Having that all-important "define the relationship" talk with your partner can feel like the most difficult conversation you'll have in a relationship. But there's another conversation that's important to have at the beginning of a partnership that can feel just as intimidating: talking about dealbreakers. Bringing up nonnegotiables in a relationship requires vulnerability and confidence, and it can be a tricky talk to know how to start. Ensuring both parties (or more, if you're into that) in a relationship are nurtured and respected is important, so knowing what someone's dealbreakers are can help you get a better sense of what's important to them at the core of a relationship and can help your partner understand where you're coming from as well. In order to make the conversation as painless as possible, we spoke with radio host and relationship therapist Jamie Bronstein, LCSW, for the full scope on dealbreakers.
What Are Dealbreakers?
"A dealbreaker, in essence, is a nonnegotiable; it's an issue that one has with their significant other that is unresolvable," Bronstein told POPSUGAR. "A dealbreaker is anything that makes either party uncomfortable in the relationship, resulting in the dismantling of a relationship." Common examples of dealbreakers are differences in religious beliefs, wanting or not wanting children, infidelity, physical or mental abuse, and substance abuse. When you're thinking of what your dealbreakers are, consider what you would end a relationship over regardless of how the rest of the relationship functioned. What are the things that are so central to what you need or want in a relationship that they could make it or break it?
When Should You Talk to Your Partner About Dealbreakers?
The earlier you have a talk about dealbreakers, the better. "You should talk about dealbreakers as close to the beginning of a relationship as possible," Bronstein said. "Make it clear what you will and won't stand for, what is OK and what is not OK for you in a relationship. Remember, there is a difference between compromise and sacrifice."
As with any serious conversation in a relationship, it's important to consider the time and space before you bring up the topic. You want to make sure both parties are in the right headspace, so you will want to avoid this conversation over drinks or during an argument. "Ideally, you want to have a dealbreaker conversation when both parties are calm and not in a heightened emotional state, when both people are centreed and grounded," Bronstein said.
How Should You Talk to Your Partner About Dealbreakers?
Once you and your partner find a time to talk when you are calm, comfortable, and emotionally prepared to engage, go ahead and raise the topic. It's a good idea to preface the conversation with a compliment and reminder that you really care about them and that's why it's important you have this conversation. "Let your partner know how much you care about them, how much you love them if you're in an established relationship, and then move into expressing how you are feeling and honour what's in your heart and on your mind," Bronstein said. Also acknowledging that this can be tough and feel emotionally vulnerable can help put your partner at ease if they're having similar feelings.
To begin the conversation, focus on how you feel. "Use statements like 'I'm not comfortable with' or 'I'm feeling hurt because' versus 'You are untrustworthy,'" Bronstein said. Using I statements ensures you're taking ownership of your own feelings rather than shifting blame onto your partner.
Remember that you're having this conversation to learn what aspects of a relationship are important to your partner and to teach them what's important to you. So rather than judging yourself or your partner, focus on listening. "Judgement is a relationship killer, and it puts the other person on defence," Bronstein said. "Just express how you are feeling versus your judgement of their behaviour, morals, or values."
If you and your partner are having trouble having a productive conversation, you can always consider meeting with a couples therapist. Having an objective third party present in the conversation can be useful as you navigate what you want your relationship to look like and what potential dealbreakers could be. Bronstein said including a mental health professional in your talk can also encourage you and your partner to be more honest with your feelings and not hold back.
Remember Why You're Having This Talk, and Trust the Outcome
Talking about your dealbreakers with a partner can be scary because it forces you to be open and vulnerable with how you're feeling. But it can also be difficult because in that moment of vulnerability, you worry how your partner will receive what you're going to say, and you worry that your partner might not be on the same page as you in terms of dealbreakers. For example, if you are positive that having children is something you really want, in having this conversation, you're opening the door to the potential that your partner will tell you they don't want children. And then what?
To combat these fears, it's important to remind yourself why you're having this conversation in the first place: because these are dealbreakers, they are nonnegotiable, and if your partner isn't on the same page, you will find someone who is. "The most important thing is that you do take action by having these difficult conversations so your relationship doesn't stay in limbo," Bronstein said. If both parties are on the same page, it will strengthen the relationship, and if not, "you go your separate ways, which is also OK!" Bronstein said.
It may be scary and uncomfortable to initiate the dealbreakers talk, but boundary setting — especially in the beginning stages — will help you stick to what's important to you and avoid extra hurt in the long run.