You’ve been dating your S.O. 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 seriously 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. Research shows that obsessing and having relationship doubts can not only cause you distress, but hurt the dynamic as well.
Before you do anything rash, keep in mind that virtually every paired up partner has doubts about their significant other at some point along coupledom’s course, says Michael Batshaw, a psychotherapist and author of 51 Things You Should Know Before Getting Engaged.
Yep, even married people have doubts. Just ask any married couple you know. In fact, he believes that 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,” Batshaw explains.
Whether a duo will last is determined by what both partners do in light of those doubts, he says. We went to the experts to find out the most common scenarios where those pesky second thoughts can find their way in, and whether they’re truly red flags for your relationship.
1. I feel attracted to someone else
So, you’re out at bar with your friends, and you find yourself in conversation with a rando 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 isn’t a thing, says Emily Brown, a Connecticut-based social worker who helps couples navigate sticky relational issues.
“At some point, especially in long-term relationships, you’re going to be attracted to other people,” she says. 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 partner, that’s not OK. Once you veer into secrecy, you’ve crossed a line, Brown says.
2. 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, Batshaw says.
But just because someone isn’t constantly blowing your mind in the bedroom doesn’t mean you should ditch them ASAP, says marriage and family therapist Lisa Bahar. “If your partner isn’t doing what you like, teach them,” she says.
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 S.O. up to speed, Bahar explains.
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, she adds. If it’s really not working 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,” Batshaw says. Translation: If your mate constantly chatters on about their life during everyday conversation, they’re apt to be equally selfish once the heavy petting begins.
3. I don’t really get along with their family
While research in this area is limited, one older study did show that having positive feelings toward your in-laws bodes well for relationships. It leads to better accord and stronger ties in your partnership 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,” Bahar says.
Just make sure your partner is willing to work with you to create some ground rules. For example, defending you from a family member’s criticism or negotiating how much time is spent with parents and siblings.
It may also mean respecting your disinterest in religious traditions that conflict with your internal values. Then this inevitable discomfort might not be a reason to flee, Bahar says.
4. 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: moving in, engagement, or a multi-year anniversary).
Often these hesitations are mere flare-ups of anticipation anxiety, or what Bahar calls the “grass-is-always-greener” phenomenon.
The false belief that there’s a perfect soul mate out there can also inflame fears of commitment, Bahar explains. 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, like you find them 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, Bahar says.
While it can be normal and healthy to question things in the course of a relationship, some situations are simply not OK.
If you notice your partner has a hard time trusting you, it could spell trouble down the road. Research shows that partners with anxious attachments may become jealous, snoop through your stuff, or become psychologically abusive, which is a huge no-no.
Other deal breakers include a partner who threatens you, controls you, makes you feel like you’re in physical danger, or repeatedly crosses a line — like peppering you with questions about something you aren’t comfortable discussing or not respecting your “no” in the bedroom.
Equally worthy of ending it: Your partner repeatedly puts you down, invalidates you, or belittles you, which qualifies as emotional abuse, Batshaw adds.
Multiple counts of deception, dishonesty, or outright betrayal are also warning signs. Yes, not telling the person you’re dating about the guy or gal you’re seeing on the side totally counts as a deal breaker.
Of course, nobody’s perfect. 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, Bahar advises couples counseling.
You can also try one-on-one therapy, or a finding a support group like Al-Anon or Codependents Anonymous. However, if you start suspecting your safety is endangered, that’s a sign to call it quits, Bahar says.
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, Batshaw says.
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.
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, Bahar says.
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.
Unless you’re in a dangerous situation, knowing whether you should stay with your mate 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, Batshaw says.
A relationship in which one partner repeatedly fails to accommodate the other’s needs and boundaries is not likely to last.
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.