dealbreaker

Relationship Dealbreakers: What People Want to Avoid in a Partner

attractioncourseAs Liz Lemon so fabulously contended, everyone has their own set of relationship dealbreakers. These are the qualities of a potential mate that are absolute “no”s. For some, smoking is a dealbreaker. For others, bad breath is a dealbreaker. The list goes on.

But do people really have these dealbreakers or is it just a sitcom gag?[1]  An admittedly great sitcom and reasonably good gag. But you didn’t ask for my opinions. If they do, how much do they actually relate to our relationship decisions and how do they stack up against the things we actively want in a relationship? What’s more important: dealmaker or dealbreaker?[2]  This will probably soon be a much less successful spin-off of Deal or No Deal.

What are People’s Dealbreakers?

boy-441943_640In a recently published paper, a team of researchers reported the results of several studies that focused on the dealbreaker concept. They specifically define a dealbreaker as a “bit of information you learn about a person that might make you lose interest in this potential partner.

In their first two studies, they just wanted to get a handle on what kinds of things people say are their dealbreakers. As an added interesting question, they also looked at whether these dealbreakers play a different role in long-term vs. short-term relationships.

First, they simply asked a whole of bunch of people to list the things that would make them reject someone as a relationship partner. Everyone made two lists: one set of dealbreakers for long-term relationships and one set for short-term relationships. No too surprisingly, people listed more dealbreakers for long-term relationships than for short-term relationships.

Okay, Yeah, but What are the Dealbreakers?

I’m getting to that. Having gathered a list of people’s freely reported dealbreakers, the researchers did a second study where they provided the compiled list to a new group of people and had them rate how likely each would be a dealbreaker for them.

Their data suggest three general types of dealbreakers that are most pervasive: (1) health characteristics (e.g., smelling bad), (2) personality traits (e.g., being racist [3]  I’d have to agree with that one.), and (3) sexual strategies (e.g., being bad in bed).[4]  Okay, if you want the whole story, they actually went back to make a more complete list of dealbreaker categories based on the full set of 49 characteristics that they considered. They are: unattractiveness, unhealthy lifestyle, undesirable personality traits, differing religious beliefs, limited social status, divergent mating psychologies, and differing relationship goals.

Let’s get a little more specific. Although there’s probably plenty of variability, the researchers provided a handy table[5]  Table 1, if you’re going to looking yourself. of the top dealbreakers from this study (conveniently separated by the type of relationship to which they pertain). Ready?

Long-Term Relationship Dealbreakers:

  1. Has anger issues or is abusive
  2. Is currently dating multiple partners
  3. Is untrustworthy
  4. Is already in a relationship/married
  5. Has health issues such as STDs
  6. Has alcohol or drug problems
  7. Is inattentive/uncaring
  8. Has poor hygiene

Short-Term Relationship Dealbreakers:

  1. Has health issues such as STDs
  2. Smells bad
  3. Has poor hygiene
  4. Is already in a relationship/married
  5. Has anger issues or is abusive
  6. Is bad in bed
  7. Is unattractive
  8. Is currently dating multiple partners

Clearly there are some differences between each type of relationship. Interstingly, though, for the long-term relationship dealbreakers, men and women were similar in how much they thought these various things were problematic. For short-term relationships, though, women rated these issues as stronger dealbreakers than men did.[6]  Although when you break it down into individual dealbreakers, there were still some long-term relationship dealbreakers that men and women differed on.

Which is More Important: Dealbreaker or Dealmaker?

ponte-vecchio-691789_640Now the part that I find the most interesting about these studies. The researchers also tested whether people are more sensitive to the qualities they want to avoid or to the qualities they want in a mate. They turned to well-established research on prospect theory to make their predictions.

Prospect theory proposes that people are generally loss averse—they’re more sensitive to negatives than they are to positives. For example, you’d probably more upset about losing $10 than you’d be happy about getting $10.

The same holds in relationships, these researchers suggest. Indeed, they write: “taking on a bad partner may be costlier than foregoing a good partner.” In other words, we’re more afraid of starting a relationship with someone who has negative qualities than we are excited about starting a relationship with someone who has positive qualities.

In their final study, they collected data that confirmed these suspicions. People were more sensitive to a potential partner’s dealbreakers than they were to his or her dealmakers.

Let’s Make a Deal[7]  The original good one—not the new Wayne Brady one…obviously

The researchers probably aren’t about to start their own Dealbreakers Talk Show like Liz Lemon, but their results do illustrate an interesting phenomenon in the world of dating and relationships. As the authors note, psychologists have long tried to understand what factors underlie attraction and what people are romantically drawn to. Much less research, however, has focused on dealbreakers, so these data give us insight into those processes.

It’s also worth noting that these studies depended on a wide variety of participants. Although they got responses from college students, they also recruited a nationally representative sample of more than 5,000 single Americans as well as other non-student participants who took the surveys online. At least we can have some confidence that dealbreaker phenomenon is not restricted to young adults.

I’ll admit, though, that I’m still left wondering how good people are at knowing their own dealbreakers. For example, if someone says that being unattractive is a dealbreaker, does it really predict relationship satisfaction if the person actually starts a relationship with someone who’s less attractive than he or she wanted? I suppose it calls for more research!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1.   An admittedly great sitcom and reasonably good gag. But you didn’t ask for my opinions.
2.   This will probably soon be a much less successful spin-off of Deal or No Deal.
3.   I’d have to agree with that one.
4.   Okay, if you want the whole story, they actually went back to make a more complete list of dealbreaker categories based on the full set of 49 characteristics that they considered. They are: unattractiveness, unhealthy lifestyle, undesirable personality traits, differing religious beliefs, limited social status, divergent mating psychologies, and differing relationship goals.
5.   Table 1, if you’re going to looking yourself.
6.   Although when you break it down into individual dealbreakers, there were still some long-term relationship dealbreakers that men and women differed on.
7.   The original good one—not the new Wayne Brady one…obviously

Leave a Comment