Relationships: Tips to Overcome the Deal-Breakers That Cause Marriages to Fail

Your marriage is humming along. The two of you are happy. Some problems arise, but you can cope with them.And then all of a sudden, a deal-breaker enters the marriage.

Deal-breakers, according to Maryann Karinch, co-author with Greg Hartley of “Date Decoder,” are behaviors that lead to the destruction of a marriage. When this deal-breaking behavior persists and the spouse is confronted and can’t change, divorce is often inevitable.

These deal-breakers include abusive behavior, disrespect of family and friends, trivialization of career, habitual deception and harsh treatment of others.In this question and answer with Divorce360, Karinch advises what to do when your spouse exhibits deal-breaking behaviors, how to turn these objectionable actions around to avoid divorce, and what to do if they persist.

Divorce360: You refer to certain behavior in marriage as deal-breakers. Why?

Karinch: There are some things that are so important to your personal identity that when they’re violated you feel as if a piece of yourself has been taken out. When you enter a relationship, you expect that the other person will honor certain entitlements. These entitlements can be anything that is important to you, such as, someone being faithful to you. Entitlements are completely personal, and it’s something you must sit down and figure out on your own.

Divorce360: Why do you say in your book, “Your basic question in deciding whether or not to continue a relationship is this. ‘Does he violate my entitlements’?”

Karinch: If the person knows your entitlements and deliberately violates them, he or she is showing disrespect for you. All the love he/she feels won’t change that. Respect is fundamental in a relationship.

Divorce360: Why do you refer to them as deal-breakers?

Karinch: Your relationship has a foundation like a house. If you remove one aspect, there’s structural damage. If a pillar breaks so does the relationship. Repairing it isn’t easy.

Divorce360: What are the most common deal-breakers?
Karinch: Fidelity is a big one. If you cheat on most people, they’re out. Anything can be a deal-breaker, stealing, lying, squashing another person’s career, hurting one’s friends, abusing in-laws.

Divorce360: When does annoying behavior stop and deal-breakers begin?

Karinch: If annoying behavior persists after it’s been addressed, that’s a deal-breaker. It’s no longer the behavior itself, but the fact that the person continues to behave in a way that disturbs you.

Divorce360: Describe the effects of abusive behavior.

Karinch: Abusive behavior can be psychological or physical.Physical involves rough treatment, making you uncomfortable in your own home.Psychological abuse entails insidious treatment that makes you feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

Divorce360: Prior to getting married, this deal-breaking behavior likely appeared. Why was it allowed to persist?

Karinch: Most people make excuses and hope the behavior will change.They think the more time they spend together, the more the person will respect them and will stop the abusive behavior. As the love deepens, the problem should go away. Most often, it doesn’t go away by itself.

Divorce360: Many people think marriage is some magical potion that will transform a person. What’s wrong with that view?

Karinch: That’s like saying ‘I’ll take a crocodile into the house, feed it, give it attention, and it won’t behave like a crocodile’. It’s in their character to be abusive. If that behavior is present early on, it’ll be present later.Behavior won’t change without intervention like therapy or medication.

Divorce360: What’s your best advice to stop this abusive behavior?

Karinch: Make it clear that it must stop immediately. If therapy is something the person will do, get them into therapy. You need immediate action, not promises to get better. If you don’t take action right away, you fall into a vicious cycle or the Ike and Tina Turner syndrome, where the abuse is part of the love.

Divorce360: Many abusive people get defensive, say they will change and don’t.Why?

Karinch: Many abusive people don’t see themselves as abusers.Many were raised that way by an abusive parent.

Divorce360: When does the abused spouse know this behavior is unacceptable and should consider divorce?

Karinch: If you ask the other person ad nauseam to stop the abusive behavior — abuses of family or disrespect of friends — and the person doesn’t, it’s time to get out.These behaviors are unacceptable. Some people endure this on a daily behavior, but they are trapped.

Divorce360: Is infidelity always a deal-breaker?

Karinch: Definitely not. There are many aspects of a relationship that can be treasured and one thing can fall apart. If two people are bound by common goals, they might overcome infidelity. You have another higher value that’s important that keeps the couple together.

Divorce360: If the couple isn’t having sex or is having bad sex, when does that become a deal-breaker?

Karinch: When you want good sex and he won’t cooperate, you’re in an untenable position. For someone to say I love you and not spend 10 or 20 minutes giving him what he wants, that’s selfish.

Divorce360: You’re suggesting that respect is the glue of a relationship?

Karinch: Respect is the soul of a relationship. Respect is the intangible ingredient that breathes life into relationships.Without respect, it’s nothing.

Divorce360: What’s your best advice on how to overcome deal-breakers to keep the relationship going?

Karinch: Talk the issues out.Don’t start the discussion with a criticism. Instead, start with an invitation to face the problem and solve it.What do you want and what do you expect of me?

Divorce360: When is divorce the best option?

Karinch: When you’re not happy.You derive happiness out of any relationship if you feel respect. If you don’t have that in a relationship, it may be time to leave.


1. Karinch’s new book “Date Decoder” (Adams Media, March 2008) offers advice on establishing good relationships through the acronym DECODE, which stands for determine what you need, evaluate what’s out there, collect information, observe, decide, and emphasize the good. It uses military intelligence techniques to help you evaluate the quality of a relationship.

2. Men more than woman are often abusers. Hence, the book “Stop Hurting the Woman You Love: Breaking the Cycle of Abusive Behavior” by Charlie Donaldson, Randy Flood and Elaine Eldridge offers practical solutions to stop the deal-breaking cycle.

About the authorGary M. Stern has interviewed CEO’s, stars, entrepreneurs and everyday working people. He co-authored “Minority Rules: Turn Your Ethnicity into a Competitive Edge,” (Harper Collins 2006).He’s written for USA Weekend, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters andInvestor’s Business Daily.