Sunday, August 21, 2011

This Relationship Corner: Deal-Breakers and Details

Let’s talk about lists. No, I don’t mean jousting, although that isn’t a terrible metaphor. No, I’m talking about the lists we have about our ideal mate. (If you’re already in a relationship, I’m hoping that your list is your mate. If it isn’t, don’t leave it around for them to find; that’s worse than printing out a resume at work.)

There are two pitfalls when it comes to lists, and they both have to do with dealbreakers. The first pitfall is not having any dealbreakers. This can be a problem, because not being picky enough is how you end up being the getaway driver in a series of cross-country bank heists. You need standards, and you need to respect yourself enough to demand them from others. Don’t be afraid to turn down potential relationships because of a dealbreaker. That’s one of the reasons people have a string of bad relationships – they have no standards and then wonder why every person they’ve dated is terrible.

Think about what’s important in your life. Are you religious? Is your faith hugely important to you? As a Christian, my faith is very important to me, and when I was dating, one of the first things I considered when looking for a long-term romantic relationship was whether or not she also shared my faith. For me, to do otherwise would mean I’d be in a relationship, and possibly a marriage, with someone who didn’t share one of my core worldviews. For some of you, this isn’t as important an issue, so it wouldn’t be a dealbreaker.

What qualities do you want? Are you looking for loyalty, honesty, a good sense of humor? Do you want someone with a positive attitude? Someone who loves books? Someone who shares certain passions of yours, or at least will be there to encourage you? Look to what's the most important in your life, and make sure that the other person will want to share in it, as a deal-breaker could be someone who won't.

Other deal-breakers might be whether or not they use drugs, are a gambler, have a history of cheating, are abusive, want kids, don't want kids, really into sports, not into sports, are a geek, can't name a single actor who played The Doctor, or many other huge issues. Only you know what truly is a deal-breaker, but one key to finding them is asking yourself whether you are better off living with it, or alone. Sometimes the answer is alone, and you have to be mature enough to accept it.

The second pitfall is confusing details for dealbreakers. A detail is a minor characteristic that’s important, but negotiable. It’s an acceptable variation on what we want. It’s an area we are okay with if it doesn’t meet our expectations.

Do you want someone who thinks Die Hard is the greatest action movie ever? If you meet someone who prefers Predator, and simply believes Die Hard is good, that’s not a dealbreaker. It’s a minor disagreement not due to a character flaw, but the fact that we are human beings and we see things differently. In fact, differences are good for a relationship, they make things interesting.

My wife and I have many differences. We like different music, movies, television, and food. This has been a plus, because we’ve been able to expose each other to new experiences. My wife didn’t play a lot of video games before we married. However, she wasn’t against the idea, and now she has a few games she loves. She still isn’t as huge a fanatic as I am, but that’s a minor detail.

If you are honest and willing to know the difference between a deal-breaker and a detail, you'll see that something amazing can happen. Your strengths can compensate for their flaws, and their strengths compensate for your flaws. When you become capable of finding someone like that, when you can not only accept the details but work with them, you'll discover just how strong a relationship can be.

I want to emphasize something important. This isn’t settling. Rather, it’s being realistic about the fact that no one is perfect and you can’t expect another human being to live up to a laundry list of impossible expectations. After all, could you be perfect 24/7? I sometimes have a hard time being a half-way decent human being, and one of the things I love about my wife is that she accepts and compensates for my flaws, as I do for her. (That doesn’t mean she doesn’t get onto me about leaving crumpled up napkins everywhere.)

A great relationship isn’t about expecting perfection, it’s about loving and being loved despite the little details and differences, and sometimes because of them. How can you say you truly love someone if you refuse to see them for the imperfect person they are?

That’s a truly great relationship, and it happens when we know the difference between what’s truly important (dealbreakers) and what’s negotiable (details). What goes in each category is up to you, and if you’re having trouble finding the right person, if every relationship you’ve been in experiences explosions with the regularity of a MythBusters episode, then perhaps it’s time to either revisit your list of details and dealbreakers or actually take some time to make one.

Remember, your good relationship begins with you.

I can do more than talk relationships. Check out the book I wrote.

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