How to establish deal breakers in a relationship so you know when it's time to move on
Life coach and boundaries expert Michelle Elman reveals how to establish deal breakers in a relationship
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Deal breakers in a relationship can be, as the name suggests, the difference between staying together as a couple and going your separate ways. They can be seemingly small things, like tidying habits, or larger issues like opposite religious beliefs and political ideas.
But deal breakers tend to stay the same throughout the relationship, no matter how well we get to know someone, as they work to establish long-term happiness and make sure you and your partner are on the same page. But what's a deal breaker for one pair might not be for another, so it's important to discuss them with a partner early on.
Whether you're looking to rebuild romance in a relationship or wanting to set your expectations early on with a new partner, we've got all you need to know. Here, woman&home speaks with Michelle Elman (opens in new tab), a five-board accredited life coach, to reveal exactly what deal breakers in a relationship are, how to set them for yourself, and why they're important.
What are deal breakers in a relationship?
Deal breakers are non-negotiables, things that lead to an automatic ending of a relationship, explains Elman. "They're specifications that someone might have for someone they're dating where there is no compromise," she explains. "For example, for me, a deal breaker is long distance. I've done it three times before and no matter how amazing the person is, it's something I can't bend on because I know myself and I know that it won't work for me."
Often deal breakers get confused with red flags or signs that your relationship is over, but there's a clear difference. "Red flags are warning signs and we require a few of them to build up before we think about ending the relationship, or the red flags might disappear," explains Elman, who is also the author of The Selfish Romantic (opens in new tab). "A distinction between the two would be if someone is late, that could be a red flag, whereas a deal breaker could be if someone swears at you in an argument."
What are the biggest deal breakers in relationships?
Although every relationship is different, there are some deal breakers that many people will agree on, according to a review by Charles University (opens in new tab). The researchers here conducted four separate studies to determine the seven dating deal breakers in a relationship, which are:
- Being abusive
The participants' judgement of how worthy the characteristics were to end a relationship was also looked at. Women listed abusive behaviour as the primary one for ending a long-term relationship, and both men and women noted poor personal hygiene as a top deal breaker in a long-term partnership. While still important, being clingy and/or unambitious were considered to be the least problematic traits of the bunch.
Previous research by the University of Padova (opens in new tab) also discovered additional common deal breakers, and these included differing religious beliefs, limited social status, "divergent" mating psychologies, and differing relationship goals, among those listed above.
If these sound familiar to you, boundaries expert Michelle Elman has the following tips for establishing deal breakers in your own relationship.
How to establish deal breakers
As with all difficult topics, communication is key when it comes to making your partner aware of your deal breakers in a relationship. "Communicate what your deal breakers are so that your partner is aware," suggests Elman. It may sound simple, but the earlier you speak to a new partner about your deal breakers, the earlier you'll be able to tell if they're the one for you.
"For example, my partner knows that when it comes to cheating, there would be no second chance and I also know he has the same view."
2. Look outward
Aside from the common deal breakers, like relationships outside of each other and the idea of having children, many people don't know what their hard limits would be in a new relationship. You may have dated people all completely different from each other in the past. Both big spenders and big savers, those who were tidy and those who liked to spread their things around.
If you're having trouble picking your deal breakers, "pay attention to your feelings when they arise in other people's relationships," says Elman. "For example, I was once watching a TV show where a man was controlling how much his wife was spending. I had never thought about it before because I've never been in a relationship where money was a source of conflict. However, on noticing it, it became one of my deal breakers [for future relationships]."
3. Be transparent
We've mentioned communication, but this really can't be undervalued if you're looking to learn how to build trust in a relationship by making your boundaries clear. "Talk, talk, and talk some more," urges Elman. "You can never overcommunicate and when you known someone inside and out, you will know their boundaries. Having clear communication and a level of transparency will only let your relationship flourish and be the healthiest it can be."
4. Learn from the past
When setting deal breakers in a relationship, consider what's come up in previous ones. "If you keep ending up in the same position then recognize the similarities that led to the same ending might be a deal breaker for you, or even just a warning sign that something doesn't work for you," says the life coach.
"For example, if you keep ending up in relationships where you don't get as much affection as you'd like, notice that, and place affection as a deal breaker when looking for another potential partner," she suggests. This could mean talking to them about their love languages and if yours is physical touch, ask them 'is it important to have sex in your relationships?'. As Elman says, honesty is key.
Why are they important?
Deal breakers in a relationship are essential because they set boundaries for your partner, so they have some idea from early on of the lines that can't be crossed, and you can make sure you're with someone who is aligned with your world view.
"It's important to know how you deserve to be treated and there are some lines that should never be crossed," adds Elman. "If they are, you know that you're strong and capable enough to bring that relationship to an end. Otherwise it could not only impact your safety, but your self-esteem too."
A digital health journalist with over five years experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.
She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.
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