5 Ways To Make Sure Deal Breakers Don't Ruin Your Relationship

Deal breakers vs. preferences. Your happiness depends on you learning the difference.


If you saw someone living inside a tiny cardboard box, you'd probably feel sad, wouldn't you? Or maybe you'd feel sorry for them or even angry that they didn't make better choices about how they lived. 

What if I told you that you live trapped in a very small box? How would you feel? I bet you'd deny it and think I was crazy.

But it's true. 

Only you can't see your box because it's one you created out of your rigid expectations about how you think your world (and the relationships in it) "should" be. Your box, just like most people's, houses all of those inflexible rules you cling to about how others should treat you, what they owe you, and what you will and will not "tolerate." In short: all of your deal breakers.


You think your deal breakers protect you, but they are the very thing that cause everything you love, want and hope for in life to fall away.

Are your deal breakers boundaries or barriers?

You created your deal breakers thinking they would keep you happy, healthy and safe in your relationships. And some of them will! Deal breakers about zero tolerance for abuse (of any kind), for example, are good ones to have. Don't budge on those. But what about the others? Are they really serving you?

Ideally, deal breakers protect you by stating very clearly what your non-negotiable boundaries are. But these boundaries only serve you if they come from a place of self-love and a desire for growth. Unfortunately, most of the time we create them from a place of pain, fear and deep grief. Then we use them like we would a shopping list or a secret weapon to control who we let into our lives and what hoops we want them to jump through to prove their love. 


Our deal breakers (well-intentioned as they might seem) become overly protective shields instead of healthy boundaries. We enforce them rigidly to avoid getting hurt again. But what if that previous hurt was due to a very specific circumstance that your own behavior helped create or enable? What if your rigid, defensive rules actually block you from the things you want most—love, growth and connection?

It's OK to have preferences.

Your happiness depends on you figuring out the difference between preferences and deal breakers. In the dating world, for example, a woman might not even look at a guy who isn't rich, handsome and child-free, because anything else would just be a deal breaker. No. Those aren't deal breakers, those are preferences.

What would happen if you connected with an amazing man, but later found out he had kids? Would you really walk away from a shot at true love just to hold your ground and prove a point? 


It's not OK to use deal breakers as a weapon.

We often create secret deal breaker lists in our heads and then just wait for someone to make one little mistake—then BAM! We let them have it. Because how dare they not read our minds and just know? How dare they not be perfect (to our specifications)? We put our armor up to let them know we won't tolerate what they did—that they better shape up or ship out NOW.

So, how do you turn your deal breakers into a healthy conversation about expectations? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Figure Out What You Want: Spend some time getting very clear about what your deal breakers are and why they're deal breakers. You might even want to create a relationship description. Invite your loved one to prepare one, also. You'll each want to jot down notes to make your discussion easier.
  2. Find The Right Spot To Talk: You'll want to have this conversation someplace neutral where you won't be interrupted. A nice restaurant, a beautiful park or even a hotel lobby are all nice places to have a heart-to-heart about relationship expectations and deal breakers.
  3. Really Focus On Communication: Yes, it's a simple word, but it's hard work to effectively communicate with someone. You'll both want to feel respected and loved. You'll both need to listen carefully when the other speaks and avoid interruptions or busily starting to think about your response while your loved one is speaking. Be completely present.
  4. Take Time To Evaluate: You'll be evaluating your discussion from the moment it begins. You and your loved one may reach a decision about the status of your relationship during your conversation or you may decide you need time to think, or even ask to get the input of a helping professional. 
  5. Do Something: Once you've evaluated your conversation you'll know what's best for you. You might decide to end the relationship immediately, embrace the stronger relationship your discussion created, or do something in between. Don't just accept the status quo, but allow your relationship to change in a way that best supports your happiness.

Conversations about expectations aren't just a one-time thing. We all grow and evolve, so our deal breakers and expectations change, too. Talk about your changing preferences often to ensure a happy, healthy relationship.


Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and advisor helping people who are considering divorce make a smart decision about staying or leaving their marriage. You can join her anonymous newsletter group for free advice or email her at Karen@functionaldivorce.com for a free consultation. Don’t let the worry about divorce ruin your life, help is available as soon as you’re ready.