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Dating Deal-Breakers

By Marianne Wait
WebMD Feature

He’s rude to the waiter or downs too many drinks. She always wants to know where you are, or shows up late all the time. Are these things just annoying, or signs of relationship trouble ahead?

“When you’re with that person at the beginning and something strikes you as odd or bizarre, and it sticks with you, it makes you uncomfortable but you can’t really wrap meaning around it,” that’s your red flag, says Bethany Marshall, PhD, PsyD, author of Deal Breakers: When to Work On a Relationship and When to Walk Away. “Early in a relationship, it’s that one thing that’s right in front of you that may be a sign of something deeper.”

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Everyone can have a bad day, so don’t rush to judgment, Marshall says. “But you have to trust yourself to ask questions about things that make you feel uncomfortable.”

Early Warning Signs

Take notice if your new love interest:

  • Shows up more than a little late. This can be a sign of anxiety, trouble tracking time, or simple disrespect, Marshall says. Is this something you can deal with?
  • Drinks too much. If it happens more than once early on, pay attention.It could just be nerves, but it could also suggest problems controlling urges, mental health issues, or possibly even an addiction problem, Marshall says.
  • Trash-talks an ex. It can take time to get over a split, but if your date is focusing on the ex, how can they focus on you? Are they ready to move on? And if they can devalue one person they had a relationship with, what’s to keep them from doing the same with you?  
  • Grooms too much, or not enough. Over-grooming could indicate a puffed-up sense of self, and under-grooming could signal depression or other problems.
  • Sends the food back. Once may be fine, but if done often this could be asign of a person who feels they have a right to special treatment. Maybe no one can please the person -- including you.

Later Alarm Bells

“In the first blush of romance, people overlook a lot of stuff because they’re so excited,” says clinical psychologist Marie Hartwell-Walker, EdD. But after a month or so, that’s when it’s time to look closer.

It could be a sign of trouble if your partner:

  • Doesn’t introduce you to family or friends. Does she always have an excuse not to? Hartwell-Walker says not introducing you is a sign of disrespect.
  • Doesn’t have friends. “‘You are the one' is the probably the most destructive idea in American romance,” Hartwell-Walker says. “You don’t want to be somebody’s every-every-everything.” If she doesn’t have other friends, you may want to consider why.
  • Isolates you. He wants you to spend your time with him only, and wants to know where you are when you are apart. This goes to trust. “They can’t trust what they can’t control,” Marshall says.
  • Wants to do only what she likes. Is she calling all the shots? Relationships are two-sided. If she’s interested in doing only what she likes, you have a problem.
  • Never pays his share. “Somebody who is unwilling to invest money is unwilling to invest their emotions,” Marshall says. Chivalry aside, if both people are at the same stage of life, one person always or never paying is a red flag for imbalance in the relationship, Hartwell-Walker notes.

Bottom line: Trust your judgment. Hartwell-Walker suggests keeping your own personal deal-breaker list to five things that are non-negotiable for you, and leave it at that. But don’t use a long list of deal-breakers as an excuse to keep people away. “No one is going to be perfect.” On the other hand, she adds, “Don’t go into any relationship thinking you’re going to reform them.” You won’t.

Reviewed on February 13, 2014

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