Maybe it’s happened to you—you meet someone, they’re amazing, too good to be true! So you plan trips, find completely irrelevant ways to reference them in conversations, rave about them to your friends, and then, out of nowhere, they do something that completely changes your mind...
Relationship dealbreakers. We all have them. For some, it may be discovering that your beloved is actually a smoker, or that they’re married (or divorced), that they have children or maybe don’t want children, they’re religious, or maybe it’s something as innocent as the fact that they are a loud chewer, a cat lover, a meat eater, or that they farted in their sleep on their first sleepover and woke themselves out of a DEAD slumber (this totally happened to me and I’ve honestly never fully recovered).
Nevertheless, at one point or another, we have all probably experienced the feeling of being snapped out of bliss due to something that we deem inexcusable, unforgivable, intolerable, or a dealbreaker.
Sometimes we don’t always know what our relationship dealbreakers are until they’re glaring us in the face, which is unfortunate, because that probably means you already invested significant time in the relationship.So what’s the best way to approach a conversation about a relationship dealbreakers?
Dating expert and author, Kevin Darné explains, “It really depends on the timing and circumstance. There’s a difference between already being in a relationship with a person and getting to know someone new. If you're not actually in a relationship and the dealbreaker is simply part of your mate selection/screening process, you may not bother discussing it. However, some people subscribe to the philosophy of: You have to teach people how to treat you. I, on the other hand, believe school is out. If I have to teach you to be kind, considerate, respectful, loving, or affectionate, it simply means you are the wrong person for me.
The goal is to find someone who already is the kind of person you want to be with. Life is too short to spend your time trying to change water into wine. Thankfully, there are over seven billion other people on the planet! For those who are already in a relationship or marriage when a dealbreaker occurs, then it is customary to discuss it as part of the closure process. You simply tell them why you're done. Most likely, the person you are with was aware of your expectations in the relationship and what you found unacceptable.
Generally speaking, when it comes to dealbreaker conversations they are more likely to be angry spontaneous outbursts rather than planned discussions. Most likely, the hurt or betrayed person was caught off guard, so it’s likely they will have a knee jerk reaction.”
Divorce attorney, Christy Zlatkus, and divorce coach, Elizabeth Degi Duboi, PhD, weigh in on what they believe are the three major relationship dealbreakers. Zatklus and Duboi say that these three non-negotiables can often serve as glaring red flags that will likely land a couple in their offices seeking a divorce:
Relationship Dealbreakers & Red Flags
Being talked to like a child: Yes, we all have moments where, for the love of all that is holy, we just can’t fathom why he left the dishes in the sink when we spent the morning cleaning the kitchen, but watch your tone when you’re expressing your frustration. Adults want—and deserve—to be treated as such. Being belittled is a great reason to walk away from a marriage, so if you're catching glimpses of contempt early on, walk away.
Hiding purchases: Hiding purchases from your boyfriend or girlfriend—even ‘no big deal’ mani/pedi dates—means you don’t trust your significant other to know the details of your life. Even if you keep your money separately (which is a great idea for many couples!), keeping your spending on the DL can hurt your relationship.
Are you afraid to share because you’re spending money your family doesn’t have? Or are you nervous they will disapprove of how you’re spending your time, not just your cash? This is a biggie not just because money is a proxy for what we value, but also because controlling spending can be a red flag for abuse. If you’re not free to discuss money and make joint decisions about spending, it’s time to think about counseling.
Watching your waistline: Controlling what your significant other eats or making ‘little’ comments about fluctuations in their size are some of the most painful things our clients confide in us. Not only does it make your significant other suuuuuuuper self-conscious, but it can also be a slippery slope to abusive control. The next time you’re tempted to ask “you’re gonna eat that?,” bite your tongue.
Not sure if you have any relationship dealbreakers? Here are some firsthand experiences:
“I’m pretty open and accepting of people. But, in a relationship I can’t look past someone who is rude to waiters/waitresses. I can always tell a lot about a person. By the way they treat wait staff. Another thing I could not look past is someone with an Instagram addiction (or phone). Someone who is ALWAYS on their phone would drive me crazy.” -Jordan, 33 years old, Los Angeles, California
“One time I went out with a guy who I discovered had a bedroom FULL of carefully catalogued DVDs. All four walls were covered in hundreds of DVDs. It really freaked me out, the need to collect and categorize.” -Mary, 38 years old, Los Angeles, California
“A major dealbreaker in my last relationship was that he told me he didn’t want to raise kids in America (he was British). It wasn’t a conversation, just a statement, in the middle of an argument. Never discussed having kids, nor where we would live (we were living in Costa Rica at the time). So, the dealbreaker wasn’t necessarily the America/kids things, but rather the certainty of a major life decision without talking it through with me. It was one of the many big red flags that he wasn’t interested in true partnership.” -Marion, 29 years old, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
“I dated a slightly younger person after getting out of a long-term relationship. There was only a six year age gap but it seemed like a lot more. It ended up being a dealbreaker for me when we couldn’t chill the same way. I’m not a go out every night type of guy. I guess it’s a small thing, but after a month or so, I knew we weren’t a good fit.” -Wayde, 33 years old, Long Beach, California
“I was cheated on a lot in my dating years. A LOT! So, before entering my current relationship, I told him that lying, no matter the reason, (with the exception of sweet surprises, of course) is a dealbreaker for me. One lie and I am out, cold turkey. And we’ve been brutally honest with each other for six years straight. That, to me, is what brought us to the place we are in now where we can openly communicate without the fear of judgement from each other even if we don’t agree.” -Alice, 27 years old, Los Angeles, California
“Smoking is a big no. The smell is something I could never get over and the blatant disregard of health is a huge turn off. Second dealbreaker would be someone who has to watch every sports game live. I dated someone who was a New England Patriots fan and he had to watch games every weekend. I hated that he wasn't willing to go anywhere on the weekends for months at a time while it was in season. Third dealbreaker would be if I couldn't see the person being able to hang out with my siblings. As much as I thought a guy was hot or funny, if I couldn't picture them holding their own at a family function it was a big turn off.” -Laura, 32 years old, San Diego, California
“A guy I met on a Tinder date for the first time who ordered food and drinks before I got there because it was Happy Hour. After we had a drink, and I decided we were not a good match, I politely told him that I had to go to “meet a friend,” he ordered more food because Happy Hour was almost over and then asked to split the bill.” -Brittany, 29 years old, Santa Barbara, California
“Once I was dating a lawyer who was extremely attractive and perfect in all of the areas that I wanted, or so it seemed. While we were dating, he revealed that he did not like children which was a deal breaker because I am a single mom. Of course, I can’t get rid of my child so there was no sense in moving the relationship forward. I just told him that it would not work out and that was that. The key is that I found this out very early on in our dating so it was not some emotional heartbreak when I told him I could not move forward.” -Sophia, 35 years old, Washington, D.C.
Is it possible for our relationship dealbreakers to change? According to Darné, absolutely. Darné believes that “one's [relationship dealbreakers] have the ability to evolve over time with their life perspective—what was once acceptable no longer is and what was unacceptable is no longer a dealbreaker. When I was in my 20s, if I met a drop dead gorgeous woman who smoked, it would not have deterred me from pursuing her. Today, I can’t stand cigarette smoke coming through my car's air conditioner vent, so I can't imagine waking up next to anyone whose breath smells like an ashtray.”
With maturity and time, we gain experience that informs our opinions and outlook on ourselves and others, so I can see how our relationship dealbreakers could potentially evolve. However, I don’t believe this is the way to enter a relationship, with a set of expectations and then hope that maybe later down the line there can be a compromise. I just don’t think it works that way, if it’s truly something that’s considered a dealbreaker.
Unfortunately, as mentioned, we don’t always know what our relationship dealbreakers are until we are confronted with them, and in my experience, those conversations have always been incredibly difficult and surprisingly brief. The times I’ve been forced to be clear on what I can’t live with (or without), as painful as it is in the beginning, I am always shocked by how profoundly my life has shifted for the better.
And if there’s one universal truth about relationship dealbreakers, it’s that if you don’t deal with them, they will most certainly deal with you.