A Marriage Therapist on the Problems Associated with ‘Settling’ In a Relationship

holding hands

With reported loneliness being higher than ever across the globe, the fun, for some, the promiscuous single life isn’t looking as appealing right now. 

According to relationship, marriage and family therapist, Talia Litman, people want to hang onto someone when they find them deal-breakers or not to avoid being “alone”, especially in the current pandemic climate.

“Not everyone enjoys the modern dating scene, so it makes sense that people want to hang onto a committed person when they find them,” she says. “Many people can’t imagine themselves in a better relationship or are afraid that they won’t meet someone else.” 

Litman has a point, the online dating world can be even more isolating than living in real-world singleton. There are so many profiles, even more meaningless conversations, and the whole process can end up feeling like a lucky dip; the online shopping for love edition.

I can’t even count the number of times — back in the early days of Tinder — I’d get my hopes up about someone and imagine our lives together, only to find out that they’re not so genuine with their intentions. Without properly knowing someone or meeting them through a trusty source, you just really don’t know what you’ll get. 

Not to mention that online dating heartbreak is a whole different world of hurt and confusion, sometimes even moreso than a ‘normal’ break-up because it often ends in ghosting. Someone you thought you had a connection with, can drop off the face of the earth, without explanation, and you’re left to excessively recount everything that ever happened to work out what went wrong. Online dating sometimes provides no closure. It’s a big fat grey area and we all know that never feels good.  

‘Settling’ as a concept is a strange one to place in today’s world of dating and relationships. Wanting to settle can make you feel uncool, not chill and sometimes a little desperate, especially in the world of online casual dating. People “see” each other, to avoid saying “dating”. Labels make everyone uncomfortable. There’s also a lot of positive talk about self-love, open relationships and alternate arrangements outside of monogamy. All of these play a critical role in the way we talk about relationships and alter our expectations on what a relationship is ‘supposed’ to provide.

On the flip side, those that find themselves in settled relationships and don’t really know how they got there are often following in their family’s footsteps. 

“People may ‘settle’ in relationships, even when their partner exhibits their deal breakers, because others in their family did the same. It’s common for relational patterns to repeat in families, and across generations. Our relationship expectations and behaviours are heavily influenced by our family. To break these kinds of patterns, people must first become aware of them, and then make a conscious choice to do something different.” Litman explains

Often when we put up with deal breakers, or just bad behaviour in relationships, it’s because we’re trying to recreate a dynamic from the past to mend an old wound. This inclination is subconscious, it’s the part of our brain that longs for closure, that wants to know where it stands so it can move on and it plays into who we’re attracted to and why. Using a new relationship to change the story or the end of a past scenario can be profoundly healing, but it often backfires and creates more hurt.

Litman also says that settling is more common among those with lower self-esteem. It’s like that beautiful saying from The Perks of Being a Wallflower (one of the better books to come out of my high school years); You accept the love you think you deserve.” It just couldn’t be more true.

“Some individuals, especially if they suffered emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, develop disparaging beliefs about themselves and the world — for example, that they’re unlovable, which means they may be more likely to settle and put up in a relationship with deal breakers. They may fear rejection or abandonment based on past experiences, and can find it hard to say no or set boundaries in a relationship.” 

It’s definitely important to note that in past generations and according to many people today, settling for a “good enough” partner is better than being alone. It’s still a new expectation that people shouldn’t settle for anything other than their perfect soulmate, which although a positive conversation in many ways, does create a lot of pressure. 

The truth is, there isn’t somebody else that can complete you. It’s impossible for someone to provide all of your desires; a best friend, the best lover, the best listener, the best person to give advice, the greatest at taking initiatives to do chores around the house… the list is endless and we truly can’t expect someone else to be all of those things. 

As you grow and understand yourself better, what you look for and want in a partner evolves. But to grow, you need to allow yourself the space to know yourself. Settling with someone that has deal breakers, just because you don’t want to be alone, will ultimately stop you from evolving as an individual.

“I’d advise against settling if it means giving up what’s fundamentally important to you in a relationship,” says Litman.

“It’s only okay to settle if what you’re doing doesn’t feel like settling.”

With relationship and marriage therapist Talia Litman’s help, we’ve put together a checklist of ways to know if you’re settling in your relationship.

Telltale signs that you may be settling in your relationship:

  •  If your partner doesn’t have the most meaningful and important qualities you are looking for
  • If you imagine meeting someone next week who has an important quality that your partner is lacking, and you’d find it easy to walk out on your current relationship
  • If you envision yourself 10 years from now doing exactly what you want to be doing, and you can’t imagine your partner with you, or aren’t excited about them being with you
  • When those who know you best tell you you’re settling or making a bad partner choice—they may not be right but it’s worth paying attention and exploring further

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