You deserve to be happy, so don’t get caught in the trap of okay-enough.
“Don’t settle,” is relationship advice as old as time. But, as your best friends begin coupling off and well-meaning grandparents start nagging, it can be tempting to rationalize each new relationship as possibly the one.
Sometimes it can be as blatantly obvious as overlooking your top deal breakers, but, in other situations, settling can simply look like suppressing your gut instinct that perhaps this great person isn’t the right great person for you. Psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini breaks it down for us, “Every relationship requires you to negotiate but there are things you should never settle for. Settling for things that aren’t part of your value system is a no-no in healthy relationships.”
But, how do you know the difference between accepting that everyone has quirks and giving up on your core values? We asked the relationship experts to explain what is settling, how to recognize it, and what to do if you’re faced with the reality that, gulp, you might be settling.
What Is Settling in a Relationship?
Michelle Mouhtis, a Relationship Coach and Licensed Therapist, defines settling in a relationship as, “Settling is when your wants, needs and desires in a relationship are being chronically unmet because your partner is incapable of meeting them.” She goes on to add, “Settling means there’s a compatibility difference between you and your partner that’s so significant that one of you is chronically sacrificing your needs in the relationship.”
Settling isn’t just resigning yourself to a lifetime of conflicting preferences in Netflix shows or cleaning up your partner’s late-night snack crumbs. It’s deeper than surface-level behaviors. It’s a genuine disconnect in the way you two see the world –– and, yet, for many reasons, looking past this schism to believe that this person is worth pursuing a long-term relationship with.
Therapist and writer Sara Kuburic explains that, often, settling comes from a place of fear of returning to a single life. Someone is unwilling to let go of a less-than-happy relationship because it seems better than nothing. She says, “Settling is being with someone who you do not truly want to be with, but are committed to from a sense of obligation or fear.”
Kuburic goes on to make an important distinction, however, between settling and compromise. She notes, “Compromise, or being realistic, is understanding that no one is perfect and accepting the flaws or shortcomings of your significant other.” You and your partner will have differences and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, which is why it’s critical to recognize the signs that you are, in fact, settling, rather than compromising or negotiating.
Signs You’re Settling in Your Relationship
If you’re reading this thinking, “I thought I was just compromising with my partner and putting in the work to have a successful relationship, but maybe…I’m actually settling?”, we have four signs that can help you work through those feelings and insecurities.
Here’s what the experts say you need to know if you’re concerned you might be settling in your relationship.
You look for reasons to be annoyed.
Everyone gets annoyed with their partner on occasion! But, in healthy relationships, both parties work through it and move on. They don’t look for reasons to get angry. However, if you’re settling, you may already be on edge and reaching for reasons to take that out on your partner.
Mouhtis explains, “When you’re constantly nit-picking your partner it could be because there’s a lack of fulfillment in the relationship. It can be easy to see the dishes in the sink as a sign of not being cared for or neglected, instead of being soft with your partner and assuming they were busy. You begin to read into small things and assume the worst instead of being forgiving and holding your partner in high regard.”
You have different expectations of commitment.
“If you’re ready to commit and your partner isn’t, waiting for them to become more ready is not a wise choice. When you love someone, while also wanting more security than they are willing to give, it ends up destroying the power balance in the relationship,” says Rapini.
If your partner says they don’t want a long-term relationship, believe them. Don’t settle for someone that doesn’t offer you the security and intimacy that you deserve.
You’re not sure you can find someone else.
When you’re reaching for reasons to justify staying with your partner, that’s a red flag that you may be keeping them around because you have a fear of losing your place as a partnered person. Perhaps you’re concerned about your biological clock ticking or society’s expectations that you find a fairy tale love. But Kuburic says, it’s time to move on if, “You don’t think you can do better, you’re scared to be alone, you often wish you were with someone else, you feel obligated to stay or you’re not happy to be in the relationship.”
You feel resentful instead of excited about the future.
Mouhtis adds, “Another sign is when things get to a point where the parts of your partner you’re feeling resentful toward outweigh the parts of your partner that you love.” You should feel excited to spend the future with your soulmate. If the idea of another year together feels more like a chore than an adventure, it could be time to cut ties and focus on self-love instead.
You Feel Like You’re Settling—Now What?
If you identified with one or more of those signs of settling, you might be wondering, “Great, now what do I do?” Should you break up with your partner this evening? Should you take some time to consider your options? Should you do all of the above? Answer: it depends.
Talk it out to see if it’s worth saving.
While settling is never the answer, it is worth considering whether you’re actually settling or whether you’re in a temporary rough patch with your partner. Mouhtis recommends bringing in a professional to see whether this relationship could be worth working on. She says, “A professional will help you sort out your feelings for yourself, and will even help you with communication to see if the issues you’re having in the relationship can be worked on before you jump to call it quits. Just because you are having feelings that you might be settling, doesn’t mean you are or the relationship is doomed.”
Consider how bright the alternative could be.
Kuburic, on the other hand, encourages those who might be settling to imagine the possibilities. Particularly if someone is settling because they’re scared of being single, don’t want to try dating on the apps or are fearful of the idea of getting to know a stranger, considering the happiness that waits on the other side is key. “Explore what not settling would look like. Make decisions towards the new life and relationship that you feel aligns with you,” says Kuburic.
Know that you deserve more.
Lastly, Rapini hopes to empower those who may find themself in a relationship that looks like settling. She encourages those people to reclaim their self-esteem and their worth. She says, “You are not an option in a healthy relationship, you are a priority. Don’t settle for being second when you each should be each other’s first.”