Trouble seems to be brewing in the relationship department. A couple I know just broke up after five years of dating. Several clients I coach are facing constant conflict in interactions with their partners and struggling to figure out why they cannot make their relationship work.
Throughout different seasons it can feel as if everyone settles for a relationship/partner that isn’t quite a good fit. That being said, settling in a relationship can differ from couple to couple.
It can be that we aren’t truly compatible with our partner, don’t share the same outlook or values in life, or simply feel that familiar ache in our stomach that something is missing.
Why is settling such an easy option when it comes to our long-term relationships?
People tend to stick with what is easy and what they already know
Over a decade ago, I lived with the person that I believed would be mine forever.
Although I could feel that our relationship was dying and that we were not a good match for each other, I was terrified to leave and start over. Eventually, I did choose to go, but to this day, it was one, if not the hardest decision that I ever made. For weeks I would sob myself to sleep because it genuinely felt like I was trapped in a life that I couldn’t escape from, and it took every ounce of strength to leave.
That was only after a couple of years, so I can only imagine how difficult it is for someone that has spent decades with someone. Starting over is terrifying, which is why so many people stick with what, or who, they know.
Time is not an infinite resource/sunk cost factor.
One of my clients is in her mid-thirties and is ready to start a family. She isn't entirely happy with the man she has been seeing for a few months but is terrified that she’s running out of time to start over.
The question is, does she continue dating someone that would make an acceptable father, or does she hope to meet someone else who provides a better relationship/connection?
Neither women nor men have time as an infinite resource, none of us do. That being said, so many of us get to a point where we believe we need to get married/have kids/settle down with the person we are with, even if we think that they aren’t necessarily the right match. Another angle is that because we have already spent years or decades with our partner, we believe that leaving it will have made all of it a waste of time.
If you haven’t had an example of a healthy/loving relationship, it cannot be easy to recognize one.
I recently worked with a client who is a fantastic man and has everything that someone would want in a partner. Yet, he ended up in an abusive and horrific marriage for over two decades.
Eventually, he opened up and explained that his parents had an abusive relationship and he had never known anything different. Now he is educating himself from the ground up on what constitutes a healthy relationship and how he can avoid another abusive or unhealthy situation.
When we are only privy to unhealthy relationships as our example of what love “looks” like, it is complicated to teach ourselves how we should navigate a healthy one.
There are several couples I know who genuinely seem happy and highly compatible.
However, they are few and far between and usually are the people who didn’t marry the first person they dated. They had numerous relationships and figured out what they wanted in a partner before diving in.
There are so many times when I could have settled for an “okay” relationship or with someone who didn’t quite align with what I needed/wanted.
Each relationship had a moment in which I had to make a decision. Did I stick with this safe path or take the more challenging approach and take a chance?
My gut proved right, and every day I am thankful that I chose not to settle, and to believe in my intuition.