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Deal Breakers in Relationships

Aug 29, 2007
Most issues in a relationship can be worked out, but not all. Couples often come into my office thinking that their issue is one that can't be resolved. That is seldom true. If both people will cooperate and compromise, most issues can be resolved, even when they look impossible, such as: differing sexual needs, spending/money issues, problems with exes, stepchildren, inlaws, friends, etc., jealousy and cheating, getting him to share household chores and childcare, and even getting him to be more emotional (or getting her to be less).

But sometimes some issues are deal breakers, and they are listed below:

1) A major difference in basic values and beliefs, such as a very religious person who is married to or living with an atheist. These core differences in beliefs will often cause fight after fight and have each person trying to prove they are right. The only way to keep this, and issues like this, from ending the relationship is to agree to disagree and not bring it up again. Of course, once there are children and one parent wants the children to go to church and the other doesn't, there will be a new set of issues -- but these can be compromised if the couple will stay away from who is right and who is wrong.

2) Any issue that one or both of you won't let go of, like the time someone cheated, or the fact that she had a lot of past sexual experiences that he is bothered by. If this issue is not put behind the couple, this will become the core to many other disputes in the future.

3) An issue that can't really be compromised, such as whether to live in Seattle or Denver (maybe a house in both places or live in one place for awhile and then the other is a compromise, but even then, where do we live first?), or whether or not to have children. I did once help a couple, however, who had this issue. She wanted a child and he didn't. We discussed why and it was about travel and freedom, and she compromised on that issue and then he agreed that they could have a child. But usually this type of issue is a deal breaker and is not worth fighting about for years.

4) If one person judges the other or puts you down or doesn't seem to like you, as in, "You're just lazy," or "I will never trust you." I have couples who say to their mate, "You really don't like me much as a person, do you?" And often if someone is talking down to you regularly, he doesn't really like or respect you as a person. If the answer is, "No, I don't," then that's a deal breaker of course.

5) When one of you is self-righteous, controlling or abusive and won't go to therapy and try to change. Sure you can set boundaries, and I can teach you how to do that. But if the person never gets it that he needs to change his behavior, you are fighting an uphill battle in that you can never relax in the relationship as you will always be fighting to maintain your power.

6) If one person is an alcoholic, drug addict, gambler/overspender and isn't trying to change. Yes, these are illnesses, but let's not let these people off the hook. They need to do whatever it takes to stop the problem now, even if it is an issue they have to deal with for the rest of their lives. That doesn't mean you should have to deal with it for the rest of yours.

7) If one person has a serious psychiatric disorder like bipolar or depression (or worse), or even a physical problem like diabetes, and won't take their medication.

8) If your mate refuses to cooperate and work with you to resolve issues in the relationship. Although you can modify your mate's behavior using behavior modification techniques (boundaries), it gets tiresome if your partner remains uncooperative and soon becomes a deal breaker.

What To Do:
* Take the issue to a therapist, with or without him, and try to work it out. If he'll go and will be cooperative, you can probably resolve the issue. If he won't go or won't be cooperative, the therapist will help you try boundaries to modify his behavior.
* Set strong boundaries and let him know that if this doesn't work that you will be leaving, i.e. "I won't live in a sexless relationship."
* Don't blame yourself, as guilt will weaken you and keep you staying there for too long, and for all the wrong reasons.
* If he doesn't cooperate, prepare to end it. Get your finances in order, be sure you have a support group of friends, and start separating yourself emotionally from him and doing your own thing.
* To get ready to finalize it, write a goodbye letter to help you let go. Angrily tell him what's wrong with him and why you're leaving him. Don't be whiny or victimy. Then, state to him (and you) that you will never let him or anyone else treat you that way again.

If and when you realize your issue with your mate is a deal breaker, then let him know, try a therapist if he's willing, and then move on and stop wasting your time with a situation that will only cause you pain if you stay.
About the Author
Carolyn Bushong, a Denver,CO licensed therapist, helps couples and singles in her office, on-line, by phone. Author of: Loving Him Without Losing You, Bring Back the Man You Fell in Love With, The 7 Dumbest Relationship Mistakes. Has appeared on Oprah. http://www.carolynsays.com. 303-333-1888.
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