Flickr Photo by Konstanin Timoshkin
Flickr Photo by Konstanin Timoshkin


Is it possible to work too hard to make a relationship succeed?

Here at ADNY, I’ve talked about what it takes to make a relationship work.   I’ve stressed the importance of seeing issues from your partner’s perspective and learning how to reconnect with nonverbal communication.

It’s 2016.  It takes tough work to have a successful relationship.   Women no longer need to get married to be financially provided for – we can take care of ourselves.  Stop worrying about whether or not you can provide a house or a bank account for us.  Are you listening to our needs?  Are you asking us for what we want?  If you forget to nurture the emotional plants in your relationship, the garden that is your marriage will fail.

What is a Relationship Deal Breaker?

About ten years ago, I came across this piece of gold called Deal Breakers: When to Work on a Relationship and When to Walk Away by Dr. Bethany Marshall.  She defines a deal breaker as “a negative or standstill arrangement that, once recognized, can be used as a tool for positive change…a character flaw or emotional stance that significantly deteriorates the quality of a relationship.”  They are not small, annoying habits like biting nails or squeezing the toothpaste tube from the wrong end.  Instead, they are features that ruin the hopes you have for a satisfying romantic relationship.

A deal breaker will destroy something that is precious to you. It is not a one-off argument.  It is not an excuse to put distance between you.  A deal breaker is a sign of everything that is wrong with the relationship.

Unfortunately, deal breakers are hard to find because they are emotional, they aren’t tangible.  They aren’t easy to talk about either because they are typically unspoken.

Examples of common relationship arrangements and deal breakers that can destroy them:

  • You need autonomy but your partner needs to approve your friends and plans.
  • You need consistency and to know that your partner is the same person she was the last time you saw her but she’s so moody that you never know what you’re going to get.
  • You need a relationship where conflicts are discussed and resolved but your partner thinks resolving conflicts means you need to completely stop talking about them.

Deal breakers will not magically go away on their own.  Deal breakers will not cure themselves with time.  There is no magical moment in the future that will solve a problem that is happening in the present because deal breakers occur in real time.  Passively hoping for a change will cost you months and years of your life.  Problems that are not resolved today will most likely never be resolved.

Deal breakers are a tool for change not a weapon to be used to manipulate your partner.  They create the space for dialogue and self-assertion.

Self-assertion means that you state your needs to your partner and give him a chance to respond.   It requires that you reveal your feelings, preferences and needs, give her a chance to respond and have a willingness to walk away if she does not make an effort.

Self-assertion can be scary because we risk opening ourselves up to criticism or facing possible abandonment.  If we can’t assert our needs, we may give up, become depressed or play games to get even.  However, by not asserting our needs, we are being unfair to our partners by denying them a fair chance to respond and determine if he really wants to change.

If you already know that your partner is unwilling to respond to your suffering, then you need to end the relationship.

Characteristics of a Deal Breaker

  • You work harder than he does to fix his problems or make the relationship better
  • You hope that she will magically become better at some point in the future and you realize that if she doesn’t, you will be miserably unhappy
  • You are always worrying about how the relationship is going to affect your future
  • You are constantly suppressing your personality in order to avoid conflicts
  • He feels that you are either for or against him. When he’s in a good emotional state, he believes that you’re on his side.  When he’s in a bad emotional state, he feels that you are against him and do not have his best interests at stake.
  • You, and only you, are unhappy.
  • You meet her needs but she rarely meets yours.
  • Problems are never resolved and there is no progress.

If you talk to your partner about a deal breaker and she chooses not to respond, that in itself is a form of communication.  Most likely, her lack of response means that she cannot self-reflect, cannot cope with the realities of being in a relationship, or cannot take initiative to find solutions.

You don’t have to leave a relationship if your deal breaker does not get better, but you will become depressed if you stay.

If your partner does not change now, she will not change in the future.  People do what they want to do and they don’t do what they don’t want to do.  If your partner wants to change, he would be in an ongoing process of finding solutions or would have fixed the problem by now.

If you’re afraid that your partner might fall apart if you leave, you’re forgetting that the most important deal you will ever make is to yourself.  You’ve only got one shot at this life and no one else can live it for you.

Now that we know what a relationship deal breaker is, what do we do about it?  I’ll talk about facing your deal breakers in the next post.

Resource: Deal Breakers: When to Work on a Relationship and When to Walk Away by Dr. Bethany Marshall

This post is part one of my series on The Art of Relationship Deal Breakers.  To get the full series, watch for future posts on A Desi New Yorker.

If you’re not already subscribed, sign up to get new posts delivered straight to your inbox

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.