By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Are you in an intimate relationship or marriage that’s just not right but you’re not willing to risk ending it? Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that things will change, or you’ve done something wrong to deserve less than wonderful treatment. Perhaps you’ve bought into the irrational belief that you can’t do anything to break this unfortunate pattern. Or your fear of being single is unbearable.
Maybe he or she is so stunning you can’t believe your good fortune to have their attention or affection. Perhaps your family or friends have convinced you to hang in there or try harder – or you’re simply too stubborn to give up.
However, if your romantic relationship brings out your insecurities and causes you to mistrust your own judgment, it’s probably not the best one for you. Many people become involved or even obsessed with the wrong partner – someone who is emotionally unavailable, romantically involved with other partners, addicted to substances – or who cannot love them back.
Here are 8 ways to stop settling for less than you deserve in a relationship:
- Gain self-awareness about your choices in partners and their willingness to meet your emotional and personal needs. Counseling, reading, and blogging can help you with this.
- Accept that fear of being single is normal. Stop putting yourself down and comparing yourself to friends or family members who seem to have met their match (appearances can be deceiving).
- Focus on finding your passions rather than finding a soulmate. Embrace some of the pleasures of being single – take a class, join a book club, watch your favorite movies, etc. Author Holly Riordan writes: “Instead of searching every corner of the earth for someone you love, you should be searching for something you love. For your passion.”
- Set an expectation of mutual respect. Look for friends and partners who admire and respect you for who you are. If they respect you, they’ll give you compliments, encourage you to do things that are in your best interest, and enjoy spending time with you.
- Seek a partner you can be authentic and vulnerable with. In other words, you don’t have to walk on eggshells with him or her – you’re “good enough.” You feel safe in the relationship and free to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires openly without fear of rejection.
- Don’t compromise your values. Figure out your core beliefs and stand by them. Ask for what you need and speak up when something bothers you. Be more assertive (not aggressive) by stating your needs in a positive way. Use “I” statements such as “I would appreciate it if you’d attend a work event with me” versus a “You” statement, “You never spend time with me.”
- Extend trust to a partner who is interested in planning a future with you. Does your partner call when they say they’re going to and follow through on commitments? When someone is interested in a relationship, they keep their agreements. Look for consistency between someone’s words and actions. Don’t waste your time on a relationship that doesn’t have a future. If he or she says they aren’t ready for a commitment, take them seriously!
- Use positive self-talk and challenge negative thoughts such as “I will never meet anyone who is good for me.” Practice changing negative thinking about being single to positive. For instance, if you worry about being alone forever, try telling yourself “This is just a feeling. It doesn’t mean it’s true. I can enjoy my own company and follow my passions.”
You may even know intellectually that nobody should have to settle for less than they deserve in a relationship but your emotions are conflicted. This may leave you unwilling to take the chance of breaking things off because you fear you won’t meet someone else and will be alone for a long time.
Perhaps some of your friends have been single for a while and they complain about how hard it is to meet a good match. Underneath all of these rationalizations is a deep seated fear of being alone.
In fact, fear of being single can drive people to stay in dysfunctional relationships too long or settle for less-than-desirable ones, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Facing your fear of being alone is the first step in moving forward. We are all confronted with a contradiction in the 21st century because our culture values individualism and autonomy, yet we both fear and dread being alone, and denigrate those who embrace singlehood. Additionally, women are raised to put our needs on the back burner – risking our sense of authenticity in order to please others.
People Pleasing is a Common Pattern that Can Be Changed
Are you a people pleaser who feels that you have to be in a good mood or positive when you are with your friends, family, or an intimate partner? If you have this tendency, you may find setting limits hard and have trouble asking for what you need from your partner. The good news is that this pattern, which often begins in childhood, can be reversed.
Before you can begin to build successful relationships, you must have healthy self-esteem – which means believing in yourself. One of the key things to consider is: how do you treat yourself? No one will treat you with respect if you devalue yourself. You must rid yourself of self-defeating thoughts such as
“I’m stupid” or “No one will ever love me” if you want to break the pattern of people pleasing.
For example, Kyla, an outgoing thirty-year old, provided Tom with unconditional love and did her best to make up for his unhappy childhood by trying to please him. At times, this meant missing out on opportunities for social events or advancement in her career. After they started dating, she cooked Tom his favorite meals several nights a week and sacrificed a lot of her needs to spend time with him.
Kyla reflects: “It took a breakup for me to realize that I was not responsible for Tom’s happiness and can only truly make myself happy. He didn’t appreciate me and was unwilling to plan a future with me.” Kyla realized that she didn’t pay attention to red flags such as not being invited to meet Tom’s family or friends after several months.
Letting go of a relationship that is all wrong for you is never easy. Yet with self-awareness and tools, you can begin to value yourself enough to set better boundaries with partners. It’s possible to end romantic relationships that are self-destructive, abusive, or wrong for you.
Unless you have self-acceptance and self-love, you cannot believe you are worth loving just as you are. You might try to prove your worth through giving too much to others and being overly tolerant and patient. The more you view others’ behavior as something you have the ability to fix or change, the harder it is to develop a positive sense of yourself. Seeing yourself as a worthwhile person will connect you with the wonderful moment-to-moment experiences of your life.
Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry
**Terry offers coaching to individuals and couples about divorce, marriage, remarriage, or relationship issues. She is also an expert on matters related to children of divorce and the challenges facing adult children of divorce. You can sign up for low-cost coaching here. In most cases you will be able to meet with her within a week.