The honeymoon stage of a new relationship can set the heart positively aflutter. It’s all about big feelings and big statements. Many movies, songs, and TV shows have been written about this blissed-out time. I totally get the hype, but me? I’m all about what comes next: the comfortable stage. You know, that sweet part of dating when passionate love turns to compassionate love, and the pitter-patter of the butterflies gives way to steady consistency.
When you’re truly comfortable in a relationship, it’s less about jumping through hoops trying to impress your partner and more about Netflix and chilling, contentedly running errands to Trader Joe’s side-by-side, and making vegan dinners in your PJs. You’ve done the whole dating thing with your partner already, and you know your core values align. You get them and they get you. Magic. When you start getting into a natural rhythm, everything starts to feel super comfortable. But how comfortable is too comfortable? What if your relationship starts feeling too routine, or even boring? How do you know if you’re in a secure relationship or if you’re settling?
As a relationship and sex coach, I teach my clients how to cultivate healthy relationships rooted in self-awareness. But I’ve noticed a common theme play out with some of my millennial and Gen Z clients: Some fall in love with the idea of love. They bend over backward to make it work. They neglect their gut instincts. They sacrifice their needs. Sometimes, they settle. Other couples get “too comfortable” in relationships after doing the same thing over and over again. One day, they look up and discover they aren’t truly satisfied — they’re just going through the motions. Things aren’t amazing, but they’re not bad either, so they chug along.
So, what’s the difference between being comfortable in a relationship and settling? How do you know if you’re actually secure or if your relationship is growing stagnant? How do you know if you’re accepting less than you deserve? And is it really so bad to settle? The distinction is subtle, but there are key things you can look out for. Here’s everything you need to know, according to therapists.
What Does A Comfortable Relationship Feel Like?
Let’s start with the basics. A comfortable relationship is like a cozy pair of sweatpants: only for your heart, not your legs. It’s a state of profound relaxation and just being together. You feel at ease having your partner witness you in all of your multitudes — whether that’s watching you marathon Love Island for hours on the couch with your best friend or eating Hot Cheetos for dinner. No posturing and no judgment. You can express your silliest quirks around them and be your full self without censorship.
Amalia Miralrío, LCSW, MSW, MEd tells Elite Daily that enjoying this level of acceptance and security in a comfortable relationship takes communication and shared experiences — for example, having cute inside jokes or traveling together — to feel accepted and secure over time. Blessing Uchendu, LCSW notes that this feeling of safety could point to a secure attachment style — aka the healthiest type of bond you can have with a romantic partner. Having feelings of secure attachment makes the bond feel meaningful, so you feel enabled to connect and share more with each other.
When you reach the comfortable stage of a relationship, everything flows. The games go away. You aren’t second-guessing if or when they’ll text you back. You don’t worry about them flirting with other people when they go out with their friends. In fact, you know you can totally count on your partner and let your guard down around them. “People think of more concrete examples [of comfort] like using the bathroom at their place or letting them see you without your typical makeup,” Miralrío says. “These are perfectly fine examples, but the deeper sense of trust and respect is at the core of feeling comfortable.”
That said, if your relationship feels less exciting and more boring as it develops, it isn’t necessarily a bad sign. People often mistake comfort for boredom and long for the exciting butterflies characteristic of infatuation or a new relationship, but Uchendu says that isn’t always a predictor of long-term relationship success. “Sometimes [seeking] those butterflies is related to old attachment wounds playing out.” Meaning that those sparkly butterflies may be pointing to an overstimulated nervous system, similar to those felt in anxious and avoidant attachment styles. It can feel thrilling to be with someone who keeps you on your toes, but if you don’t feel genuinely secure with them, it may be a warning sign.
What Defines A Comfortable Relationship?
If you’re wondering if your relationship is truly comfortable and secure, there are a few major markers that you should look out for:
Safety And Security
Are you able to be your true self around your partner? Do you feel relaxed and at ease? During disagreements, can you move through tough, yet meaningful topics together without defensiveness or contempt? In a comfortable relationship, conflicts aren’t seen as ruptures but as opportunities for connection, learning, and repair. You “fight fair” and you see the best in each other. If you notice that you feel insecure or chronically misunderstood around your partner, that could be an indicator that things are not as rosy as they seem.
Honestly Expressing Your Needs
When you’re going through challenges at school or work, can you call your partner right away to vent? When you feel hurt about something they did last week, can you tell them? Uchendu explains that this can also look like being comfortable enough to tell your partner the kinks you really want to try in bed, or that you don’t like the salmon dish they love making for you. Honesty is simple yet essential. Advocating for yourself and showing respect for your preferences is a big demonstration of emotional maturity, and each time you share what you need, your partner should meet it to foster more connection.
Ability To Draw Boundaries
Being able to individuate (separate yourself from your partner) is one of the critical ingredients of a healthy relationship. Your relationship should not come at the cost of you losing yourself. Choosing them should feel like you’re still choosing yourself. “The more you are able to accept yourself and feel comfortable with yourself, the more you can invite a relationship that reflects that comfort,” Uchendu adds. “It’s about feeling comfortable with the fact that you are a unique person with your own likes and dislikes that might differ from your partner.”
What Does Settling Feel Like?
It can be tricky to know when you’re settling because it can feel (and look) similar to being in a secure relationship. Perhaps you get along with your partner and you feel like the relationship is going just fine. Maybe things feel comfortable, but you question whether or not you could be happier single or with someone else. Or you only focus on the good stuff in the relationship even though deep down, you know you’re not the best fit for each other.
Compromise in a relationship is normal, but if you’re casting major values or desires aside at the risk of authenticity, it’s a sign you may be settling. “Settling in a relationship is accepting less than what you desire or deserve,” Uchendu says. “It is when you have an inner knowing that something doesn't quite feel right, and yet you push that voice away to preserve the peace or defer to the other person. It's ultimately being out of alignment with yourself, your needs, and desires while in a relationship with someone else.”
When you’re settling, you might be unconsciously letting go of things you want so the relationship can survive. You may resist growth out of fear you will grow apart from each other. Perhaps you enjoy your day-to-day routine with your partner, but when you think about a future together, it fills you with more dread than excitement. Or you feel like you can only be happy with your S.O. if they could change some of their personality traits instead of accepting who they are in the moment.
According to Uchendu, settling and staying in a relationship when you’re not really happy can actually take a lot of effort — and can even make you feel like you’re putting on an act. There may be a desire to present a certain image of yourself instead of getting vulnerable and letting your partner see who you are — flaws and all. But sometimes, settling in a relationship is a gut-check that although your partner and the relationship are perfectly fine and there’s nothing wrong, that doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
Why Do We Settle In Relationships?
Miralrío points out that settling for someone can happen for many reasons: fear of not being good enough for someone else, fear of not finding someone who’s a better fit, or a fear connected to external timelines — like the pressure to settle down and be with someone long-term due to social expectations or the desire to have kids. Whatever the reason is, if you’re settling in a relationship, there are most likely some things that are being left unsaid — or even fundamental incompatibilities you are overlooking.
If you aren’t feeling at ease in your relationship, or feel like you have to look or say the right thing — even if it’s not what you genuinely feel — Uchendu says it’s a sign you may be emotionally compromising. “[Settling] is a feeling of precarity in a relationship that is predicated on your performance or pleasing the other person,” she says. “Settling also could look like feeling responsible for the other person's happiness instead of each person cultivating their own interests and self-love.”
If you’re still not sure if you’re comfortable or settling in the relationship, examine the “part” you’re playing with your S.O. A comfortable relationship can feel like you’re taking off your mask and being your amazing, weirdo self. You aren’t scared to be vulnerable. Settling is more like playing a part in a play that you can’t drop. You keep things to yourself and avoid certain conversations to keep the relationship going, no matter what. If a comfortable relationship feels like you can say whatever without judgment, settling can feel like you’re biting your tongue so you don’t rock the boat.
So, What’s Next?
If you’ve discovered that you’re comfortable in the relationship, that’s a great sign! Whatever you’re doing is clearly working, so now it’s all about appreciating and taking care of each other with more consideration. To keep the good vibes going, keep checking in with your partner and spicing things up spontaneously so things don’t get too routine. Send an unexpected nude during the work day or try out that new pottery class together you’ve been eyeing. Introducing novelty to the relationship keeps it exciting while deepening the bond you already have.
On the other hand, if you’ve realized you’ve been settling, it may be time to make some big changes. The relationship has likely gone on without you and your partner asserting what you need, and communicating your thoughts and emotions can help. It begins by having an honest conversation with yourself about how you really feel, what the relationship might be missing, and what you haven’t been asking for. You can also start asserting more boundaries, establishing your own sense of self, and sharing your needs. Depending on how you both react to these new changes, it can reveal if the relationship is salvageable or if it’s not meant to be.
At the end of the day, know this: You can absolutely have a relationship where you feel genuine, safe, heard, and understood. It’s one of the best feelings in the world to have a partner you can feel cozy and comfortable around. Trust that feeling above all else, and let it guide you to the great romance you deserve.