get your needs met or the other person might be surprised by what you want. That might cause unnecessary arguments that could have been easily avoided.
For example, early in your relationship you might make it clear that you want to go out on dates.
If your partner knows that you want to go on dates regularly, they are more likely to meet that desire. If they don’t know how important going out on dates is to you, they might unintentionally cause hurt or disappointment because they didn’t know.
It’s pretty common for one partner in a relationship to get upset because the other person didn’t meet an expectation that other partner never understood.
This happens because the partner with the expectation hoped their partner would do what they wanted without a clear expression of the need. This rarely happens.
If you want your partner to meet your wants and needs in a relationship, clearly and respectfully express them as early as possible.
Express your expectations clearly
Clear expression of your wants and needs is just as important as sharing them early.
Vague, broad, or confusing expectations will not get you what you want. Instead, be as clear as possible with what you want your partner to do or not to do in your relationship. Clarity helps avoid resentments.
For example, if you want your partner to go on more dates with you or help more around the house, tell them that instead of expecting it to happen naturally.
It’s less likely for someone to do what they don’t know is expected of them than when they know exactly what you want in detail, perhaps even with examples of demonstrations.
Taking our “going on dates” example, you might let your partner know that you want to go on at least one date per week as long as you are together. You might further explain that the date does not need to be elaborate or expensive. As long as one of the two of you plans a day or night out doing anything, then your need will be met.
If you really want to nail clear expectations, you can give examples.
You can say, “We don’t have to go to fancy dinner. We can have a picnic in the park, go to a drive-in movie, or explore a nearby small town.”
The more clearly you detail what you want, the more likely your partner will be able to meet your want or need. To increase attraction and commitment, you can also use obsession phrases like the Mutual Pleasure phrase, the Subconscious Bonding phrase, or the Attraction Spinner phrase.
I unloaded 40 examples of these phrases in my article, Obsession Phrase Master List (w/ 40 Full Examples).
Talk about possible consequences
Expectations with consequences are more likely to be met.
Therefore, if you want to increase the odds of your partner meeting your desires, attach consequences to your expectations. Most of the time, the consequence will be your dissatisfaction and disappointment. For a partner that truly cares about you, this will be enough.
However, for a partner that does not care about you, no consequence will be enough.
On more serious topics, such as loyalty and honesty, a more serious consequence might make sense. For example, for many couples, cheating is unacceptable. The consequence of cheating might be ending the relationship (breaking up or divorce).
Adding consequences might seem odd in a relationship. I understand that perspective. However, I think all relationships include consequences. It’s just that not everyone clearly lays them out to their partner in advance.
The relationships that last usually clearly express their wants and needs upfront, along with stating clear consequences. Another term for this is “setting boundaries” in your relationship.
If partners do not receive consequences for their behaviors (even your disappointment), they are les likely to fulfill your needs.
Seek understanding and agreement
The next important step in the process is to seek understanding and agreement with your partner.
Ideally, the two of you would express your thoughts and feelings on the matter, fully understand and completely agree. Then both you and your partner would fulfill each other’s needs.
This can happen but it typically doesn’t happen perfectly all the time.
Everyone is flawed. No partner can meet 100% of your needs all the time exactly the way you want. Even if they try, they will fail at least some of the time.
What’s important is that the other person understands your expectations, especially those nonnegotiable expectations like loyalty and trust.
Hopefully, your partner will understand what you want, why you want it, and then agree to meet that need as much as humanly possible. Keep in mind, the other person must also clearly understand the consequence for not meeting the need.
Follow through with consequences
Why is it important to follow through with consequences? It’s important to follow through with consequences because it shows your partner that you are serious about your expectations.
For example, if someone lies to you after you clearly laid out your expectations and consequences about lying, then you might break up with them.
Another way to put this concept is that consequences not followed through lead to expectations that do not get followed.
If your partner lies and cheats without consequences (even after you threatened to break up with them), they have very little motivation to change their behavior.
When you follow through with big or little consequences, you let the other person know that you are serious.
Think about it in terms of expectations at a job. If your boss asked you to come in on time, but never gave you any consequences for coming in late, you may not be as motivated to make it to work on time.
However, if your boss writes you up every time you come in late, you will be much more likely to arrive on time.
As a quick summary of these ideas (and some added points), check out this video on how to put your foot down in a relationship (aka, setting healthy boundaries in your relationship):
When To Put Your Foot Down About in Your Relationship?
Timing is important when you want to know how to put your foot down in a relationship.
The best time to put your foot down in a relationship is at the beginning of a relationship. The earlier, the better.
It is better to put your foot down about something at the beginning of a relationship than in the middle or end. Why? Because the earlier you put your foot down about something, the more willing and open-minded your partner will be to meeting your needs.
The longer a relationship goes on without any clear expectations or boundaries, the harder it is to express and follow through with them. After weeks, months or years in a relationship, you might face all kinds of assumptions and resistance.
What To Put Your Foot Down About in Relationships (9 Examples)
What you put your foot down in a relationship about is completely up to you. I suggest setting expectations about any important topic or area in your life.
Here are some possible topics to consider:
- Trust & loyalty
- What you consider cheating
- Health-related issues like smoking, drugs, alcohol, etc.
- Snooping in your phone or other accounts
- Intimacy/sex (when, how often, etc.)
- Sharing expenses
- Sharing chores
- Where you want to live in the future
- What you want out of the relationship (eventually), such as possible marriage and kids
If the topic or value is important to you, it’s best to talk about it upfront so that your partner knows what you want and so you don’t surprise them months later. Timing is important. Some topics, such as marriage and kids, can potentially wait a few weeks or months. However, I often bring up the topics early in my dating and relationships so that there are no surprises.
It’s just as important for your partner to clearly express their expectations on the topics most important to them.
Where Should You Put Your Foot Down?
If you want to know how to put your foot down in a relationship, choosing the right location is critical.
In my opinion and experience, it’s best to discuss your expectations in private.
Most of the time, the discussion will include personal issues that may feel more comfortable to talk about in private settings, like your home or apartment. However, having these conversations over a meal in a semi-private restaurant might also work just fine.
I also suggest that you hold these discussions with just the two of you.
Getting others involved, such as friends or family, can make the conversations less comfortable and more complex. One partner may feel overwhelmed or “ganged up on.”
For all of these reasons, I highly recommend private settings with just the two of you.
How To Put Your Foot Down Later in a Relationship
What if you didn’t bring up an expectation early in the relationship but you still want to bring it up? Or, what if you discovered or developed a new expectation later in the relationship? How do you put your foot down in that circumstance?
When you apply the strategies in this article for how to put your foot down in a relationship after a few weeks or months, you can’t just say “I want ___.” You have to be able to negotiate your desires. Some people might argue that this is difficult, but it’s not impossible. It takes time and patience on both sides of the equation.
If you are unsure how to communicate with your partner about what you want in the relationship, follow these guidelines:
- Approach the conversation with gentleness, realizing that your partner might be surprised.
- Acknowledge that you are bringing up a new desire that you didn’t express earlier. If you feel it’s warranted, you might consider apologizing for not bringing it up earlier.
- Prepare for your partner to not fully understand or agree.
- Avoid ultimatums where you threaten to end the relationship.
- Listen to and validate your partner’s feelings (especially if they disagree).
- Clearly express your desires in a loving manner.
This process for how to put your foot down in a relationship does not guarantee that your partner will agree to meet your every expectation. However, this process paves a possible pathway to a peaceful resolution of your newfound needs.
If you feel like you need extra help, you might also check out relationship coaches. My two favorite relationship coaches offer lots of free advice and more personalized help in certain circumstances.
Final Thoughts on “How To Put Your Foot Down in a Relationship”
A healthy, mature relationship is not about “putting your foot down” and demanding that the other person do what you want.
A successful outcome in any relationship comes from open communication where both people are willing to listen as well as talk and negotiate respectfully with each other.
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