Many people come to therapy when their attempts at being a great romantic partner fail. They may say things like:
- “My partner does not respond to me instantly and I feel the compulsive need to call him. It angers me.”
- “We have been having sex for quite some time now and things seem to be going well. Why does my partner flinch at the possibility of commitment?”
- “I wonder who my ex is currently dating. I need to know what made my ex choose her over me.”
Coupling can bring us immense joy and satisfaction. However, it can easily take a toxic turn.
While we all want to be the best partners we can be, at times we may end up souring the sweetness through our actions.
Here are three ways you can unknowingly become the red flag in your relationship — and what to do about it.
#1. Over-romanticizing a potential partner
When we over-idealize, we start thinking about the other person in a way we wish them to be, so much so that we end up re-writing the reality of who they are and what is happening in the relationship.
While there’s nothing wrong about over-idealizing/romanticizing a new potential partner, it is sometimes symptomatic of a deeper issue, such as:
- A lack of self-respect. By easily giving in to whatever your potential partner does, you run the risk of filling the other person with a sense of superiority. Not only might this make you less attractive in their eyes, but it can also make you overly cautious about what you say and how you behave when you’re around them. According to one study published in the Journal of Personality, people who have high self-respect are better able to uphold their moral principles when confronted with relationship dilemmas. This leads to better relationship outcomes – such as both partners being more accommodating, forgiving, and conciliatory.
- A lack of self-esteem. A wide body of research shows, not surprisingly, that high self-esteem benefits romantic relationships. If you struggle with low self-esteem, you might end up sending unwelcome signals in your relationship, like presenting yourself as dependent on your partner for happiness and validation. You may even end up placing unrealistically high hopes on anyone who shows initial interest, perhaps demanding trust and intimacy right out of the gate.
To counteract your tendency to over-idealize, try the following:
- Give them a chance to invest. For a relationship to be healthy, feelings must be mutual. If your partner truly feels the same way about your bond as you do, they should be willing to show their gestures of love. Give them a chance and let them invest in the relationship.
- Ask others for objective opinions. Fantasizing about our relationships is acceptable so long as we keep our sights on reality too. One way to prevent yourself from falling for someone imaginary is to ask a third party for their honest views and opinions about your new relationship.
#2. Chasing someone who just broke up
Chasing someone who is fresh off of their previous relationship might signal that you have difficulty giving other people the time and space they sometimes need.
Here are two signs that can help you to make a sound decision on whether a recently single partner is worth investing in:
- Are they easily reminded of their ex? If your potential partner brings up their ex frequently in conversations, it could mean that they’re still occupied with memories and unhealed wounds. In particular, if you notice them speaking negatively about their partner, that might mean that they’re not yet ready to move on or that they’re someone who won’t take responsibility for things that go wrong in a relationship.
- Are they giving you mixed signals? Another pattern to watch out for is if your partner starts off strong only to disappoint as you move along in your relationship. For instance, someone who has just broken off their previous relationship could be on a trial run to prove that they can still be in a relationship. Tread this path cautiously and try to figure out if they are genuinely interested.
#3. Expecting commitment just because you had sex
Purely sexual relationships are more common than they used to be. But when it comes to these fleeting run-ins, we might naturally feel the desire to take things forward, even when that was never the expectation starting out.
If you’re currently in a “friend with benefits” or “sex without strings” arrangement, here are some healthy ways to voice your desire to take the relationship a notch higher:
- Look for signs of mutual interest. If you both enjoy each other’s company, especially outside the bedroom, this could mean that your partner may be open to committing to something more. The old adage is true: couples that play together, stay together.
- Express yourself. If you’re feeling like your partner may be on the same page as you, muster the courage and express yourself. Tell them how you see this relationship taking a different turn and let them know what you expect going forward. Be sure to give them time and space to think it through and be flexible with their needs as well.
- Schedule time outside of the bedroom. If you are looking for a quick and easy way to decide whether someone is “relationship material” or not, try to engage in activities outside the bedroom and in larger groups like a coffee date or a movie night. This will allow you to see one another in a new light.
- Test your communication strength. A recent article published in Personal Relationships found that couples who communicated efficiently and collaboratively reported higher levels of relationship satisfaction. Take some time to test your teamwork and joint problem-solving abilities. If you find yourself clicking on a deeper level, this may indicate to both of you that there’s more to this partnership than the physical element.
Remember, it is never a good idea to use sex as a means to artificially propel your relationship to the next level. Try your best to let things happen naturally, and err on the side of patience rather than progression.