In order to have healthy friendships and loving relationships, it’s crucial to make what I call a deal breaker list. When you look for an apartment or car, you have a list of things that are deal breakers, right? For example, if the plumbing doesn’t work, or if the apartment is in a bad location or if it’s too small. Or if a car you want to buy is leaking oil, that’s a deal breaker. You should also have reliable list of deal breakers for friendships and love relationships.
A lot of people actually DO have a deal breaker list in the back of their minds. But sometimes they are attracted to someone so much, that they ignore their deal breaker list and date the person (or marry them) anyway! This decision usually ends up not working out very well, in fact, for many of my clients being in a harmful relationship can lead to destructive behaviors, such as drinking and drug use, development of eating disorders (such as anorexia, bulimia, emotional eating, and/or compulsive exercise), depression and/or anxiety.
Here is what I think should be on your deal breaker list, and of course you can add more. What many people put on their deal breaker lists are what I call surface qualities. For example, the person needs to be tall, or blonde or they need to be educated a certain way. You wouldn’t believe, for example, how many women have told me in counseling they will not date a man shorter than them, even if he is funny, warm, kind and attractive! I understand physical qualities can be very important requirements to some people, but truthfully, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Surface qualities are not as important as relationship qualities.
Here are the four crucial elements I believe should be on every person’s deal breaker list:
1. Substance abuse of any kind is a deal breaker. If a person is numbing out with drugs, pot, pills or alcohol, their primary relationship is with the substance, not with you.
2. Famous family therapists named John and Julie Gottman identified four signs of an unhealthy relationship called “the four horsemen of the apocalypse.” They assert that if any of these four signs are present in a relationship, it is likely to end. In fact, John Gottman made the bold claim that he could predict whether a relationship was going to end within three minutes of observing a couple, based solely on whether or not these four behaviors were present.
The four horsemen are: contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling.
Contempt is looking down on your partner, acting and speaking like you’re better than him or her, and making your partner feel inferior to you.
Criticism includes name-calling, criticizing and berating your partner.
Defensiveness is the inability to admit when you’ve done something wrong; instead of taking responsibility and apologizing, this person defends him or herself, gets angry, or changes the subject.
Stonewalling is distancing. It includes being unable or unwilling to talk out a problem, or refusing to speak to your partner when upset or angry.
If one or more of the four horsemen are present in a friendship or a love relationship, and if you can’t work it out and stop using them, the relationship is likely doomed. Be on the lookout for the four horsementhey are all deal breakers! By the way, if you recognize these qualities in your present love relationship, do not despair. Gottman couples coaching can help you get rid of these toxic behaviors and replace them with healthier ones.
3. The third deal breaker is abusive or controlling behaviors. The reason I talk about this is, unfortunately, there is a terrible problem of stalking and abuse in our society. I’ve also heard a lot about abduction experiences where it is typically men controlling, and sometimes kidnapping, young women and holding them hostage for a period of time before letting them go. Men can also be victims of abuse in a relationship.
Abduction is an extreme version of abuse, and a crime, but I want to mention it because this terrible problem exists, and people don’t discuss it openly. It’s a secret problem that must come out into the open if things are going to change for the better.
I’ve also heard many sad stories about “text stalking,” where jilted lovers can’t let go when a relationship has ended, and they try to guilt you to come back through relentless text messages. They often try to control who you see, who you’re with and where you go.
This controlling behavior is a definite deal breaker, but sometimes people keep returning to their abusers. They can’t escape because the abuser makes them feel it’s their fault for leaving. If you are in an abusive friendship or relationship and are afraid to get outget help so you can find the strength and courage to leave.
My number four deal breaker is secretiveness, lying and/or having affairs. This is a very complex problem. But unless someone is truly willing to work in therapy with you and take responsibility for their history of lying, secretiveness and cheating, the relationship is not going to be successful.
It’s a good idea to consciously create a deal breaker list of relationship qualities rather than surface qualities BEFORE you start dating. If you’re not sure about the quality of your current relationship, it’s never too late to make the list and apply it to your own friendships and love relationships. And if you need help making the list or having the courage to cut ties, don’t be afraid to ask for support and guidance from a qualified therapist. If you would like to learn more about Gottman therapy and the four horsemen, check out my free webinar on the six signs of breakup and divorce here.