Linda: Let’s get clear about what a deal breaker is and what it isn’t. It is any condition that is unacceptable to one or both partners. Everyone’s willingness to tolerate adverse behaviors can vary enormously; there are no conditions that are fundamentally deal-breakers.
What is intolerable to one person, such as a partner with a different religious orientation, differing political views, different values in regard to monogamy or polyamory, or recreational drug use might be within acceptable limits. This does not mean that some conditions are not more likely to become deal breakers, especially if they continue over time. Most of us can live for a short time with undesirable conditions if we have hope that things will change in the not-too-distant future.
If one partner chooses a job that requires him or her to temporarily relocate to another state and the other is unwilling to move, it’s possible that this situation can be tolerated if there is an agreement about the amount of time of the separation and how to maintain contact during that time.
Consider when one of the partners is an active alcoholic whose behavior has become intolerable to the other. If there is a commitment on the part of the alcoholic to take steps to end their addiction, this situation may stay out of the deal breaker category. If there is no intention to keep their promise to stop drinking, it can become a deal-breaker. It depends upon the other partner’s capacity to continue to tolerate these circumstances.
The more confidence each partner has in the other’s trustworthiness, the more likely it is that the deal will not be broken. Deal breakers have more to do with each partner’s intentions than they do with their behavior. Many situations seem unresolvable, yet couples manage to work them out. Not every potential deal breaker should be worked out; some relationships are simply not meant to be. But when the foundation of a partnership is sufficiently strong, even seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome.
Most of the conditions that are in the deal-breaker category are not the source of the problem, but rather are symptoms of an underlying destructive issue: trust. According to Webster, trust is grounded in a sense of confidence that we can rely on another to be there for and with us, and to provide “safety, protection, and support.” Trust means that we can depend on our partner to be honest, to care about us, to do things that contribute to us, and to want to make our life easier. These expectations work both ways. Trust requires mutuality and reciprocity.
Trust repair is needed whenever one or both partners feel that their trust level has diminished. It is tempting to avoid talking about a topic that we fear could cause hurt feelings, yet doing so has the potential to restore the trust-level.
The most common source of trust violation in relationships is dishonesty. Damage is done even if lies are not revealed. Lies inevitably beget other lies needed to conceal the truth. Deceit causes distance and guilt. The antidote is to tell the truth. While honesty is an essential first step in the process of repair, it alone is not enough to bring back the lost integrity. Integrity has to do with walking your talk embodying the truth, living from your core principles and values, and aligning your words, actions and values.
If you have violated any agreements, your partner will need to see evidence that you have taken your commitment to live in integrity to heart. It will take time for them to begin to trust that they can count on you to keep your word. You both need to be patient with yourselves, with each other, and with the process. Repairing damaged trust often takes longer than we expect that it should be.
Trust is easily damaged when we lapse into old patterns, and deep trust takes time and effort to cultivate. The good news is that with a clear intention to establish high levels of trust, it becomes possible to not only restore trust but to elevate it to an even higher level than it had previously been before it broke down.
Lapses in trust are likely to occur. Try to resist the temptation to justify such lapses by making amends. I they do occasionally reoccur, these breakdowns will do so with decreasing frequency, and the harm they cause will be repaired quickly. Once you’ve mastered the art of trust-building and trust repair, deal-breakers become a thing of the past. And you can trust us on that one!