5 Warning Signs You’re Settling in Your Relationship

Licensed counselors and a renowned divorce attorney say these red flags may not seem like a big deal, but they could be holding you back from a relationship that can truly satisfy you.

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What does it actually mean to settle in a relationship? Sure, feelings for a partner can change over time—and relationship experts say that’s normal. But there’s a big difference between feeling satisfied in a relationship versus just…settling. Marriage and family therapists told us it all comes down to one major factor.

If you find yourself constantly on edge about the relationship you are in, fantasizing about fleeing but are too scared to actually make that leap, then you could be experiencing settling rather than simply enjoying your partner. We asked experts to share the specific warning signs you may experience if you’re settling in relationships so your can determine if it’s time to fight for what you have or end it.

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1. You’re afraid to break up for fear of being alone

Experts told us that the main barometer that can help you determine whether you’re settling in your relationship has to do with how you behave with your partner.

For starters, Samantha Grimes, MA, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist who points out that fear of being alone can easily become an excuse to stay with a person—even if you’ve thought about breaking up with them before.

One easy way to determine if this is happening in your relationship is by imagining a future with your partner. “If you imagine yourself in 10 years with this person and it doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, and instead it makes you feel stale and anxious, you are definitely settling,” Fae explains. “If you are demonstrating avoidant behavior such as purposely hanging out with friends on the weekend instead of your partner, you are settling.”

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2. You don’t encourage personal growth in each other

Grimes points out that both partners should strive to grow and evolve together. Yet if no growth is happening, it’s often a telltale sign that you’re settling in relationships.

Science even backs this up. One 2021 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology actually found that shared experiences of self-expansion for partners also resulted in greater passion within a relationship. Meaning when couples are growing together, they were able to grow closer and strengthen their relationship.

Nevertheless, not all personal growth will happen together. Sometimes partners will experience growth separately. Fortunately, multiple studies show that intimacy in relationships can actually grow when partners are sharing personal information with one another. So being a supportive partner in sharing those growth experiences can also strengthen a relationship.

Needless to say, if a relationship isn’t inspiring growth—or a partner is not supportive of the other’s growth—then both partners in the relationship will likely not be able to grow and mature together.

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3. You avoid conflict

If you’re “not wanting to rock the boat because you view your relationship as fragile,” as Grimes says, then that can easily be a signal that you’re settling in relationships.

Adds Laura Wasser, a divorce attorney and thought leader on relationships: “If you notice that you’re avoiding difficult discussions with your partner or brushing off important topics, this may indicate that you’re settling for a relationship that isn’t meeting your emotional needs.”

Wasser also points out that consistently feeling unease can lead to dissatisfaction and doubt in a relationship, and it holds you back from truly feeling happy. If you’re not addressing those feelings—which is actually a healthy form of communication—then the relationship may be holding you back.

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4. You’re compromising on your values

Find yourself changing for another person? This is a sign of compromising one’s values that indicates settling in relationships, says Bonnie Winston, a celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert.

“For example, if they don’t drink or do drugs but feel pressure to partake from their partner, it is settling,” says Winston. “Or if they know deep in their hearts their partner isn’t faithful and they are not in an open relationship but accept it because they love them, they should call them out and leave. No one should settle. It is better to love yourself more. When you close the window they will have space for a more respectful relationship to appear and enter into their life.”

Wasser chimes in. “When you find yourself compromising your core beliefs, morals, or values to make the relationship work, it’s a strong signal that you might be settling. A healthy partnership should enhance your life and support your growth, not force you to abandon what matters most to you.”

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5. You feel like you’re missing out

Whether you didn’t take a job in a different city because of your partner or you find your eye wandering, Reena B. Patel, LEP, BCBA, a licensed psychologist and board-certified behavior analyst, says feeling like you’re missing out should give you pause about your relationship.

“If you feel like you’re missing out on something in life, it may be a sign that you are settling,” Patel explains. “You may feel like you are not living your best life, and your partner may not be the right person to help you achieve your goals.”

One important note on all this: A 2019 study in Sexual and Relationship Therapy found that partners in sexually satisfying and unsatisfying relationships can experience fantasies in a dream state, and could be an informative way for couples to talk about sexual desires with one another. So just because you’re dreaming about somebody else doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not in love with your partner…unless, perhaps, some of these other warning signs also apply.

If you are in a satisfying relationship but find you are still fantasizing about sexual desires, it could be a good opportunity to speak to your partner about your needs before settling on what you already have.

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a journalist and content strategist with a main focus on nutrition, health, and wellness coverage. She holds an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a Nutrition Science certificate from Stanford Medicine. Her work has been featured in publications including Taste of Home, Reader's Digest, Bustle, Buzzfeed, INSIDER, MSN, Eat This, Not That!, and more.