Are you often unhappy in your relationship, but feel confused about whether it’s just you, or if there is something truly amiss? Do you feel unclear about your bottom lines? Do you question whether or not you should stay in the relationship?
If so, you may be dealing with deal breakers in relationships. You may not know what your deal breakers are, but everyone has them and feels something is wrong when they are threatened.
Here are some signs that your non-negotiable terms are at risk:
- You work harder than your partner to fix the problems.
- You keep asking “is it me or them?”
- You hope things will magically get better at some point in the future.
- You suppress your personality to avoid conflicts.
- You are unhappy but your partner is just fine.
- Problems are never resolved, and nothing is ever gained.
Deal Breakers in Relationships
These type of situations are often called “deal-breaker” scenarios. They are highly problematic because they waste time and life is short. Too often, people spend years with the wrong person, or avoid the necessary steps to improve their relationship with the right person.
On top of that, deal breakers compromise your quality of life. When you’re not clear within yourself, you end up going along with something that doesn’t feel quite right. You may doubt yourself and wonder “Am I making too big a deal of this?” Or, worse, you make excuses and live in the future (“It will go away after he trusts me,” or “Once she goes to therapy it will get better”).
Remember, problems that are not resolved today are likely to never be resolved. (This is not to say problems cannot be solved, but if your partner is unwilling to work on something important today, this points to a low likelihood of a different future.)
Don’t bank on potential. See what is real in front of you now.
The only way to fix a deal-breaker situation is to find out what your personal non-negotiable relationship terms are, and take the steps to get it right or get out.
Dr. Bethany Marshall, author of the book Deal Breakers, has some great suggestions for women in compromising relationships. She specifically targets women in relationships with men, but her observations can be applied to both genders and same-sex relationships.
But first let’s define “deal-breaker” a little further. The very term implies that you are in some kind deal. As unromantic as this sounds, relationships are deals. And if the terms aren’t met, either party is free to walk away.
That is why it’s crucial that you understand what you can expect in the relationship. When you can’t effectively define the terms of your relationship, you will forever be frustrated, compromised, and disempowered.
In a nutshell, Dr. Marshall says a deal breaker is the one character flaw, emotional stance, or pattern of behavior that significantly damages the quality of a relationship.
Of course, most relationships are not perfect arrangements. All relationships generate some annoyances, transgressions, and disappointments.
But when you are facing a deal-breaker, you are looking at a non-negotiable term that, if not agreed to, kills the deal. For example, lack of reciprocal emotional investment is a common one.
Deal breakers are not minor annoying habits or just one bad thing that has happened that is unrelated to other problems. Rather, they must:
- Destroy something that is precious to you.
- Undermine the very conditions that make it possible to love.
- Point to everything else that is wrong with the relationship. It is the “tip of the misery iceberg.”
- Show themselves early on. As symptoms of something deeper, they rarely come out of the blue.
- Hold potential to become a tool for positive change.
6 Ways to Assert Your Deal Breakers in Relationships
If you think that deal-breakers are at play in your relationship, here are some steps you can take to get some clarity:
1. Know yourself. Ask the following questions: “Do the emotions I have in this relationship feel familiar?” “What is it that makes it hard for me to think clearly?” Be honest with yourself about what you really want, and not just want you think you should want.
2. Be aware of personality problems. Dr. Marshall identifies several personality traits in men, but in my experience these patterns can be found in anyone.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- The Scriptwriter: This person decides who you are without consulting you. You feel misunderstood, like a character in their play. For example, your partner is so afraid of “being taken to the cleaners,” that you pay for everything to avoid being typecast.
- The Person in Charge: This type of person is intolerant towards people and situations they can’t control. They may be very reliable and seemingly caring, but you feel smothered. They must be the originator of all experiences or else they are a buzzkill.
- The Person without Fault: This person cannot self-reflect and rarely takes responsibility for their actions and feelings. They overvalue their achievements and deny their impact on others around them.
- The Invisible Person: This person is emotionally constricted and frequently shuts down in the context of intimate relationships.
- Child Posing as an Adult: This type of person avoids responsibility for themselves. They can be exciting and pleasure seeking. But they have difficulty being alone and their actions contradict their words.
3. Confront the confusion. Ask yourself two key questions:
1) “What is non-negotiable for me?” This is what you must have in a relationship. Don’t judge yourself for wanting it. Want what you want!
2) “If things don’t change, can I live with it?” If something feels unacceptable to you in the future, it is probably unacceptable now.
4. Stop the self-blame. Own your own neuroses, but don’t take all responsibility for the joint dynamic.
5. Assert yourself.
- Reveal your feelings and needs. Describe your deal-breaker and give your partner specific examples of what is not working for you.
- Give your partner a chance to respond.
- Let them come up with their own solutions. You can ask: “What can/will you do to make the situation better?” But do not do all the work.
6. Have the willingness to walk away. If your partner is not able to take on board what you have shared, ask yourself: “How long am I willing to wait?” Set a time limit, and make a plan.
This is not easy. It can be excruciating.
But as Dr. Marshall says: “Loss can be negotiated, and reputations can be repaired. But a life can never be relived. So make sure you are living it with the right person.”
If you have examined your deal breakers in relationships and decide to end the relationship, see by blog on smart steps to take when ending a relationship.
Until then, I love hearing from you! Share with me your thoughts below . . .