While generally it is a good thing to be flexible, have an open mind, and keep an open heart as we encounter new people in life, there is great wisdom behind the idea of developing your list of deal-breakers before you start dating.  First and foremost, many of us don’t want to waste our time and energy on a relationship that is doomed from the beginning.  Furthermore, we all know that once you jump into the sack your judgment becomes clouded, and then you run the risk of staying way longer than you should because your hormones have taken over.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I believe that each failed relationship takes a huge emotional toll on us; therefore, it is in our best interest to do what we can to minimize the need to mend a broken heart.

Deal-breakers are something I deal with every day as a divorce lawyer.  After 20 years in this industry, very little surprises me anymore, and while I still believe in marriage, long ago I stopped believing in unconditional love (except between a parent and child) or that love can conquer all.  Unfortunately, not enough is taught ahead of time about (1) how hard it is to make relationships work, (2) how to resolve conflict in a healthy way, or (3) how to properly repair the harm we cause our loved ones.

Before you get back out into the dating pool, especially after a divorce or the end of a long-term relationship, take a little time to reflect on what went wrong, what you want going forward, and where you are presently in terms of your capacity to really let someone into your life.  As part of this assignment, really ask yourself not just the qualities your partner “must have” but also what you “can’t stand.”

Would you ever get into a car without having some sense of direction as to where you are going? Dating without some sense of your deal breakers is  like hitting the road without a road map– and although initially there might be a lot of excitement in this careless abandonment, the risks are high and eventually you will tire of the constant crash and burn.  So, before you jump head first into a relationship, think through not just your wants but your can’t stands.

Some deal-breakers should be easy to identify, like not wanting someone who is emotionally unstable, a financial mess, or a drug addict or alcoholic that fails to recognize they have a problem.  Few would want to be with a person that is not self-sufficient, has anger issues, or is a complete narcissist with a detached attachment style.  But what else would not work for you?  Would you be able to manage with a long distance relationship or someone that wasn’t geographically convenient? Can you be with someone of a different faith or deal with a significant age difference? Are you open to moving around a lot, for example because the person you love is in the Foreign Service or military?  Can you deal with someone that travels a lot for work, or works evenings and/or weekends?  Could you be with someone that has young kids, a challenging teenager, or maybe a difficult co-parent that’s still in the picture?  Can you deal with a Messy Marvin or Neat Freak?  Would you be okay with someone that has poor eating habits or is obsessed with working out?  What medical conditions are a no-go for you?  What life-styles go completely against your core values? Can you look past someone’s prior affairs or another major lapse in judgment?   What if that person speaks to his/her mother every day, or not at all?

Be honest with yourself as you think about these questions, and try to be clear with others when a situation does not work for you.  While I am all for promoting a compromise whenever possible to preserve an important relationship, a real deal-breaker is a non-negotiable, and when you hit one you will know it in your gut and deep inside your heart (even if your brain is trying to downplay it.)   It will weigh so heavily as a negative, that the sum of all the good qualities that person has combined still cannot tip the scales in favor of staying.  Once you realize that, figure out a way to exit with dignity and grace. 

By Regina A. DeMeo