A client once came to me with a long list of requirements another coach had told her to make about her future husband.

He had to be tall, and good looking, and wealthy, and able to be a good father, and emotionally available, and want to live near her family, and addiction-free, and well-traveled, and have similar politics and on and on and on. It was a great list, but even after making it, she couldn’t find anyone who fit the bill. She came to me, feeling hopeless that there were no good men left.

The problem, however, was on her end. She wasn’t distinguishing between what she required, what she needed, and what she wanted.

Deal breakers (aka Requirements)

Flipped around, deal breakers are actually about your requirements. Your bottom line. These are things that are non-negotiable in a specific relationship. These are about needs that must be met by the person you are in relationship with, or the relationship ultimately will not work for you. Your requirements can be in any realm of life, but really boil down to the fact that if this thing isn’t there, it’s a deal breaker.

In the case of the client mentioned above, I pushed her on each thing on her list: “Are you telling me that even if he’s good to you, a good provider, is sexy to you, wants kids, would make a good father, etc, that if he wasn’t over 6 feet, you wouldn’t be with him?” “Well, no,” she said,  “But I’d really like him to be.”

A-ha! “Tall” isn’t a requirement. It’s a want. A Desire! (Which is good, and we’ll talk about more below.)

It turned out that the number of her actual requirements was low, but when they became very clear, the client was able to see that there were lots of men she could entertain as a possible match. Within a year she was engaged to a wonderful man (who was, after all, tall.)


These are things you, as a person, must have in your life, but where you get these needs met might be flexible.

Shannon (not her real name) had a need to talk through her ideas, feelings and thoughts on a subject before she could really know where she stood. Her boyfriend, on the other hand, was an introvert, and was easily overwhelmed by her chatter. They came to me, worried that something was wrong between them that he felt so taxed by her talking and she felt shut down by his inability to listen to her.

It soon became clear that in Shannon’s ideal world, her partner would be one of the people that she could do this a lot of this talking with. But when challenged on this, Shannon realized she could get this need met in other relationships, such as with her best friend, who is also a verbal-processing extrovert, and her cousin, who is quiet, but who loves listening to Shannon as she puts her mind to work. In fact, her best friend and cousin were actually much better at meeting her need than any of her partners ever had been.

So Shannon realized she had a requirement for her boyfriend to be tolerant and accepting of her verbal processing. But separate from that was a need for an audience when she is working through her ideas and feelings. Once she realized that there were two things there, a need and a requirement that she had collapsed into one thing, she relaxed about her boyfriend’s inability to take it all in, and he was able to remind her that she had other people she could talk to, when he couldn’t do it, so that she didn’t feel shut down.

What needs can you “outsource” to take pressure off your relationships?


The Wants. The frills. The sprinkles. The cherries on top. Desires are important and not to be dismissed as frivolous or stupid. On the contrary, getting what you want (in addition to what you require and what you need) is what makes a relationship really sparkle. After all, what’s a sundae without sprinkles and cherries? Just some ice cream with whipped cream. Not really a sundae at all, I’d say!

My friend Kasha has taught me more about sprinkles than anyone I know. When you’re talking about how awesome it is to be sitting in a hot tub on a cool night, with the moon shining overhead, she’s the one who will say “You know what would make this even MORE awesome? Strawberries and whipped cream.” And the next thing you know, you’re in a hot tub, the moon is shining, and you’re eating farmer’s market strawberries with hand-whipped cream. And probably some chocolate got added along the way.

So many of us hold back on naming what would really thrill us, thinking it’s “too much” or not okay. But when you do that, you only get half a sundae… or half a relationship.

Ask for a LOT. Ask for more than what you think is reasonable. Ask for sprinkles and cherries on top. Be willing to hear a no! And remember, when you ask for a lot, you’ll get a lot more than you expect.

Consider: What are your relationship requirements? What are your needs? And what are your frills? This is the kind of thing I LOVE to help people sort out. If you’d like some help with this, let’s talk. 

photo by jamieanne via Flickr

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