When we are out on dates or swiping through our apps, women are known to look for red flags rather than green lights. For many women, our list of deal breakers is so long it’s hard to find any man who fits the right description. Things like differing politics or religion seem like obvious impediments to marriage, but you may be surprised to learn that these things don’t have to be a make it or break it for you romantic future.
How do you determine whether a difference is a deal breaker or an issue that can be worked through as a couple? This question comes up often in my practice as a psychotherapist, so I’ll tackle how to think through three classic ones here.
You Have Very Few Common Interests
Do you and your partner have to both enjoy hiking or cooking together? Is it an automatic deal breaker if he has a taste for death metal while you prefer indie folk? Not necessarily.
While it sounds a lot more fun to be with someone who loves dancing as much as you do, shared passions and interests are not necessarily a reason to break things off. My friend Kristina told me she would have never considered dating someone who was a fan of video games or who devoured sci-fi novels like candy. But then she met Kevin, her now husband. “While dating Kevin, I initially struggled with the fact that we had completely different interests,” she told me. “I used to worry that these differences would make it hard for us to keep up a connection. Once I even tried to read some of his favorite books so that I would be better equipped in proving to him that my dislike was justified in the hopes that I could win him over and he'd share my dislike of his hobbies. It didn't work.”
She told me that she learned that she didn’t have to like exactly the same things he did, but she did need to respect his tastes and interests. Respect helped to build a foundation of being free to share their opinions, feelings, and thoughts without feeling judged by the other.
According to psychologist William McKenna, what’s more important than common interests is your ability to compromise. “The ability to be flexible and compromise are foundational to any relationship,” shares McKenna. “Yes, some people’s interests might feel disparate, but perhaps the issue isn’t the distance between your interests. Perhaps it’s your reluctance to compromise that is getting in the way of finding common ground.” If your significant other looks down on your interests or makes fun of them, you might want to take a step back and discuss before moving the relationship forward. But, if you can respect one another’s different passions and have an attitude of compromise you can still have a happy marriage—and maybe even find some common interests you never knew were there.
Your Politics Are Different
We all know that politics can be divisive even when you’re just chatting with a neighbor, so it's easy to assume that having different political views is an automatic deal breaker in romance too. But this isn’t necessarily the case.
I’ve worked with several clients, both in couples and individual therapy, where one partner has very different political views than the other and it doesn’t cause tension in the relationship. They make it work and have a healthy loving relationship. One couple told me that they’ve accepted the fact that they’ll never agree on politics and rarely discuss political issues with each other, knowing that it could easily spiral into a fight.
While this might seem like an unhealthy tactic at first, research shows that avoidance is not necessarily a bad thing in relationships. Storied marriage expert, Dr. John Gottman, explains that conflict-avoiders are considered a happy-stable conflict type among married couples. Conflict avoiders emphasize areas of common ground, keeping their ratio of positive to negative interactions 5:1. But it’s not just the conflict-avoiders who could handle a difference in political opinions and values. Volatile couples (who love to debate and duke things out) and Validating couples (who take the time to listen to one another’s perspectives) could all handle a differing politics. Their secret? These couples all maintain that magic 5:1 ratio in their relationship, even in the face of conflict as heated as politics.
In the end, political differences don’t have to drive you apart. Find out what kind of conflict style you and your partner have. If you prioritize the positive in your relationship, politics might not be as divisive for you. Focusing on common ground and constantly learning to respect your partner’s views, even if you don’t agree with them. That said, politics can become a deal breaker, if you look down on the other person because of their views. Contempt is deadly in a relationship, and if either of you has contempt for the other’s political views, it may be a relationship deal breaker.
You Have Different Religious Beliefs
When it comes to religious beliefs, it’s absolutely possible to respect each other’s beliefs and to build a healthy relationship. What makes the difference between bliss and deal breaker? Respect.
If one person isn’t able to respect the other’s beliefs, compromising will be much more difficult and contempt will creep into the relationship. For example, my friend Michael told me that his faith is very important to him and that he has had a few relationships end because the woman he was dating didn’t respect his religious values. Instead of encouraging him in his faith, as something he found fulfilling, he felt as though his girlfriend was working to turn him against his beliefs. Needless to say, if your partner doesn’t respect your religious beliefs it can add unnecessary strain to your relationship.
It’s important to remember too that respect doesn’t necessitate agreement. A spouse can respect and support his partner in her faith without sharing those beliefs. Respect can mean making it possible for your partner to practice their faith or encouraging the time they take to practice their faith.
Ultimately, having different religious views requires intentional communication. If you don’t address the impact your religious differences have, “it can be a ticking time bomb,” says McKenna. He recommends discussing how your religious beliefs might affect your relationship in the long term to prevent any surprises down the line. For example, how will your religious beliefs affect how you raise your children? If you have these conversations and you both feel your wishes will be respected and supported, differing religious beliefs don’t necessarily have to mean an unhappy marriage.
For the most part, deciding whether or not a characteristic is a deal breaker depends on a variety of factors. But in general, unless it involves compromising your safety or moral beliefs, it might be worth giving a good guy a chance instead of immediately writing him off as hopeless. The most important thing you can do when you come up against potential deal breakers is to have an honest discussion with your significant other (or the guy you’re interested in) about your differences. Hoping they go away or that they will work themselves out puts you at risk for resentment or misunderstanding in your relationship.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your differences because it means you are taking a proactive approach to strengthening the relationship and building a foundation of freedom and respect. And that’s something you can both agree on.
Photo Credit: Local Embers