The search for a soulmate can be an exhausting process.
The modern dating landscape is full of pitfalls, with a growing number of couples settling for less in love due to fear, timelines, or insecurity.
Love may be about certain sacrifices, but if your relationship jeopardizes your own happiness… it could be a sign you are settling in your relationship.
Settling in a relationship means accepting less than what you truly deserve from your partner.
“The simplest way to think of settling in a relationship is when you don’t feel satisfied and say to yourself ‘this is good enough’ rather than searching for more,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.
“A key part of this thought process is that settling makes people avoid diving into deeper intimacy with their partner. This is because they see it as a stopping point rather than a curiosity point to start a path of deeper intimacy.”
By accepting this line of thought, it can be hard to recognize the signs that you’ve settled in your own relationship. This understanding comes from establishing your own self-worth and refusing to settle for less than you deserve.
However, this can be easier said than done.
30% of American singles are refusing to settle, citing high expectations as the main reason they are not dating, according to a 2023 study survey by the American Survey Center.
There are several different reasons why people might feel the need to settle in a relationship, whether it’s out of outside pressures or personal insecurities.
Loneliness is a scary prospect, and often the idea of being alone seems far worse than settling for an incompatible partner.
This fear often means that people will give up their quest for a soulmate in favor of companionship or because they want to have children.
Timing is everything.
Although there are many different ways to understand why people settle due to timing, it’s summed up simply and brilliantly by everyone’s favorite relationship experts in Sex and the City.
In the show, Miranda coined the ‘Cab Light Theory’, this concept suggests that men are like taxis. When the time comes for them to settle down, they turn their ‘available’ light on, and the first woman to climb in is the chosen one.
This modern dating theory has had a resurgence on social media in recent years but is not always sound. However, the idea that age conventions and timelines cause people to settle for monogamy, even if the relationship is flawed — rings true.
The feeling that you can’t do better than your current partner is a common issue when it comes to settling in relationships.
“The easiest way to understand why people settle comes back to low self-esteem,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“Low self-esteem is a large, even daunting concept, that takes a lot of work and healing to strengthen.”
This lack of self-esteem can mean you sacrifice what you truly want due to your own insecurities.
“You might say to yourself — this is as good as it will get for me. This opinion is being formed by your negative sense of self, leading you to settle for less than you deserve,” says Seeger DeGeare.
Due to these insecurities, your self-love and self-worth can pay the price. This leads to unsatisfactory long-term relationships, whereby you let go of your expectations in the belief that you don’t deserve better.
There are a multitude of factors that lead to people giving up on their romantic aspirations and settling for a significant other who isn’t quite the right fit.
However, sometimes it can be hard to recognize when you have settled. Although they may vary from couple to couple, these signs may indicate you’ve settled in your relationship.
Rose-colored glasses can make you blind to red flags.
Do you find yourself ignoring your partner’s bad behavior? Red flags can manifest in many different forms, such as gaslighting or controlling behavior, but they can often be written off as quirks in favor of preserving a relationship.
Research has defined an array of common dealbreakers in relationships. If you find yourself ignoring these red flags, it could be a sign that you have settled for a relationship with an incompatible partner.
Our morals and values define who we are.
In a healthy relationship, the right person should reflect and respect your core values in their actions and beliefs. Compatibility should be based on these values, and you should not easily give these up to serve someone else’s agenda.
Red flags are easier to see from a different point of view.
Friends and family may jump in or offer relationship advice if they believe you’re unhappy. Constantly defending or covering for your partner is exhausting, and tolerating these behaviors (when you previously wouldn’t have) isn’t a positive indicator in a relationship.
Loneliness may be a reason why people settle, but settling for someone doesn’t mean that you won’t feel lonely.
The feeling of missing out on something more, but staying anyway, could be a sign that you have settled for less in your relationship.
Sexual compatibility is an essential part of a healthy and loving relationship.
Intimacy comes in many different forms, but a healthy sex life is commonly seen as an important component of a relationship. It’s normal for your libido to fluctuate, especially in long-term relationships — but if your dwindling, passionless sex life has become a sore spot, it could mean there’s a deeper issue to address in your relationship.
No one can magically morph into the perfect partner on command. (Nor should they have to!)
Waiting for the day when your partner changes to fit what you want is a fruitless and frustrating endeavor. Trying to change fundamental qualities of their personality is not the solution when it comes to choosing a partner.
Comparison is a normal part of life.
However, romanticizing other relationships can lead to questions about the success of your own romantic pairing. Viewing other relationships in this way can expose what we really want and what we may have settled for in stark contrast to each other.
Settling in a relationship doesn’t automatically indicate a toxic situation.
In many cases, settling means the lack of a romantic spark or deeper connection that provides the foundation for a loving relationship. Although you may get on well with your partner, this lack of connection makes it difficult to feel fulfilled and leaves you looking for more.
Feelings of doubt are completely normal in most relationships, with our own insecurities often jeopardizing our romantic connections.
However, consistent feelings of remorse and regret over the decisions which brought you to your partner may be a sign that you made a mistake with your choice of companion.
Often the hardest pill to swallow is accepting that you have settled for less than you deserve.
The possibility of a break-up or loneliness can contribute to a conflicted notion of self-worth. Overcoming your own insecurities and getting to a place of acceptance and self-love can lead to greater realizations about the state of your relationship.
This is usually the greatest sign that you may have settled for your partner.
As we mentioned, compromise is a big part of a relationship — but perhaps not always in the ways you might think.
“Often people have lists of what they think their ‘ideal partner’ should have. By defining them in terms of their height, income, hobbies — they are limiting themselves in terms of the forms of love they will accept,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“Being realistic is honoring the fact that we have no idea who we will fall in love with. So sometimes when we say that ‘we are lowering our standards’, most of the time we are lowering them from an imaginary ideal.”
The most important difference between settling and being realistic about romance is that if you have settled, your happiness is at stake.
“What we don’t want to lower is our happiness and the feeling of joy in romantic relationships,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“So being realistic in this case is perhaps realizing your prince or princess charming may not be exactly who you thought they would be — but they make you happy.”
Finding your perfect match is not an easy task, but when you find your best friend in a romantic partner… you know you are on the right track.
By understanding your own deal breakers and setting expectations for your future relationships, you can ensure you don’t settle for less.
“Ask yourself why you think you have a relationship that is not satisfying,” says Seeger DeGeare.
Soulmate searches can be laborious and time-consuming, but by not settling due to fear, convention, or time constraints, you are one step closer to a fulfilling and successful new relationship.
“We often focus on the other person and their behaviors, what they have or don’t have. However, we should be focusing on what we think we deserve and be open to the possibility that the love of our life will be far beyond anything we ever imagined,” says Seeger DeGeare.
And that, in our book, is worth the wait.
Download Paired for more advice on how to deepen your connection with your partner. Start the conversation with quizzes, games, and expert guidance.