Deal or no deal?

A client of mine recently reported that she had a met a wonderful new man. He was tall, handsome and single. But he was well into his middle years, was chronically unemployed and still living at home with his mother. These were deal-breakers for my client. She chose not to see him again.

Deal-breakers are those behaviors or characteristics of a potential partner that are unacceptable and necessitate the termination of the relationship.

Some deal-breakers are universal. Anyone who is physically aggressive, engaged in active substance abuse or who is unfaithful during the dating process is not relationship material. It’s best to steer clear of such people and avoid ever becoming involved with them in the first place.

Personal preference

Other characteristics are more individual and depend on the chooser’s personal needs and goals.

A woman who definitely wants to have children should not date a man who has had a vasectomy and tells her, "I don’t want to have kids." A devout Christian might require that a potential mate hold the same spiritual convictions.

Some deal-breakers are evident early in the relationship. A woman who lights up a cigarette on the first date is not right for a man who detests being around smokers.

Others take longer to uncover.

For instance, a single mother with a 10-year-old daughter gradually noticed that her boyfriend ignored the girl when he visited and refused to include her in any of their outings. The mother decided to look for a more child-friendly man.

Make the tough call

People are often reluctant to take such a hard and fast approach when it comes to selecting partners. They may feel as if they are being judgmental. They may rationalize that a prospective beau does indeed have many good qualities, even if one or two are unacceptable. They may believe that over time the undesirable characteristic will become less of a problem. Or they may tell themselves that the other person will change and eventually become an all-star mate.

It is true that people can change and some behaviors become less annoying over time. But true deal-breakers are so fundamental that they seldom improve with age. In fact, they grow more annoying and ultimately create irresolvable stress in the relationship.

One man I knew complained bitterly that his wife of 20 years was overweight. Yet she was well-upholstered when he met her, and everyone in her family was obese. It was certainly no surprise that she had a weight problem after having several children. Had this man admitted to himself before they married that her body type was unacceptable to him, he could have avoided his unpleasant situation.

Of course, no relationship is perfect. My sweet husband of 30 years still does things that make me cringe. We all have to adapt to our partners’ idiosyncrasies and flaws.

But deal-breakers are not characteristics we can — or even should — adapt to. With half of all marriages ending in divorce, it’s best to avoid them altogether as best we can, then put our energies toward making our more appropriate match-ups as strong as possible.

Know before you go

Consider these other strategies in understanding and utilizing deal-breakers:

Decide what your personal deal-breakers are. Make a mental note of characteristics you’re looking for in a partner and those you’d find intolerable. No match-up will be perfect. But it’s wise to know what you do and don’t want before you start your search.

Scan potential partners thoroughly. Do your homework carefully when it comes to analyzing new dates. It’s OK to ask pointed questions to ascertain the information you want to learn.

End relationships quickly if deal-breakers arise. Don’t stick with someone who you know is not right for you. Getting out as soon as you can keeps the relationship from going deeper and frees you up to search anew.

If you’re already involved with a person and a deal-breaker arises it’s best to get out ASAP. Don’t dwell on how much you’ve already invested in the relationship. The longer you wait to end it, the more difficult it will be.

If you’re already married and you’re facing a deal-breaker, you’ve got a problem. The situation may be so serious that your best option is to leave. On the other hand, it may be more important to keep the family intact. Consider your situation carefully and, if needed, seek professional advice.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, go to