8 Signs of Settling in a Romantic Relationship

6 min read
Source: cfoster/Unsplash

Source: cfoster/Unsplash

There is a difference between being satisfied in a relationship versus simply settling. Some may not realize they are settling in a relationship, especially if they are unaware of their motivations for choosing that person. It is common to see someone “settling” in a relationship where they may dismiss their partner’s behavior, give more than they get in return, settle based on financial reasons, or in some instances out of self-sabotage.

Many people come to therapy because they feel “stuck,” “numb,” or are experiencing dissatisfaction in their romantic relationship while internalizing it as something being “wrong” with themselves. Some feel ashamed for feeling unhappy, while others are not sure when their feelings of indifference started, or why.

The reality is, “settling” in a relationship is based on two common patterns. On one hand, a person either impulsively chooses someone for the wrong reasons such as arbitrarily jumping into a relationship to prevent being alone. On the other hand, “settling” may happen more gradually when one or both partners start to change and grow apart without officially ending the relationship. In either situation, the result is that a person feels “trapped,” “empty,” disillusioned, and unsatisfied in their lives.

Below are eight common signs of having “settled” in a relationship and the underlying core wounds that may be guiding this pattern.

1. Feeling Numb or Indifferent

If a person feels emotionally numb or indifferent towards their partner or their relationship, this often stems from a lack of emotional connection, or they may be struggling with unresolved trauma or a mental health condition. Feeling “numb” can operate as an adaptive coping mechanism for some things such as when experiencing an acute traumatic event. However, chronic feelings of numbness in a romantic relationship often point to other factors, including fears of vulnerability, feelings of emotional disconnection stemming from unresolved trauma, or codependency where enmeshment is common.

2. Sexual Incompatibility

All couples will experience some differences when it comes to sex. Issues of frequency, needs, desires, or preferences can become common challenges many couples face. Yet, “settling” in a relationship when there is sexual incompatibility that has not been resolved can result in increased risks of infidelity, or where both partners may live together, but are living separate lives. This is most common when paired with a low level of healthy communication between partners and feelings of relationship indifference. It is important to also address any underlying factors that may be in play such as hyperarousal, which can be seen in trauma survivors.

3. Sex Replaces Emotional Intimacy

On the flip side, some who have histories of always needing to be in a relationship as a way of momentarily stabilizing their ego needs or sense of worth may also use sex as a way of securing the relationship. An equally common occurrence is to use sex as a way of avoiding emotional vulnerability or emotional intimacy, especially during sensitive issues that may arise between partners. Similarly, some who are in trauma-bonded relationships can be “hooked” on the relational highs and lows. In these situations, the breakup-to-makeup pattern often includes a high level and intensity of arguments, followed by high levels of manipulation, including another “honeymoon” phase in the relationship. Ultimately, both partners end up “settling” for an empty relationship void of authentic connection or emotional intimacy.

4. Lack of Autonomy

This can be an especially common occurrence for a person who grew up in a narcissistic or codependent environment, around narcissistic caregivers, or those with a history of profound attachment trauma. For example, being in a relationship (even an unsatisfying one) may offer them a sense of “self” by taking on their partner’s likes or dislikes. “Settling” in a relationship as a way of obtaining a sense of self-identity often points to deeper issues such as codependency, unresolved childhood trauma, or difficulty in knowing who they “are” outside of a romantic relationship.

5. Communication Suffers

Some couples wrongly believe that if they never argue, then their relationship must be rock solid. The reality is that all couples will argue. Disagreements can be healthy and, if done properly, can help build a more solid connection between partners. Yet, when communication is limited to toxic positivity or surface-level chitchat, the lack of depth and emotional intimacy may point to other more serious issues, including not caring enough to address or discuss pertinent information with your partner, for fears of speaking up and standing your ground. The result is that both partners end up “settling” in a relationship void of healthy and intimate communication.

6. Comfort Zone

A hard truth is that some may settle in a relationship because it resonates with what is familiar to them, based on their past wounds. They may choose a partner who reminds them of an abandoning or negligent caregiver or of how they grew up because something with the partner’s traits, patterns, or personality is similar to what was taught as “comfortable” in their childhood. Others may discard one relationship that invited them to emotionally level up and grow and will settle on a relationship that allows them to remain emotionally stunted or within their comfort zone.

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7. Attachment Insecurities

A common pattern seen in trauma-bonded relationships is to try and “fix,” “save,” or “rescue.” This walks hand-in-hand with attachment insecurities. If a person grew up in an environment that taught dismissiveness, invalidation, negligence, or abuse as “normal,” they are more at risk to attract (and be attracted to) a partner that resonates with these core wounds, regardless of how unhealthy, toxic, or narcissistic the relationship may be. When someone settles for this type of relationship, the core wounds driving this pattern often include deep shame, feeling unworthy of healthy love, and high levels of codependency that are mistaken as love and connection.

8. Emotional Immaturity

Unsatisfying relationships where a partner may settle include those where one, or both partners are emotionally immature. If a person is emotionally immature, their ability to be present in their relationship and with their partner is significantly reduced. When a person is emotionally immature, they may dodge serious issues, downplay problems in the relationship, lash out or have trouble controlling their emotions, lack accountability, lack emotional empathy, or be highly impulsive in their decisions. Settling in a relationship with someone emotionally immature can prevent authentic connection because their immaturity limits their self-awareness and ability to communicate.

Getting Support

People may “settle” in a relationship for many reasons. While “settling” may provide you with a short-term option, it can limit your overall happiness and lead to regret. However, it is important to recognize what is motivating you to choose a certain relationship or to stay in one where you are “settling” for less than your value. It may also help to speak to a psychologist who specializes in relationships and can help you work through your feelings and any questions you have so that you can make informed decisions when it comes to your romantic relationships.

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