Are you in a romantic 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 optional treatment. Or your fear of being alone and feeling unlovable is unbearable.
Maybe he or she is gorgeous and treats you well but something is missing. Perhaps your family or friends have convinced you to hang in there or try harder.
You may even know intellectually that nobody should have to settle for less than they deserve 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 nice man or woman. Underneath all of these rationalizations is a deep seated fear of being alone.
New research conducted 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 single predicts settling for less in romantic relationships. She found that fear of being single 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. Being fearful of being alone was also associated with being less selective of a potential partner at speed-dating events in her landmark study.
Let’s face it, nobody should have to settle for less than they deserve just for the sake of being part of a couple. But what is the source of your fear of being single? 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.
Of all the difficult experiences that individuals face in life, being alone can be among the hardest. 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.
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.
Whatever the reason, if you assess that you are staying in a relationship that’s all wrong for you, it’s important to take a few steps to determine if you need to end it. This can take time and a commitment to loving and respecting yourself. However simplistic this may seem, self-love and self-respect are the basis of loving another person.
Here are some signs that you are settling for less than you deserve in your relationship:
- The relationship brings you down and your significant other doesn’t inspire you to do your best. Perhaps he/she is overly critical or too focused on his/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 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.
- 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 to compromise – you morph into someone else to accommodate his or her expectations, needs, or desires.
In closing, you may not be able to determine what’s wrong or missing in your intimate relationship at this moment. It could take 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. Often, the courage needed to end a relationship that is no longer meeting one or both partners’ needs shows the greatest strength. However, if you decide to stay in your relationship because you feel it’s worth trying to save, consider couples counseling if your partner is willing and motivated – before you walk away.
Let’s end with this quote from Sara Eckel: “Mostly, you gain strength when you learn to listen to your own voice and live life on your own terms.”
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