5 Ways To Stop Settling For Less Than You Deserve In A Relationship

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Dear Terry,

Ryan and I have been dating for over eight years and we don’t seem to be moving any closer to a commitment. It feels like I’m spinning my wheels and growing more and more dissatisfied every day with being in a state of limbo. You see, I’m twenty seven and most of my friends are engaged, married, or enjoying being single. I don’t really fall into any of those categories.

Don’t get me wrong, Ryan’s a great guy but he just isn’t the marrying kind. Even his mother, Laurie, told me this at his older brother’s wedding reception after a few glasses of wine. It’s almost like she was warning me but I just can’t seem to break things off with him.  When I ask him why we’re not moving to the next level, he says he doesn’t see the point since his dad walked out on his mom after twenty years of marriage. He just doesn’t believe in marriage and thinks most are doomed to fail.

I grew up in a divorced home too but both of my parents remarried and are pretty happy. Although their divorce was hard on me when I was young, I mostly got over it. Ryan’s got a lot of great qualities. He’s handsome, charming, and affectionate. We have similar interests but we argue a lot because he wants to go out with his friends. When he does, I can’t deal with it because I’m worried he may meet someone else that he likes better.

My mom and a lot of my friends think I’m settling for less than I deserve with Ryan because I’m afraid of being alone. I tell them they’re wrong because I do love him and he says he loves me.  But it’s true that I’ll do almost anything to avoid being alone.

Please help me figure out whether or not I should break things off with Ryan. I don’t want to have regrets if we split, but I don’t want to be alone in my 30’s and 40’s. Do you think Ryan will change if I hang in there a little longer?

Sincerely,

Kelly

 

Dear Kelly,

Yours is a common problem. You seem to know intellectually that you shouldn’t have to settle for less than you deserve in your relationship with Ryan but your emotions are conflicted.  You may be unwilling to take the chance of breaking things off because you fear you won’t meet someone else and will be alone for a prolonged period. You seem to hold on to the hope things will change even though you and Ryan don’t share the same goals for your relationship. After all, even his mother warned you that he is not the marrying kind. In my opinion, it’s unlikely that Ryan will change his mind in the near future because of his intense fear of commitment.

It appears that ambiguity in romantic relationships is on the increase in the 21st century and options range from friends with benefits to indecision about permanent commitment.  According to Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, “Ambiguity is now the norm as opposed to clarity.” Author Jessica Massa, who interviewed hundreds of singles and couples for her book, “The Gaggle: How to Find Love in the Post-Dating World” informs us that many couples claim exclusivity but won’t call it a relationship. No wonder you fear breaking things off with Ryan and have anxiety about the possibility of establishing a permanent relationship.

Like many people, the primary reason why you may fear breaking things off with Ryan is because you are afraid to be alone. Many people question: Will I be alone forever? I’d like to challenge you a little and say: So what? There’s more to you than being part of a couple. Tell me about other relationships in your life. Tell me about the hobbies and passions that bring you joy. Tell me about your dreams. What makes you happy? What more is there to you than the person who is afraid to be alone forever? I promise you, there is a lot more to you.

The good news is that new research is being conducted on this topic. A study by Stephanie S. Spielman demonstrates that fear of being single is a meaningful predictor of settling for less in relationships.  In her groundbreaking study, Spielman discovered that the fear of being alone is a strong predictor of staying with a partner who is wrong for you. Further, Spielman’s results showed that individuals who report being fearful of being alone will stay with unresponsive, less attractive partners rather than face that dreaded fate.

Of all the difficult experiences that individuals face in life, being alone can be among the most challenging. Growing up, you probably weren’t given good examples of how to be alone. It seems like everything you see in movies and TV and on the internet is about how to find the right partner, and make it work. There’s nothing wrong with seeking love, because it’s beautiful and can bring about some of the most treasured moments in our lives. But very few people know how to be alone and do it well. They aren’t happy to be alone. They fear it and seek love wherever they go. Too often the pleasure they find with falling in love is the sweet release of no longer being by themselves in the world.

Often single women may be reluctant to acknowledge the challenges of being alone for fear of being seen as desperate or needy. According to author Sara Eckel, many of the stereotypes we have about single women are misleading. She writes, “The single life isn’t a prison sentence nor is it a cocktail party. It is simply a life – a life with responsibilities and rewards, good days and bad ones, successes and failures. In her article “Stop Telling Women They Are Fabulous,” she reminds us that we don’t really know how to discuss single women in our culture because in times past they were seen as lonely spinsters, quietly languishing in their studio apartments.

Too often I hear women (and some men) who are coupled up rationalize why they are still in a relationship, when maybe they shouldn’t be. They say things like, “I know my relationship isn’t perfect, but at least . . . he doesn’t yell at me.” Or “he really is a good dad.” Or “he will always be faithful to me.” When I hear things like that I am reminded that breaking up with someone is an act of courage. To be honest with someone about why the relationship isn’t working is an act of love. When you can accept that your relationship doesn’t make you the best person you can be, and you correct course by breaking up, you become immeasurably stronger.

Although the answer varies from person to person, one factor that causes someone to settle is past experiences of romantic rejection and another is fear of prolonged singlehood.  Whatever the reason, if you assess that you are staying with Ryan even though he’s wrong for you, it’s important to take a steps to determine if you need to end your relationship. This can take time and a commitment to loving and respecting yourself. However simplistic this may seem, you are responsible for your own happiness.

According to author Whitney Caudill, “Feeling loneliness or fear from time to time as a single person is normal. In fact, it is normal for everyone.” The key is to recognize this and realize that these are just feelings. Staying in a relationship that is going nowhere to avoid loneliness rarely produces good results.

Here are some signs that you are settling for less than you deserve in your relationship:

  • The relationship brings you down or you are often dissatisfied with it.  Ask yourself: Does your significant other inspire you to do your best? Perhaps he or she is overly critical or too focused on his or her needs to be supportive of you.
  • You feel you have to change yourself – your values, goals, or dreams for your partner to accept you.
  • You are ready for a commitment and he or she is not. This is one of the main causes of breakups. Being in a relationship where two people hold drastically different goals can set the stage for disappointment and unhappiness that are rarely reversible.
  • You are in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship. You may have hidden this from family or friends due to shame or codependency issues – putting your partner’s needs before your own. Verbal or emotional abuse can be very damaging and lower your self-esteem.
  • You’ve been cheated on repeatedly and keep giving him or her more chances in spite of the fact that he or she has proven to be untrustworthy.
  • You sacrifice too much. Since your partner is unable or unwilling to compromise – you morph into someone else to accommodate his or her expectations, needs, or desires.

Facing your fear of being alone is the first step in moving forward. In her Huffington Post article How to Be Alone (And Not Be Unhappy) Poorna Bell writes, “There is a problem, a serious cultural problem, about solitude. Being alone in our present society raises an important question about identity and well-being.” Bell posits that there is 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.

Here are 5 ways to stop settling for less than you deserve in relationships and cope with your fear being single:

  • Accept that fear is normal and come up with an action plan to change. Identify your fears and make a list of them. Gain self-awareness about their source – such as fear of rejection or of being alone. Set two or three goals and monitor your success daily. Writing in a journal is a good way to keep track of your progress.
  • Use positive self-talk . 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.”
  • Realize that it takes courage to try singlehood. Congratulate yourself for your decision to withstand the social pressures and expectations to be part of a couple.
  • Embrace some of the pleasures of being single. Take a class, join a book club, watch your favorite movies, etc.
  • Discover your strengths and highlight themWhen you remind yourself about what you like about yourself and what you are good at, your fear will fade away and you’ll feel more self-confident.

In closing, you may need time and perhaps the help of a skilled therapist or relationship coach to figure things out. In the meantime, remind yourself that you are worth the effort and deserve to be loved and to have a commitment from Ryan. Often, the courage needed to end a relationship that is no longer meeting one or both partners’ needs shows the greatest strength. Perhaps one of the toughest pressures of being single comes from within yourself. However, if you decide to stay in your relationship because you feel it’s worth trying to save, consider couples counseling if Ryan is willing and motivated – before you walk away.

Regards,

Terry

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter and Facebook.  She is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.


Will You Be Alone Forever?

By Tracy Clifford

If you’ve gone through a divorce or breakup, there’s a persistent question that might linger in your mind: Will I be alone forever? If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, know that you’re not alone, and it’s completely normal to feel this way. When you lose the comfort of a relationship, it can feel like the earth is shaking beneath your feet. Nothing feels as safe as it once did. The future can feel like a vast unknown, and you are there to face it alone.

Have you had some dates since your divorce that just haven’t worked out? Or have you been on your own for a really long time, and wonder if you’ll ever meet your match? In a world where it might feel like everyone is coupled up, know that your experience is actually very common. One of the hardest things about being single is finding someone you can really connect with. Think about the people you encounter each day. How many do you really share a part of yourself with? When you think about it, even though you’re surrounded by people in your daily interactions, there are probably few people in this world you can truly be yourself with. It’s a precious and rare thing. And it should be.

Will you be alone forever? The honest answer is that I don’t know, and neither do you. But if you’re taking active steps to connect with people around you, chances are you won’t be single for the rest of your life. Whenever I face fear or anxiety about a situation I can’t control, I tell myself one simple phrase, and it’s transformed my life. This is just a feeling. It doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because you feel like you might be alone forever, doesn’t mean it’s the truth. It’s just a feeling. And the wonderful thing about feelings is that they’re usually not grounded in reason. And feelings can be changed.

So if you’re afraid of being alone forever, I’d like to challenge you a little bit and say: So what? There’s more to you than that. Tell me about the other relationships in your life. Tell me about the hobbies and passions that sustain you. Tell me what you day dream about. What makes you interesting? What more is there to you than the person who is afraid they’ll be alone forever? Because I can promise you, there’s a lot more to you.

We’d love to read your comments on this page. Be sure to order our new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”

 



Being Alone After A Breakup

Of all the difficult experiences that result from the breakup of a romantic relationship, being alone can be amongst the hardest. Part of grieving the end of a relationship is accepting that what you wanted to happen no longer will happen. Thoughts as significant as: We will never have the children we talked about having. To the mundane: We won’t go out to our favorite breakfast place anymore. Having gone through a breakup recently myself, I sometimes wish I could shake those who are coupled up and say, “Do you know how lucky you are to be able to wake up next to the person you love every day?” I see couples who have miraculously made their lives together work, against time and temptation, and I am sometimes baffled. It’s like lightning in a bottle. How have they been able to capture something so precious and rare?

Women don’t often give each other good examples of how to be alone. It seems like everything you see in movies and TV and on the internet is about how to find the right man, and make it work. There’s nothing wrong with seeking love, because it’s beautiful and can bring about some of the most treasured moments in our lives. But very few women I know have been able to be alone and do it well. They aren’t happy to be alone. They fear it and seek love wherever they go. Too often the pleasure they find with falling in love is the sweet release of no longer being by themselves in the world.

Other women, mostly ones who have been alone for a very long time, can be stone-faced when it comes to relationships. They are resigned to the idea of living alone and they no longer seek out men. They are consoled by their children or grandchildren or their work. They take up hobbies. Romance is too unreliable and contains risk. For them being alone is no triumph or satisfaction. It’s a result of a broken heart that never quite healed.

Too often I hear women who are coupled up rationalize why they are still in a relationship, when maybe they shouldn’t be. They say things like, “I know my relationship isn’t perfect, but at least . . . he doesn’t yell at me.” Or “he really is a good dad.” Or “he will always be faithful to me.” When I hear things like that I am reminded that breaking up with someone is an act of courage. To be honest with someone about why the relationship isn’t working is an act of love. When you can accept that your relationship doesn’t make you the best woman you can be, and you correct course by breaking up, you become immeasurably stronger.

Rebecca Solnit, in A Field Guide to Getting Lost, said this about letting go: “When everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.” My heartbreaks have taught me that. Losing the things I love has given such depth and substance to my life. I fear loss less now than when I was younger, but it isn’t any less painful. My struggle now, as I wake up in an empty bed each morning, is how to make being alone another meaningful chapter in my life.

Tracy Clifford

I’d love to hear your thoughts about being alone. Do you see being single as just a stopgap on the way to being coupled up again? Do you fear being on your own? What is the longest amount of time you have been single?

I’d love to read your comments on this page. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”

 

 

 



7 Ways To Let Go of Someone Who Treats You Badly

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Letting go of toxic relationships is never easy. Yet with self-awareness and tools, you can begin to value yourself enough to set better boundaries with a partner. It is possible to end a romantic relationship that is self-defeating, abusive, or self-destructive.

You may be at risk for a destructive relationship if you become so absorbed in your partner’s problems you don’t often have time to identify, or solve, your own. Or, you care so deeply about your partner that you’ve lost track of your own needs.

People Pleasing is a Common Pattern

Are you a people pleaser who feels that you have to be in a good mood or always 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 build relationships based on love, trust, and intimacy.

If your romantic relationship or marriage brings out your insecurities and causes you to mistrust your own judgment this relationship may not be 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.

7 Ways to Let Go of Toxic Relationships:

  1. Gain self-awareness about your former partner’s personalities and willingness to meet your emotional and personal needs. Counseling, blogging, and/or coaching can help you with this.
  2. 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 feel safe in the relationship and free to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires openly without fear of rejection.
  3. Set an expectation of mutual respect. You can accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are. If you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left.  But if he or she values you, gives you compliments, and encourages you to do things that are in your best interest, your partner will be a boost to your self-esteem.
  4. 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.
  5. Be more assertive (not aggressive) in romantic relationships. If you want to form a new relationship based on trust you need to speak up when you have a concern or a request. Dating can help you learn what your non-negotiable or deal breakers are.
  6. Extend trust to a partner who is trustworthy.  Does your partner call when they say they’re going to?  Do they take you out when they say they’re going to do so? When someone is interested in a relationship, they keep their agreements. Look for consistency between someone’s words and actions.
  7. Select a partner who is interested in planning a future with you. If he or she says they’re not ready for a commitment, take them seriously – they’re just not the right person for you.  Don’t waste your time on a relationship that doesn’t have a future.

People who are attracted to partners who hurt them often confuse chemistry and compatibility. In fact, they are both essential to a long-lasting healthy intimate relationship. Whereas chemistry (how interesting and stimulating you find the person) is essential to keeping couples interested, compatibility (sharing common values, goals, and having fun together) will help a couple get through tough times.

According to author Jill P. Weber, many girls learn to tune out their own inner voice due to their family experiences, and this prepares them for one-sided relationships in adulthood. Weber writes, “As a woman develops a strong core sense of self, fulfilling relationships will follow.”

Jill P. Weber posits that many women consistently put other’s needs first and end up in one-sided relationships. The consequence for girls can be profound, with girls and women dismissing their own needs and ending up with a depleted sense of self.

For instance, Ericka, an outgoing twenty-six year old, provided Brian with unconditional love and did her best to make up for his dysfunctional upbringing by trying to meet his every need. After they moved in together, she devoted herself to meeting Brian’s needs – even helped take care of his six-year old twins on weekends.

Ericka puts it like this: “It took a breakup for me to realize that I was not responsible for Brian’s happiness and can only truly make myself happy. He never gave much of his time or energy to me. Ericka realized that she didn’t have any energy left for herself when she was so focused on Brad’s well-being.  Since their split, she has been able to put more energy into her college classes, other relationships, and hobbies.

Are You Settling for Less than You Deserve from Your Partner?

Both men and women stay in relationships that are destructive due to fears about being alone. Our culture promotes the idea that you have to be part of a couple and there is a lot of stigma about being single.

If you are currently in a romantic relationship, ask yourself: Am I settling for less than I deserve in the relationship? Research shows that one of the main reasons why people stay in bad relationships is the fear of being single.  If this is the case, gently remind yourself that you are a worthwhile person regardless of whether or not you are in a romantic relationship.

Keep in mind that emotional intimacy is not emotional dependency. If your relationship causes you to be anxious or causes you to question your sense of self, it may not be the best relationship for you.

Many people stay in destructive relationships because they consistently put their partner’s needs before their own. Often women are raised to focus on others and defer their own needs. Too often they are left with a depleted sense of self and they look for their partner to validate them.

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.  Author Jill P. Weber writes: “The more you view others’ mistreatment of you as something you have the ability to fix, tweak, or amend, the harder it is to develop a positive sense of yourself. Seeing yourself exclusively from the eyes of others disconnects you from the day-to-day, moment-to-moment experience of your life.”

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.

 



5 Ways To Get Past Your Breakup

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

When a romantic relationship or marriage ends, it’s natural to experience feelings of rejection, anger, sadness, guilt, or regret. Self-defeating thoughts can grab hold because you’re vulnerable and trying to make sense of things. However, it’s important to realize that this is a normal part of grieving and letting go after a relationship dissolves.

While it’s normal to go through a period of self-reflection when your relationship ends, it’s crucial that you keep things in perspective. Losing a partner, even if you made a decision to end the relationship, can disrupt your life on so many levels because your ex was undoubtedly a part of your daily existence. As a result, breakups can weaken your ability to sleep, eat well, and function at work and in social spheres.

To complicate matters, studies have discovered that experiencing a breakup can leave you with a diminished sense of self or self-concept (those things that make you unique). This makes perfect sense because your identity probably became incorporated with your partner’s sense of self and now you’re left with the task of redefining who you are.

According to author Lisa Arends, letting go of a romantic partner involves letting go of feelings and memories. She writes: “Getting over someone is a process of repeated exposure to the triggers and the desensitization of their influence. As time passed and I faced each trigger again and again, they lost their power and their hold. The emotions have faded. But the memories remain.”

When your relationship ends it’s normal to mourn the loss of a dream, according to author Linda Carroll. The anguish of heartache also registers in your body. She writes: “There is a change in blood flow in the brain, and the anterior cingulate cortex (responsible for the regulation of distress) becomes active. Recent MRI studies of subjects in the midst of a breakup revealed that the part of their brains that registered emotional rejection was the same part that reacted to severe pain.”

The reality is that breakups are hard. We’ve all faced them and been challenged by letting go of the why and how things could have gone differently. Goodbyes are never easy but it’s better to let someone go than staying with them out of insecurity or fear of being alone.

Ask yourself this: Do your fears of being alone prevent you from looking at your breakup honestly? For instance, it’s likely that there have been problems in the relationship for some time and that one or both of you have been unhappy. A recent study at the University of Toronto confirmed that a fear of being single can lead people to stay in unfulfilling relationships.

In terms of adjusting to the end of a relationship, the late Dr. Bruce Fisher coined two terms that shed light on how individuals experience different emotions depending on their role in the breakup. In Dr. Fisher’s groundbreaking book Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends, he writes “Dumpers are the partners who leave the relationship, and they often feel considerable guilt; dumpees are the partners who want to hang on to the relationship, and they often experience strong feelings of rejection.”

For instance, Jake made a decision to end his ten year marriage after three months of counseling. He initiated the process, filed divorce papers, and expressed some relief but also guilt during our last session. On the other hand, his wife Kerry expressed feelings of sadness and rejection about Jake moving out. She stated: “The hardest part of Jake leaving is facing coming home to an empty apartment after he moved out.”

It makes sense that if you were the one left (or the dumpee) feelings of rejection and loss can cause you to feel less self-worth and diminished self-love. But as you learn to accept what happens and begin to love yourself again, your feelings of rejection will diminish. And when you’re connected to feelings of self-worth, you’ll have more energy to relate to others in meaningful ways.

Part of the grieving process at the end of a relationship is accepting that what you wanted to happen no longer will happen. Thoughts might range from: We will never have children together. To the mundane: We won’t ever eat another meal together. While these feelings are more common for dumpee than dumpers, both people typically experience a grief process.

Here are 5 ways to heal from a breakup:

1. Acknowledge and accept your feelings about the breakup. This includes your emotional reactions such as sadness, anger, fear, rejection, and guilt. They’ve probably been there all along (in your relationship) and are simply intensified during and after your breakup.
2. Observe what’s going on in your life. This includes some examination of your part in the relationship ending. Are you taking care of yourself physically and emotionally? If not, devise a plan to nurture yourself and get your well-being restored (counseling, exercise, eating a balanced diet, etc.).
3. Practice forgiveness. Focus on those things that you can control. You can’t control the past but you can make better choices today – such as letting go of hurt feelings. Attempt to forgive yourself and your former partner – or at least accept their behavior. This doesn’t mean you condone hurtful actions, but they simply have less power over you!
4. Adopt a perspective of seeing relationships as teachers. We learn a lot about ourselves from loss and can approach a new relationship with our eyes wide open. Just because your relationship is over, it doesn’t mean you’re inadequate or inferior – or there’s something wrong with you. Give yourself a break.
5. Cultivate supportive relationships and new interests. Being with people who accept and support you can help ease feeling of rejection and guilt. Get energized by a new hobby and invite a friend to join you. Consider something that causes you to go outside your comfort zone such as ballroom dancing or photography.

Taking an inventory of how your feelings may be impacting your behavior can help you gain a healthier viewpoint. Are you neglecting your health, interests, family, or friends due to grieving the loss of your relationship? It’s important not to fall prey to a victim mentality and to make self-care a priority.

Although it’s hard to understand it at the time, a breakup can be a catalyst for change and you can discover new aspects of yourself in the process. Consulting a counselor, support group, or divorce coach may help to facilitate healing. Lastly, developing a mindset that you don’t have to be defined by your relationship ending can help you to heal and move forward with your life.

Let’s end on the powerful words of Linda Carroll: “Anger is a normal and necessary emotion. It almost always accompanies loss, or the fear of loss. It helps us pay attention to a painful situation and gives us energy to do what we can to change it. We need to feel it, act on it, and then move on.

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter and Facebook.  She is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.


8 Ways To Avoid Dating Guys Who Hurt You

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Dear Terry,

I’ve been dating Jake for about two years and just don’t know if he’s right for me. We have great chemistry but that’s part of the problem. We have an up and down relationship and we’ve broken up many times. We have a lot of fun and great sex but I’m tired of dealing with uncertainty and rejection.  When Jake and I have a disagreement, he usually shuts down or ends up saying things that are hurtful. He says that I’m too sensitive but he isn’t willing to look at what he brings to our arguments.

The biggest issue we have is that Jake doesn‘t believe in saying he’s sorry and when he says or does something that’s hurtful. He tends to criticize me about things I can’t always change – such as issues in my family and problems at work. He doesn’t have much patience when I want to vent a bit about my day. For instance, he’ll say things like “Why don’t you just get another job, you made a bad choice when you took that one.” Sometimes, all I need is a shoulder to lean on and I feel very lonely and criticized when I reach out to Jake for support.

We’ve broken up several times because Jake says he’s not ready to make a commitment and I want to start a family. In the past few months, since I turned thirty, I’ve had an urge to have a child and I don’t want to wait too long. I took a child development class in college and I remember my instructor saying that the risks of having a child with a disability go up greatly when the woman turns thirty-five.

My question to you is this: How do I know that Jake is the right one for me? We have amazing chemistry but I’m not sure he’s good marriage material. We argue a lot and Jake’s not ready to settle down. In fact,  I worry that if I wait much longer, I’ll end up alone and too old to have children.

I would appreciate your help with my dilemma: Is this relationship too risky or should I move forward?

Thanks,

Laura

 

Dear Laura,

Your question about what’s more important in a long-lasting relationship – chemistry or compatibility – is a common one.  First of all, they are both important elements of a committed relationship. Secondly, you mention that you and Jake have heated arguments and that you break up often. In my opinion, your relationship seems quite unstable and you appear to have different values and expectations.  It sounds like this relationship is bringing out your insecurities and you aren’t able to trust your own judgment.

Ask yourself this question: Is there something about the way that Jake treats me that makes me a bigger and better person? If the answer is no, ask yourself: Am I settling for less than I deserve in the relationship? Some women settle for less than they deserve because they are afraid of being alone. If this is the case, gently remind yourself that you are a worthwhile person regardless of whether or not your relationship with Jake endures.

Perhaps the next step in reevaluating your relationship with Jake, is looking at the difference between compatibility and chemistry.

  1. Chemistry: This usually refers to physical attraction but can include intellectual attraction as well. It is about how interesting and simulating you find the person. Do you enjoy each other’s touch and is their sexual chemistry? It’s essential because without it, you are little more than friends.
  1. Compatibility:  Is about sharing common values and goals, having fun together, and liking each other: it helps to sustain a couple through tough times. However, both chemistry and compatibility are essential to a long-lasting healthy intimate relationship.

If you find yourself attracted to guys that you don’t have chemistry and compatibility with, you may be inclined to have one-sided relationships. Perhaps you grew up in a family where you were a caretaker or focused more on making others happy. Maybe you even felt that you had to be in a good mood regardless of your true feelings.

Many women are in one-sided relationships because they consistently put their partner’s needs before their own. Girls are often raised to tune out their inner voice and this can set the stage for one-sided relationships because they look for their partner to validate them. Keep in mind that emotional intimacy is not emotional dependency. If your relationship causes you to be anxious or causes you to question your sense of self, it may not be the best relationship for you. Remind yourself that you can be happy and stand on your own two feet even if you are not in a romantic relationship.

Here are 8 ways to avoid hurtful, one-sided relationships:

  1. Seek a partner who you feel comfortable with and are easy to be close to. In other words, you feel that you can be yourself and don’t have to walk on eggshells. You feel safe in the relationship and free to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires openly without fear of rejection.
  2. Set an expectation of mutual respect. You can accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are. If you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left.
  3. Notice if your partner keeps his agreements.  Does he call when he says he is going to call?  Does he take you out when he says he is going to do so? When a man is interested in a woman, they keep their agreements.
  4.  Makes sure your guy carves out time for you on a regular basis. He makes you a priority because he values your relationship. This includes regular text messages or phone calls to show that he’s thinking of you.
  5. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.  Does your partner ask you questions about your hobbies, friends, and family?
  6. Pick a partner who makes plans to do things with you and includes you in his inner circle. If something special is going on in his life, he invites you and encourages you to come along.
  7. Don’t have sex or engage with a partner who makes you feel insecure. A partner who truly cares about you is a boost to your self-esteem. He values you, gives you compliments, and encourages you to do things that are in your best interest.
  8. Select a partner who talks about your future together. If he says he’s not ready for a commitment, take him seriously – he’s just not that into you.  Don’t waste your time on a relationship that doesn’t have a future.

The best partner will compliment you and bring out your very best. When you are with him, you will begin to see untapped possibilities within yourself and in the world. Author Jill P. Weber writes: “The more you view others’ mistreatment of you as something you have the ability to fix, tweak, or amend, the harder it is to develop a positive sense of yourself. Seeing yourself exclusively from the eyes of others disconnects you from the day-to-day, moment to moment experience of your life.”

Regards,

Terry

I’d love to read your comments on this page. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”



Is He The One I Should Commit To?

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Dear Terry,

I’ve been dating Brian for two years and still feel uncertain about whether he’s the one for me.  He’s ready to take the next step and move in together and wants to get married eventually, but I’m just not sure. We both come from divorced families but Brian’s parents are friendly and mine are always feuding – even though they split almost twenty years ago.

We both have good jobs but I make slightly more money because I have moved up the ladder in the company I work for. Brian works hard but doesn’t seem very motivated to take classes or get a masters’ degree which he would need to get a raise as a special education teacher.

Overall, we get along fine but I get jealous when he goes out with his college buddies and stays out late. I guess I’m just not convinced that he will be there for me when I need him.  Brian’s never really given me any reason to doubt him but I watched my dad cheat on my mom. Her life was destroyed and after they split up she never let herself fall in love again.

How do I know if Brian is the right one for me? He gave me an ultimatum last week and said he needs to know whether we can make plans to move in together. Please answer me as soon as possible.

Best Regards,

Karen

 

Dear Karen,

Many people seek lasting commitment, often in the form of marriage. This can be a healthy desire if we bring realistic expectations to it. But many adults, especially adult children of divorce, don’t have a healthy template of marriage to follow when it comes to nurturing and sustaining a committed relationship, making it difficult to know where to start.

Perhaps the first step in reevaluating your relationship with Brian is adjusting your expectations. There is no such thing as a perfect partner. You might want to ask yourself this question: Is there something about the way that Brian treats you that makes you a bigger and better person? If the answer is no, ask yourself: Am I settling for less than I deserve in the relationship?

Assuming you aren’t looking for a soul mate without flaws, I recommend you examine the check list that I borrowed from Mira Kirshenbaum’s book “Is He Mr. Right?” One of the central premises of her groundbreaking book is that chemistry is the best way to figure out if someone is right for you. Surprisingly, she’s not just talking about sexual chemistry but also the feeling that you enjoy being around your partner and have fun together.

5 Dimensions of Chemistry according to Mira Kirshenbaum:

  1. You feel comfortable with each other and it’s easy to get close. In other words, you feel that you can be yourself.
  2. You feel safe in the relationship. This means that your partner doesn’t have significant mental health issues, can take care of himself, and you feel free to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires openly without fear of rejection. That you can be honest and it’s okay.
  3. It’s fun to be together.  Kirshenbaum writes, “Couples who do have this dimension of chemistry going for them have a shortcut to intimacy and a buffer against the stressful times we all face.”
  4. You have real affection and passion for each other. This is where sexual chemistry comes in and it should go hand and hand with affection.
  5. You feel there’s real mutual respect. You accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are. According to Kirshenbaum, if you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left.

Do you fear that if you tie the knot, your marriage will end in divorce like your parents did? If you are worried about the future of your relationship, you are not alone. Many people are postponing marriage, cohabitating, or remaining single. Approximately 50 percent of adults over age eighteen marry; this number is compared to 72% in 1960, according to The Pew Research Center. The medium age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7 years) according to this report.

It’s understandable that you’d have a need for certainty before making a commitment to Brian.  After all, over 40% of first marriages end in divorce. According to divorce expert Paul Amato, many adult children of divorce (ACODs) fear relationship failure. They worry that when they open themselves up to other people, they will get hurt, and will lose out on love. Fear of failure can hold ACODs back and prevent them from being their best selves. It limits them by causing anxiety and fostering a pessimistic attitude about the future.

As a daughter of divorce, you may have a fear of commitment due to watching your parents’ marriage crumble.  You just can’t see a relationship working out, but you desperately want one. Your craving for a failsafe relationship will always be unsatisfied because such relationships don’t exist. It is important to keep your partnerships in perspective. The truth is that all marriages end through either death or divorce.

If you feel that Brian is the right one for you but you fear commitment, you might want to consider the following: Know that no relationship is conflict free, but you are worthy of having a relationship that makes you happy. If you aren’t there yet, embrace where you are now. What is it that holds you back from achieving a satisfying relationship? And once you have it, what will you do when you get there?

Ways to overcome your fear of commitment:

  • Face your fear of commitment and embrace the notion that a lifetime commitment has to be made when there is some degree of uncertainty. If you wait to make a commitment when you are free of doubts, it will never happen.
  • Remember that life can be more rewarding when you take risks and make a commitment to a partner who seems to be a good match for you.
  • Stop comparing your relationship with your partner to your parents’ marriage. Attempt to see yourself as capable of learning from the past, rather than repeating it.
  • Make sure that you have common values with your partner before you make a life-long commitment. If you marry someone with drastically different values, you will face complex issues that could put you more at risk for divorce.
  • Don’t make a life-long commitment to a partner who you have dated for less than two years. 
  • Learn to trust your judgment and be consistent with your commitment. Making a commitment to someone you love and consider your best friend is not an on-again, off-again proposition.

Even in the twenty-first century, when ideas about the nature of commitment have changed, many notions about love remain the same. There are no guarantees with relationships. Some work out and some don’t but approaching relationships with fear or doubt almost guarantees a negative outcome. Relationships, whether they last three months or three decades, can provide their participants with the love, companionship, and intimacy they need at the time.

Best Regards,

Terry

I’d love to read your comments on this page. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”

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