How to Deal with Double Standards in a Relationship

How can I address double standards in my relationship effectively?
on May 07, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

We’ve heard it all before. 

Relationships should work both ways. Relationships are a two-way street. You should put into relationships what you’re expecting to get out of them. 

If these conditions aren’t met, double standards in a relationship quickly become the new order of the day, and corrupt any possibility of a healthy, reciprocal relationship. So, how do you spot double standards in a relationship? 

Or are there so many present in society that we’ve all become a bit too immune? 

Key Takeaways
  • Identifying double standards is crucial. These can manifest as unequal expectations around financial responsibilities, physical appearance, sexual behavior, and other relationship dynamics.
  • Double standards can severely damage the core pillars of a relationship: communication and trust. They lead to reduced openness, misunderstandings, and an erosion of trust as one partner feels unfairly treated.
  • Defining what is acceptable within the relationship can help ensure that both partners are treated equally. This includes mutual agreement on responsibilities, interactions, and behaviors.

What are double standards in relationships?

In relationships, your expectations of your partner should reflect the kind of relationship that you’re willing to give in return. 

If you have a long list of needs and expectations of your partner but refuse to give back the same energy — that’s a double standard. As if you aren’t willing to give back that energy, these are totally unfair expectations and shouldn’t be normalized. 

There are many different types of double standards in relationships including financial, physical, or even sexual behaviors. Depending on their severity, these double standards can be classed as emotional abuse, as they are holding you to expectations while refusing to be held accountable for their behavior. 

Wider societal double standards can also affect relationships, with these double standards often coming from a gender-based standpoint. 

For example, sexual double standards permit greater sexual freedom to men than women and can affect how a male chooses his partner. While this is an outdated concept, some men might prefer to choose a long-term partner who does not have an extensive sexual history — even though they expect not to be judged on theirs.

What are double standards examples?

There are so many examples of double standards littered throughout society, with many of them existing within romantic relationships. 

A financial double standard would be where your partner expects you to save money or pay bills but doesn’t hold themselves accountable for their own reckless spending. Or they might expect total transparency into your financial situation, but refuse to let you know about their own savings or debts. 

Or, your partner might expect you to remain slim and super fit but doesn’t apply the same rules to themselves. Another common double standard pertains to sexual activity, with frequent examples around attitudes toward casual sex (and the grudges held from its practice). 

However, men aren’t the only frequenters of these sexual double standards, with another study revealing that while women expect men to be okay with it when they say no to sex — men can be faced with hostility or misunderstanding if they do the same in return. 

Intimate relationships are therefore littered with double standards, with common examples infiltrating even the healthiest of unions. 

What is the psychology of double standards?

In romantic relationships, the psychology of double standards often revolves around gender roles, power dynamics, as well as personal expectations. 

The most common double standards in relationships often stem from traditional gender roles that dictate how men and women are “supposed” to behave. Even though we all hope that we’ve drifted into more modern ways of thinking, these old ideas can still linger and often go hand in hand with power dynamics. 

For example, men and women may be held to different standards regarding emotional expressiveness, fidelity, financial responsibilities, and sexual behavior based on culturally ingrained norms. These ideals can infiltrate healthy relationships, where one partner might expect their significant other to stay at home or act in a certain way simply because ‘that’s the way things are’. 

To avoid toxic relationships or the standards they hold you to, it’s important to learn how to spot signs of double standards and save yourself the rollercoaster! 

Signs of relationship double standards to look out for 

  1. Meeting needs: While your partner expects you to fulfill all of their relationship needs, they refuse to meet your own needs. They might dismiss your needs as irrelevant or unimportant, even though theirs are non-negotiable. 

  2. Friendships with the opposite sex: While your partner might have friends of all genders, whether girl or guy friends — they don’t want you to have friends of the opposite sex. Your partner might feel insecure or threatened by these friends but they overreact if you question their friendships. 

  3. Attitudes around household chores: Every couple should equally contribute to household tasks, whether it’s taking out the trash or making dinner. If your partner expects you to do it all, but would never dream of being left in the same position — that’s a double standard. 

  4. Healthy Nutritious Meals: Often, one partner is a better cook, so early on in dating, a couple can default to that person. This does two key things: it places a big burden and imbalance on the relationship, and it does not put any discomfort on the noncooking partner to learn to cook. 

  5. Treatment of family members: While you’re expected to go to every family event without so much as a grimace, they throw a tantrum or get in a foul mood when they have to do the same. This is a total double standard and is completely unacceptable. 

  6. Interactions with friends: If we’re speaking in gendered terms once again, they can have ‘Saturday with the boys’ but god forbid you want a night out with the girls! 

  7. Parenting: Expecting you to be a stay-at-home mom or dad, while they refuse to contribute to childcare — or making a big deal when they can’t do what they want because of the kids. 

  8. Going out: If your partner polices when and where you can go out, but doesn’t allow the same input in return, that’s another super common double standard. 

  9. Gender-based excuses: Long-term relationships should be founded on equality and respect, and you shouldn’t be allowed to utilize gender stereotypes to fuel your argument. For example, blaming hormones for bad behavior or making your partner feel guilty for ‘not understanding’ because of your gender differences — that’s also unfair. 

  10. Saying no to sex: Both partners should be allowed to say no to having sex, whether they’re tired, or simply not in the mood. Judging someone for their decision, but expecting them to be cool with it if you say no, that’s a double standard. 

  11. Privacy: While you should respect your partner’s privacy, they should return the favor. If one partner is demanding to see your phone or policing your interactions, but can’t stand this behavior vice versa… that’s a double standard. 

  12. Jealousy: Society usually dictates that jealousy is normal from women, but is always possessive and controlling when it comes from men. If you start to buy into these behaviors, that’s another double standard. 

  13. Financial expectation: If you expect a man to pay for everything, but don’t want to put your hand into your pocket for anything — that’s a classic double standard!

  14. Silent treatment: Stonewalling is never the answer when it comes to conflict in relationships. If you’re trying to work through things with your partner and they give you the silent treatment but wouldn’t tolerate that behavior themselves — there’s another double standard!

Are double standards a red flag?

Relationships should be built on mutual respect, trust, and open communication. That should be a huge red flag if your partner acts one way and expects you to conduct another. 

These double standards usually suggest a range of underlying or silent red flags, including trust issues, an imbalance of power, control issues, or even a lack of mutual respect. If one partner consistently allows themselves behaviors or privileges they deny to the other, it should serve as a red flag for your future together. 

One partner might use double standards as a form of emotional manipulation, aiming to dictate how the other behaves, dresses, or interacts socially, which can erode trust and individual autonomy. Over time, the partner on the receiving end of double standards may feel increasingly undervalued and resentful, which can poison the relationship (and your mental health along with it!) 

How do you deal with someone who has double standards?

  1. Understand why: Before anyone starts to point fingers, try to understand why your relationship isn’t defined on equal terms. Take the time to see where any insecurities could lie, or why these behaviors are constantly arising. 

  2. Communication: Address the issue directly with the person in a calm and non-confrontational manner. Express how the double standards affect you and the relationship using specific examples of your unequal dynamic. 

  3. Boundaries: Take the time to clearly define what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in your relationship. Work on making things more equal and fair by defining new boundaries that make you both feel comfortable. 

  4. External support: In cases where double standards are severe and negatively impacting mental health, it might be time to call in the big guns — with a professional counselor. 

  5. Evaluate the relationship: Consider the overall health of the relationship. If double standards are a recurring problem that isn't being resolved despite your efforts, assess whether the relationship is beneficial to your well-being. Sometimes, the best decision might be to distance yourself from relationships where double standards are persistent and harmful, especially if the other person is unwilling to change.

  6. Behavior: At the end of the day, you should model the kind of behavior that you expect in a relationship!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do narcissists have double standards?

    Narcissists often exhibit double standards as part of their behavioral patterns, which stem from their core traits and worldview. They may feel entitled to special treatment that they do not believe others deserve. For instance, they might expect others to adhere strictly to rules or norms while believing themselves to be exempt.
  • How can double standards in a relationship impact communication and trust?

    Double standards in a relationship can profoundly impact both communication and trust, creating an environment of dissatisfaction, misunderstanding, and emotional distance. When one partner is subject to stricter standards than the other, it may lead to reduced openness, frequent misunderstandings, and defensive interactions, disrupting healthy communication. “Relationships are built on healthy reciprocal vulnerability,” says Seeger DeGeare. “If one partner is feeling like they can’t share the imbalance and have their partner be open to shifting it, it can cause deep pain concerning the power dynamic for the couple.”
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