You’ve been dating this guy for a while now, and things are starting to get serious. You’ve met their family, hung out with their friends, and their clothes frequently find their way into your hamper. If you haven’t already moved in together, you might be heavily considering it.
But even though you’re definitely in love and enjoy being around your partner, you may have had a few second thoughts about this special someone, wondering if some of their quirks, habits, or parts of their past are red flags.
Before you call it quits, chill. Virtually every paired-up partner has doubts about their significant other at some point along couple-dom’s course. In fact, the real relationship doesn’t begin until the first major disappointment. “That’s the first doubt crisis—and all of a sudden you’re not as unbelievably in sync as you thought.
Whether a duo will last is determined by what both partners do in light of those doubts. What are the most common scenarios where those pesky second thoughts can find their way into your relations and are they truly red flags for your relationship?
- I feel attracted to someone else.
So you’re out at bar with your friends, and you find yourself in conversation with a cutie. And then hours later, you start to panic that your interest in someone else means you should jump ship.
Hold on there. As long as you don’t send out signals that you’re actually available, harmlessly flirting ain’t a thing. At some point, especially in long-term relationships, you’re going to be attracted to other people. Keep this in mind as well if you learn that your partner was seen flirting with another person.
On the other hand, if you get another person’s number and text innuendos back and forth, not saying a thing about it to your boyfriend, that’s not OK. Once you veer into secrecy, you’ve crossed a line.
- I’m not always satisfied in bed.
Maybe your partner isn’t exactly up to snuff between the sheets. (It happens.) Sexual compatibility—including the specifics of your desires as well as how often you want to get it on—is a huge factor in couples’ happiness.
But just because someone isn’t constantly blowing your mind in the bedroom doesn’t mean you should ditch them ASAP. If your partner isn’t doing what you like, teach them. Remember, it’s up to you to communicate what you want. Often, asking and instructing—while keeping it playful and reserving judgment—is all it takes to get your partner up to speed. Though if they really don’t improve over time or you feel like they aren’t respecting your needs or limits, that’s when it may just be a case of sexual mismatch.
Plus, if it’s really not working out in the bedroom, chances are it’s also not working out so well in the rest of the house (or outside of it). “Sex is a type of communication, and it tends to parallel the dynamic between partners in non-sexual realms. Translation: If your mate constantly chatters on about him or herself during everyday conversation, they’re apt to be equally selfish once the heavy petting begins.
- I don’t really get along with their family.
Research shows that having positive feelings toward your in-laws tends to bode for better accord and stronger ties in your relationship or marriage in the long run. However, if your potential kin aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy toward you, it’s totally normal. A certain level of doubt about whether you fit into your partner’s family is to be expected.
Just make sure your partner is willing to work with you to create some ground rules—like defending you from a family member’s cattiness or excessive criticism, negotiating how much time is spent with parents and siblings, or respecting your disinterest in religious traditions that conflict with your internal values.
- I’m worried I’m settling.
Wondering if you’re staying in a relationship that’s less than ideal because it’s all you’ve ever known is a not only common, the fear is especially prevalent when partners are on the verge of a more serious commitment (think: engagement, marriage, moving in, or celebrating a multi-year anniversary). Often these hesitations are mere flare-ups of anticipation anxiety, or the “grass-is-always-greener” phenomenon.
The false belief that there’s a perfect soul mate out there for us can also inflame fears of commitment. Research shows that if we believe there’s some flawlessly compatible “other” out there, we’re more willing to flee rather than sit down and work it out when relationship conflict arises. If this happens, talk these feelings out with your mate, continue to explore where the both of you meet in terms of values, and try not to compare yourself to other couples.
However, if you have a consistent sense of discomfort around your partner, you find them repeatedly unwilling to communicate or accommodate your needs, or you’re just genuinely disinterested in them, that’s not settling—those are legit concerns that could warrant a breakup.
Deal Breakers You Don’t Have to Deal With
While it can be normal and healthy to question things in the course of a relationship, some situations are simply not OK. Examples include a partner who threatens you, controls you, makes you feel you’re in physical danger, or repeatedly crosses a line you’ve drawn (from peppering you with questions about something you aren’t comfortable talking about to not respecting when you say “no” in the bedroom).
Multiple counts of deception, dishonesty, or outright betrayal are also warning signs. (Yes, not telling the person you’re dating about the guy you’re seeing on the side totally counts as a deal breaker.) Equally worthy of ending it: If your partner repeatedly puts you down, invalidates you, or belittles you, which qualifies as emotional abuse.
Of course, nobody’s perfect, and part of being in a relationship means dealing with your partner’s baggage. If one partner is struggling with an addiction, eating disorder, or other behavioral or mood issue, I would suggest couples counseling, one-on-one therapy, or a finding a support group. However, if you start suspecting your safety is endangered, that’s a sign to call it quits.
The Bottom Line
Doubt is a perfectly normal part of any relationship. It becomes problematic, though, when we avoid resolving it. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: Pretty much everything in a relationship boils down to communication. It’s important to keep our partners informed about what we’re thinking so they know how to adapt. And vice versa: You’re just as responsible for listening and adjusting your behavior accordingly when your partner lets you know you’ve crossed a line.
Yes, research shows sharing some fundamental beliefs and values is essential to any relationship’s lasting potential, but you may need to examine your defensiveness if you find yourself inclined to quit a relationship simply because a partner respectfully offers a perspective that clashes with your own. Breaking up with someone because they said the wrong thing once or fell short of your expectations is a bit naïve, as is being disappointed when your partner disagrees with you.
Unless you’re in a clearly dangerous situation, knowing whether you should stay with your mate or consider other options requires observing how they act toward you over time and monitoring how you consistently feel as their partner—especially after you voice concerns or feelings of hurt. And a relationship in which one partner repeatedly fails to accommodate the other’s needs and boundaries is not likely to last. But as long as couples can talk through tough issues, keep one another feeling safe and satisfied, and continue to share good times, they’re probably doing just fine.