In the many years that I have been counseling couples, I have discovered that there are only a few issues that are true relationship deal-breakers. Many of the issues that tear relationships apart are not actual deal-breakers. Rather, most divorces and breakups are either the result of one or both partner's unwillingness to learn from the conflicts that exist in all primary relationships, or a result of physical or emotional abuse. Aside from being closed to learning and abuse issues – which I will not address in this article, - some conflicts and differences are actual deal-breakers.
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Early in my career as a psychotherapist, I worked with Mary and Cal. Mary and Cal met when Mary was 38 and Cal was 47. Cal had been married before and had two adult children, while Mary had never been married. Cal made it very clear to Mary that he did not, under any circumstances, want more children. Mary seemed to accept this, but secretly hoped to change Cal's mind once they were married.
A year after they were married, Mary brought up the issue of having children. Cal was appalled. He felt angry, trapped and betrayed by Mary's secret hope, as well as by her dishonesty. Mary begged and pleaded, hoping Cal's love for her would soften his position. But he stayed committed to his decision not to have any more children.
This situation has a very sad ending. Mary was devastated. She loved Cal, but having children was actually extremely important to her. She didn't want to leave him and she couldn't let go of wanting a child. The stress of the situation eventually eroded her immune system and she died of ovarian cancer of few years after bringing up the baby issue.
I learned a lot from Mary and Cal's experience. I learned that the baby issue is a deal-breaker. It is not healthy for someone who really wants a baby to give that up, and it is not healthy for someone who does not want a baby to go along with having one. This deep and basic issue needs to be dealt with honestly head-on, early in a relationship, before people move ahead with commitment and marriage.
Rhonda and Fred fell in love in their late 30's. Each had jobs that they loved and that were very important to them. Fred was the vice-president of a large company, while Rhonda had a flourishing practice as a pediatrician. They both lived in Los Angeles. All seemed fine until an incredible opportunity opened up for Fred - one that he had always dreamed of. The problem was that it meant moving to New York. Fred's work became a deal-breaker.
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Some people can commute and maintain a relationship, but this was not realistic for Rhonda and Fred, since they both wanted to have children. They realized that if either of them gave up the work they loved, they would feel very resentful. They had no choice but to end the relationship. Even though they loved each other, they recognized that their relationship would soon erode if one of them gave themselves up.
Dishonesty and Infidelity