On Monday evenings, I host a group entitled “Beginnings” for those who have experienced some form of betrayal in their relationship and as a result have struggled to manage trauma.
One of the themes that consistently emerges in the group is how at the start of a relationship, people have rules and expectations about sex, money, time spent, family, friends, communication and the like. As the relationship progresses, those rules, expectations, and boundaries sometimes become elusive and difficult to maintain because of your emotional investment and fear of change.
One night, I asked the group what was their “deal breaker.“ I asked for each of them to identify one behavior that their present or past partner absolutely could not do – making it a relationship deal breaker. Some had a difficult time coming up with something unforgiveable in a relationship but they ended up staying. Even after a week, many of them could not come up with anything.
It is very important that BEFORE you get into a romantic relationship or friendship, you identify those behaviors that are completely unacceptable.
Oftentimes, people will indicate that sex outside the relationship, domestic violence, or some other neglectful or heinous event will cause them to leave. Whatever it is you deem to be intolerable, make sure you have a conversation with your partner about it and you should also find out from him/her what is unacceptable.
Sometimes when a person has a partner who repeatedly crosses the “line in the sand”, he/she remains stuck, emotionally paralyzed, confused, angry, resentful, and even fearful. Time and time again, you may allow yourself to be re-traumatized by the other person’s behavior and feel helpless when you know you need to do something different (e.g., leave). The trauma becomes familiar and common and leaves you anxious and unable to move forward in this relationship, in the next relationship, and/or the relationship with yourself.
Deal Breaker Rules:
1. Identify what your deal breakers are, stick to them, and share with your partner. Your deal breakers are probably reflective of your value system which allows you to have a good sense of who you are as a person.
2. Be clear with yourself and your partner the nature and role of forgiveness. What does forgiveness mean to you? Have you ever forgiven someone before and if so, what happened? We assume that our partner will be more than human and never do anything wrong to us.
3. Seek support. Don’t be afraid to reach out to family, friends, or even a professional (e.g., therapist) when you are unsure what to do.
4. Be open to change. Give yourself and your relationship an opportunity to change. For example, a romantic relationship may have to become a platonic friendship; your friendship may become casual; or you may have to move on.
Dr. James Wadley is Director of the Master of Human Services Program at Lincoln University. He is a licensed professional counselor and marriage, family, and sexuality therapist in the States of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He’s also the author of “The Lost and Found Box.” You can learn more about him atdrjameswadley.com or tweet him @phdjamesw.