Are you with your significant other because they are who you want. Or, are you with them because it’s the best you think you can do?
Last time we discussed ten pieces of blunt relationship advice that should position you for better satisfaction in that area of your life. No, the blog’s not turning into a love and relationship column, but let’s face it, when you’re experiencing a terrible relationship, all the career and financial advice in the world won’t help you feel at ease.
Today’s post comes from a good friend whose opinion I’ve grown to hold in high regard. The question is a deep one, and I thought the answer could be trusted to her thoughtful consideration and articulate nature. I’m pleased to note she did not disappoint.
Hindley Williams is an experienced advocate who has worked for several nonprofits serving individuals with disabilities on local and national levels. She connects people with resources and has presented at several conferences on best practices in her field. She currently resides in the Baltimore area. In her spare time, she enjoys reading veraciously, cooking, and spending time with her devoted retired service dog.
When it comes to relationships, the phrase “don’t settle” has entered the proverbial book of relationship advice that we give our friends when they are having a tough time, and a phrase we think to ourselves when evaluating our next steps with a partner. But we also know that waiting for the perfect match is not realistic, so what’s a person to do?
It’s easy to say that a person is not the one for us when we may be angry with them or they did something wrong that is going to take some time to get over. Perhaps the relationship being on the fritz is indeed a sign that it is time to throw in the towel, but all relationships go through hard times. and it is important to carefully evaluate whether the difficulties are indicative of permanent shutdown or whether processing and healing as a couple is possible. Consider these three questions as you sort through the difference between a match that will work and one that is just settling.
Am I Fulfilled in the Relationship?
Even in the most healthy of relationships, the answer to this question is sometimes going to be a resounding “no”. But are you generally fulfilled most of the time when your partner is around or you are thinking about him or her? Does their presence refresh you after a long day?
Again, the answers to these questions are not always going to be in the affirmative. Everyone has their annoying quirks, and let’s face it, sometimes we just want to be left alone to decompress.
After a tough day at work, sometimes all I want is to be alone for hours on end, or curled up with a book somewhere far away from the day’s events. But in the relationships I have experienced that have been the most fulfilling, my partner has respected my need for space, and I feel the urge to be as close to that person as possible once my alone time has run its course. Because, at the core, I have craved their company for the majority of the time more than anyone else’s. And that is the comfort and familiarity that can calm you down after an argument or give both of you that extra nudge to compromise.
Think about whether your partner’s general communication style fulfills you, excluding of course misunderstandings and those moments when you get under each other’s skin.
I was with someone who was an excellent listener when times were tough for me, and I am so grateful to him for that. But I desire a partner who is able to both listen and suggest practical ways to improve my situation, and I like to be able to offer the same in return. Not everyone prefers that. In fact you may be reading this and thinking that sounds annoying as hell, and these differences are part of the challenge when trying to find your person.
Does this person understand your needs, and do you feel you could go to them and they would be willing to provide you with comfort, distraction, conversation, or whatever it was you are seeking? Are there enough concepts or interests on which you can connect so that you can foster a bond?
A key part of any relationship is being fulfilled from having a bond with your partner, but other areas of our lives need to fulfill us as well in order to live a balanced life. Does your partner care about the things that fulfill you, even if they do not care about those same interests? Do you care about what fulfills them?
Sincerely caring about the other person having a good life experience and you wanting that for them as well is powerful. That kind of bond can carry your relationship through the hard times.
Are Our Goals Compatible?
What are your dreams and can you see yourself building a landscape with that person? Not who you imagine that person to be, but the person they actually are?
- Do you want to get married someday?
- Do you want to have kids?
- Do you have financial goals and plans that a lifetime partner would inevitably be part of?
- Are you particularly emphatic about the state or town in which you want to live?
Perhaps these questions do not matter so much if you are enjoying a passionate relationship in college, but if you feel things are getting very serious, or if you are a young professional looking to settle down soon, having a conversation with your partner about your life goals is responsible and shows you are confident and committed to building a prosperous life for you and your partner.
I used to be terrified about bringing up these concepts in the beginning of a relationship, especially as a woman. I did not want to scare guys off by being honest about my goals. Now I understand that is important to bring up my goals early because then I know that pursuing the relationship will be fruitful beyond just initial compatibility.
Now, before you go getting nervous, I’m not suggesting you bring up these big topics on the first date, not unless you want to. But it is completely appropriate to be honest about how you want your life to unfold and discover what your potential mate imagines for their future as well within the first few months of falling for one another. Any partner who is mature and actually ready to consider serious commitment will understand why these topics are important to discuss. Laying out the paths you both envision for yourselves as individuals will help you to decide if you would make a good long term match.
If you find yourself starting to let go of goals that were once important to you, then perhaps it is worth considering whether you are settling for someone that is not a match for you.
A while back I dated a guy and we had a conversation about children. I do not see having children as a part of my life trajectory, and I told him as much. He was still evaluating whether he wanted kids, and occasionally throughout our relationship, he would outline the negatives of having children, almost as though he was trying to convince both me and himself that he did not want them. I didn’t trust his sincerity and I also cared about him enough that I didn’t want my firm choice to affect his thinking.
We ended up breaking up for unrelated reasons, and I think that this early conversation we had about children was a precursor of the communication issues that arose throughout the rest of our time together.
Am I being Manipulated?
Most American adults are not psychologically healthy, and thus many couples are either emotionally manipulative, are being emotionally manipulated, or both.
In my experience, manipulative behavior is one of the biggest relationship red flags. We are all human and can have moments in which we manipulate those we love without meaning to, and if the apology feels sincere and improvements are made, then it is appropriate to forgive and move on.
But sometimes, emotional manipulation is chronic even in the face of apology after apology, and depending on the frequency and degree, manipulation can even enter the realm of emotional abuse. If you feel that manipulation is a pattern in your relationship, the bad news is it’s going to get worse the longer you wait to address it or end the relationship altogether. Times can be good for a while and then every few weeks when there is a disagreement, the manipulation creeps in. Your partner is counting on you to remember the good times when you are considering leaving him or her, and in many cases, this works. It’s a trap and sometimes hindsight is the only teacher that can show us that we are worth more than that.
I used to believe I could fix the people that emotionally manipulated me, and I would remind myself that they had a bad childhood or were going through a lot. Friends whom I have witnessed go through emotional manipulation cover it up with excuses such as “well, she really does love me and she said she was sorry,” or “he and I have such a good time together and it only happens sometimes.” But any kind of manipulative pattern is not okay.
Manipulators want to be in a relationship, but only one that is on their terms, and the truth is relationships just are not like that. They can’t be, not when they involve two unique individuals who are going to have differing needs, preferences, and obligations.
Here are some different types of chronic emotional manipulation and how you can spot it. These types of behavior can be harmful even when they do not stray into emotional abuse because they discount your preferences as an individual and do not foster an environment of doing life together as a team:
- Guilt: Do you ever feel guilted into doing something that you do not want to do? Does your partner ever make you feel guilty for going out with your friends, refusing sex, or wanting to spend time alone? They could possibly be using guilt tactics to cajole you into doing what they want you to do.
- Anger: Does your partner chronically get angry about issues that are not very significant? Do you fear your partner’s anger and keep secrets from them to keep the peace or do things you would not do otherwise in order to prevent episodes? It is possible that your partner is relying on your fear to discount your individuality to get what they want from you. This means that they do want a partner, but only on their terms.
A big indicator of knowing if you’re settling is unfortunately hindsight, so it can be tough to nail down whether a present relationship is working. But we urge you to take these questions and ponder them in the great unknown.
So, what do you think? Does evaluating your relationship with these three questions give you more clarity on whether you are settling in your relationship? Are there other angles to consider? Let us know in the comments!