If you're in a relationship and going about your relationship-y business — date night, brunch, cozy nights in — you might be perfectly content. Or if you're looking at your partner and wishing they were funnier, more affectionate, or more driven, you might have a little nagging voice in the back of your head asking yourself, "Am I settling?" Of course, hearing a version of "You could do so much better than that guy" from a supportive crew of your besties after a breakup might be comforting, but wondering that during a relationship is troubling. If you have the instinct or suspicion that you might be settling with your current partner, there are a few signs that indicate that you might be right.
It's important to clarify that "settling" with your current partner doesn't mean they don't make enough money or are aren't attractive enough. Susan Winter, a New York-based relationship expert, says, "'Doing better' in this case means choosing a partner with whom you are better aligned. The greater the mismatch, the more obvious it is to recognize." While differences with your partner can function as ways you complement each other, they can also be indications that you're mismatched. How can you determine between differences that strengthen your relationship and those that indicate a less than stellar match? Winter suggests asking yourself, "Do your values align? If not, these will be the issues that undermine your partnership. Does your current partner 'get you?' If not there are others who will."
Perhaps at the beginning of your relationship, you felt very much in sync with your partner, but over time, you started to notice things that didn't feel quite right about them. Of course, relationships change and grow as we change and grow, but as you settle in with your partner, you could notice things that make you feel like you're settling. Laney Zuckerman, relationship coach, helps explain this. "Sometimes we choose a partner that meets our needs at the time," she says. "As time passes, if the partner does not grow with us emotionally and psychologically, it can cause a great deal of disappointment, frustration, and stress."
Another indication that you might be settling in your relationship is if you and your partner have very different attitudes towards your careers. If your partner isn't as ambitious as you are or isn't as far in life as you are, you might feel like they don't match up to you. Winter cautions, "Though your partner is not is driven as you are, are they supportive? If so, you may be fine. Ultimately, you need them to support you and not stand in your way." So if your less-driven partner is supportive and proud of your work ethic, that's not necessarily a red flag that your partner isn't up to par. However, being in a relationship with an unambitious partner might start to drag you down. Winter says, "The energy of a mate who isn't driven will erode your drive and sense of purpose."
If your partner makes a lot less money than you do, that's not necessarily an indication they're a sub-par match for you. People can be very passionate and proud of their jobs even if they don't bring home the serious bucks, but income disparity can also cause tension in your relationship dynamic. Zuckerman explains, "It can be very threatening for one partner to become far more successful than another. Both partners are going to need strong self-esteem and be very united to handle this."
So while differences in ambition and income could be signs your partner might be lacking, there are also emotional considerations. If you feel like your partner doesn't really engage or want to spend as much time with your friends or family as you'd like, they could be letting you down. While this might not seem like a reason to break up with someone, Winter says, "If family important to you, but your partner refuses to engage fully, this is an issue that affects your lifestyle and your future."
If you're affectionate and talkative, yet your partner prefers not to hold hands in public and doesn't ask you how your day was, your instinct might be right. These kind of emotional differences can slowly erode your relationship. Zuckerman explains that these things can slowly start to happen in a long-term relationship and can affect your happiness. "Some people are great at the beginning of a relationship and then they slowly taper out and you see their real self. You begin to feel a bit invisible or dissatisfied even though you may not be able to put your finger on it. You begin to feel they aren’t 'getting you' anymore."
All of these feelings can lead to you wondering if you could do better or find a partner better suited to your needs. If that's your experience, Zuckerman says, "One of the first and best things we can do if we are feeling disheartened about a present partner is to communicate your needs, wants and desires and ask them to respond in kind." If your partner is unresponsive or simply doesn't think your concerns are a big deal, then you might be right about the quality of your match.
Relationships always take a degree of work and effort, but it's up to you to decide if you're receiving the love and respect you deserve in return from your partner. Winter adds, "We cannot expect the outside world or a partner to be responsible for our ultimate happiness, but we do have a right for that partner to work with us to add joy and harmony to the union." So if you're reading this and the nagging voice in your head is like "Girl, I told you so!" then you might in fact, be settling. And since you deserve the world — go get it.