Stealing glances at an attractive-looking stranger as you’re having lunch with your other half. Exchanging flirtatious content with your ex when you're aware that he has a new beau. Ever find yourself or know of someone who’s been in such similar situations before? Well, these are but a few of the various grey areas that might occur when you are in a relationship.
When dealing with affairs of the heart, it can be confusing and even frustrating at times to determine if certain actions would create issues of mistrust, misunderstanding and miscommunication. To shed some light on this perplexing topic, we sat down with two relationship experts: Ms Violet Lim, CEO and Co-Founder of Lunch Actually and Ms Mok Sin Lai, a psychotherapist at Relationship Matters, to seek their opinion and advice on this matter.
Identifying “grey areas” in a romantic relationship
Grey areas can be found throughout the course of a relationship — regardless if you’ve just begun seeing each other or when you’ve been together for over a decade. And the hard truth is that when such ambiguous situations aren’t resolved properly between both individuals, they are likely to ‘cause hurt to one party more than the other because they are not on the same page’, according to dating guru Violet, who co-founded Asia’s biggest lunch dating company, Lunch Actually, with her husband Jamie in 2004.
“One of the ‘grey areas’ that our clients have shared with us includes dating [a person] for a period of time without knowing where they stand because no one talks about it. One person might view the relationship as exclusive, while the other thinks that they are still dating,” revealed Violet.
In addition, she has also come across clients who are unsure of their own expectations in a relationship. “[This person] may not understand clearly what he or she clearly is looking for. Yet, he or she continues to return to [the other] person’s life without committing or stating their intentions clearly,” elaborated Violet.
Is marriage a commitment?
Do all romantic relationships conclude with a “walk down the aisle”? Or are they everlasting as long as both parties are perfectly happy to build a family and home together without a ring on their finger? Defining key relationship terms, especially “commitment”, is something that every couple needs to do in order to prevent unnecessary heartache.
“Even though committing to a relationship usually involves serious consideration of the possibility of getting married, it does not equate to the couple having to enter into marriage eventually,” shared Sin Lai, who has experience in working with couples who are going through extra-marital issues and communication issues.
Violet’s advice echoed Sin Lai’s. She shared: “You can be committed to a relationship with the same person for years but sadly, it’s not a given that this is the same person that you’ll end up marrying. Many relationships may terminate at the ‘commitment’ stage because both parties become too comfortable with their current status.”
“[There are instances where] the man feels he is already getting all the perks that he wants out of a relationship without having to commit to marriage, while the woman might grow tired of waiting for him to pop the question despite having dropped many hints,” added Violet.
Crossing the line
Upon defining what “commitment” means to both parties, there’s another looming C-letter word: “cheating”, that couples ought to address head-on as well. When asked to weigh in on what constitutes cheating, Sin Lai stated simply, “Cheating can be defined as the violation of agreed-upon boundaries.” Although this answer is hardly direct, it also explains how crucial it is for both parties to establish these “red lines” before things turn sour.
“People define cheating differently. There is no one right answer. In my opinion, we can say that cheating is something hurtful that you do that violates and ruins the trust and loyalty that you’ve built between yourself and your partner. However, at the end of the day, a couple should define their own boundaries if they’re in a committed relationship,” advised Violet.
In short, what may seem perfectly normal and acceptable to you might differ from what your partner expects from both sides. Communication is key to a successful relationship.
Your burning relationship woes, answered
Do open relationships work? Should you come clean to your new beau about your past sexual encounters? We posed five quickfire questions to the two relationship experts.
Thoughts on open relationships?
Sin Lai (SL): “They are difficult to sustain. A relationship is primarily built on trust and love. Taking the exclusivity out of the relationship may make one feel rejected, unloved, and unable to trust their partner.”
Having a crush when you’re in a committed relationship?
Violet (V): “Just because we’re in a completely happy relationship, it doesn’t mean that we stop feeling attraction towards others. What we have to remember is, we do have control over how we handle these crushes. Are you going to actively pursue this feeling or do you intend to acknowledge it and carry on with your life?”
Remaining friends with my ex? Also, can I date my friend’s ex?
SL: “Both are very dangerous roads to tread. You and your ex may end up rekindling your love if you were to maintain close and frequent contact with each other. This may jeopardise your current relationship. As for the latter, doing so may hurt the friendship between you and your friend. Give this some serious thought before you make your next move.”
Revealing details of my past sexual and romantic relationships to my partner?
V: “Yes, especially when you’re in a committed relationship. However, if the relationship is new, it’s understandable that you may need to build trust before you can share your history with them, especially if your past experiences are painful or triggering to you.”
Becoming close friends with my co-worker who’s of the opposite gender?
V: “We used to spend most of our waking hours at our workplace before Covid-19. As a result, we may have developed strong connections with our co-workers after spending a lot of time together. We might eventually share personal details about our lives with each other and this may increase the likelihood for romantic feelings to develop.
As such, be aware of whether your co-worker is harbouring feelings for you. Just because you do not have feelings for him or her, it does not mean that he or she feels the same. Respect your partner’s feelings too. You can still have good and healthy friendships with your co-workers and friends of the opposite gender as long as you are open and you communicate it with your partner.”
Keeping yourself in the clear
Now that we’ve gained a better understanding of the potential barriers that grey areas can bring to both parties, it’s time for us to learn how we can resolve them maturely and constructively in order to emerge stronger and more confident about the relationship.
To this, Sin Lai advised: “It’s all about having good communication skills, such as listening to your partner before expressing your own opinion, as well as not getting defensive but rather seeking to understand them and the situation first. Maintain open communication with each other’s expectation instead of making assumptions.”
Speaking of open communication, Violet reckons the best way to address these grey areas is to be ‘be totally and brutally honest about it.’ She added:“There’s no use in sugarcoating it. You have a choice in every interaction to gain the clarity you’re seeking. However, do hear what they have to say before making a decision. There may be people who are genuinely not ready for commitment due to various reasons or past experiences. It’s something you can’t control.
That said, be courageous to initiate the conversation — if that person can’t give you the clarity or the commitment you need, you have the right to walk away to find someone who’s in a similar life stage as you.”
Now, discover how these three couples from different cultures make it work.