Whether you’re just starting to call yourself a couple or have been together for years, almost everyone will learn something about their boo and think, “Holy crap. What have I gotten myself into?”
Relationships have their fair share of turmoil: Infidelity. Grief. Substance abuse. Financial troubles. While we may think we know where our line in the sand is, it’s not always as easy when you’re faced with the decision to stay or go yourself.
But how do we figure out when an issue is a deal breaker and when it’s something you and your spouse can work through? Here’s what two experts had to say.
When one person is in the wrong
Let’s assume your issue is obvious — your partner has done something painful, like cheating, or spending a large sum of money you hadn’t agreed to spend, and you’re trying to figure out whether you should stay or go.
“The important thing is really to know yourself and your boundaries,” licensed clinical social worker Dr. Alisha Powell tells SheKnows. Once you have an understanding of these, it’s easier to communicate them to your partner.
The next piece of the puzzle is good old communication. “Can your partner sit with you and be accountable?” Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent and costar on We TV’s Sex Box, tells SheKnows. “Do his words, tone, demeanor and affect communicate that he truly has the capacity to feel the impact of his own behavior on you?”
In order to find out, you’re going to have to have a frank, transparent conversation. The best way to have this talk is to use “I” statements, sharing your feelings, needs and expectations, Powell advises. Then ask your partner to communicate what he just heard you say so you can be sure you’re really hearing each other.
“If your partner is willing to work with you and to change and is 100 percent into it, then it’s something that can be worked through,” Powell says. “But if your partner is consistently shut down, criticizes you, immediately gets defensive and can’t take responsibility or can’t empathize with your feelings… that is a clear indication that this relationship is not a healthy place for you to be in.”
When nobody is wrong but the issue is still there
But what if your issue is something more complicated, and neither of you is necessarily in the wrong — like being on opposite sides of deciding whether you want to have children or having a difference in parenting styles or religious beliefs?
Often, these issues come down to “how powerful the love is in the relationship” as well as how rigid or flexible the partners in the couple are in their stances, Walfish says. Unfortunately, these topics often take time to address and can be greatly helped by a third party, like a therapist, counselor, pastor or rabbi, she says. “These are very big, important, life-changing decisions, and sometimes they require careful, serious thought and time.”
And, of course, they require more communication. The goal is to figure out where you and your partner do and don’t agree and whether you can work together toward a similar goal. Through conversation, you may be able to work it out. Or not. “Sometimes there isn’t a compromise,” says Powell. “But being able to talk it out means being able to recognize when there will be no compromise because something is conflicting with both people’s core beliefs.”
Like most things in relationships, how you tell if a relationship issue is a deal breaker is by talking to and listening to each other. And in time, the answer will appear.