Deal Breakers

I met my husband at a coaching conference in Los Angeles in 2013. At the time, I had no idea where Milwaukee was and Al had no idea where Nova Scotia was. Since those were the places we each lived, we were correct in sensing that this was going to be the least of our problems.

We also both had children, careers, homes, and a sense of community that was important to us in those places. Striking up a long distance relationship in our mid-40’s, deeply rooted as we both were, seemed like an improbable undertaking.

A year and a half later, we are one incredible extended family. We made it work despite many challenges and obstacles.

How did we do it? Mutual core values was a must. Enjoying the same activities and sharing common interests was critical. A lot of laughter was essential. Oodles of chemistry certainly helped. And sharing a strong sense of faith was a backbone.

We would also point to our early conversation about ‘deal breakers’ as another key factor in our success.

Early on, in the weeks following our initial meeting, we came to know each other through long hours on the telephone. The incredible upheaval (moving to a new country!) that this relationship would require of one of us if we decided to move ahead was a strong motivator for us to cut to the chase. There is no ‘casual dating’ when entire families are involved and you live in different time zones in different countries. You are either ‘in’ or ‘out’. We had conversations that mattered, because they really did matter.

Al broached the subject within the first week. What were my deal breakers, he asked? He wanted to know what issues or topics or behaviours were so fundamental to me that I would not enter into a relationship if they were (or were not) present. My boundaries. My non-negotiables. And he wanted to put his out there in the open as well.

It can be scary to set boundaries early in a relationship. The fear is that your most important personal preferences or requirements might push someone away. What’s more true is that your boundaries are healthy and necessary. It gives your partner a sense of safety and trust when you acknowledge your boundaries and risk upholding them because that creates space for their boundaries to be heard as well. Both of you win.

In the absence of boundary conversations, people in relationships (personal, family, and business) often feel on-edge and slightly fearful. Uncertainty breeds mistrust and skepticism. Over time, these relationships become what we label as ‘toxic’. A synonym would be to call them ‘boundary-less’.

My husband and I have gone back to that conversation time and time again. In fact, we love recalling that night on the phone, the way the words that began so tentatively transformed into strong, powerful commitments between us by the time we had exhausted the fire in my woodstove.

Respect was one of the deal breakers we both articulated. We agreed that we could disagree with each other, see things differently, even be angry at the other person, but non-respectful behaviours would cross a line that neither of us were comfortable with… and we weren’t having it. We’ve stuck steadfastly to our deal breakers. In fact, loving each other could be called the practise of honouring the boundaries we’ve each asked the other to uphold. And uphold them we do.

During that early, vulnerable conversation we forged a foundation. There are only a few of them but those core issues underscore everything we are as a couple. We see those deal breakers as the private glue that cements us together.

What are your deal breakers, your non-negotiable needs or desires within your intimate relationship? Have you communicated about them? What would it take for you to do so?