4 Reasons People Settle for Less in their Relationship

In past relationships, I remember the feelings of resignation when my relationship needs were not being met.  Sometimes I gave up.  I did not seek change and I did not ask for support.

Maybe you have felt similarly or feel that way right now in your current relationship? 

It does not have to be that way.  I’ll offer recommendations for getting unstuck from resignation as a step toward getting more of your relational needs met.

Relationship Needs

All humans have relational needs.  We’re social creatures – It’s part of the package!

Often the place I start in my relationship coaching is to:

  1. Clarify what the most important relationship needs are for you,
  2. Assess how reliably and consistently they are getting met now, and
  3. Validate that it’s reasonable to have those needs

Being understood.  Respect.  Care.  Trust.  Affection.  Intimacy.  Presence.  Mutuality. Support.  Collaboration.

These are just some of the most common relational needs.  And there are many more.

So why do we settle for being in a relationship when some or not all of these needs are getting met?

Let’s start by emphasizing that these relational needs are valid and reasonable.

In my coaching practice, at this point many people (more than you might think, probably!) say “Am I asking too much?!?” or “Am I too needy?!?” and they mean it as a sincere question.  Again and again, I respond “No, you are not asking too much” and “No, you are not too needy for wanting these things from your primary romantic relationship.”

Why Do We Sometimes Settle For Less?

As a Relationship Coach, frequently I encounter people who are not getting their relational needs met in their primary romantic relationship, and either they choose not to do anything about it, or they put it off again & again despite painful feelings that cry out for urgency.

Below are the primary reasons I have encountered, including the ones from my personal experience when I had “given up.”

1. This is how it is.  “Maybe my feelings of dissatisfaction are simply a part of being in a long term romantic relationship …”, you might say.  You talk to your friends and they express issues and discontent in their marriages. You look to parents, role models, and other couples in your community, and they are separated or divorced, or appear to struggle too.  Consideration: What if comparing your relationship to others is not the truth of what’s possible? What if, instead, comparison resigns you to what is typical?  (And, a step further, what if what is typical is tragic?!?)

2. Couples therapy does not work.  Your healthy skepticism is a valuable asset!  There are studies that report that long term outcomes from couples therapy do have huge room for improvement.  Consideration:  What if you used your healthy skepticism to serve you in finding the right coach or therapist?  To do so:
(a) Clarify your most important relational needs (for example, see the exercises in the sidebar)
(b) Recall recent specific examples in your relationship where these relationship needs were met or not met,
(c) Interview a number of coaches & therapists to evaluate what they offer to what you need right now.  Important items to discuss with the therapist/coach include things such as:

  • How will we know we are making progress? What does progress look like? And how do we assess it together?
  • As we make progress, how do we decide where to focus?
  • What do we do when we notice we are not making the progress we discussed?

3.  Change is not possible.  Even if you believe that healthy relationships are possible, maybe you have given up on that possibility for you in your current relationship.  Popular variants of this one include “my partner is who they are and will never change” or “we’re too far into it and there is too much history and resentment to overcome.”  Consideration:  Is it true? Has anything in your life ever stayed the same? What if investing in your growth will serve you well no matter what you decide about your current relationship?  Do you want to grow in understanding your relational needs, advocating for your needs, connecting to and regulating your emotions, practicing healthy relationship skills, and healing wounds & patterns from past relationship experiences?

4. I’ll Stick It Out.  Last but not least, you and your partner may have committed to joint responsibilities together.  Co-parenting children is a big & important one.  Often I hear some variant of “I am unhappy but I’ll stick it out for the kids.”  You’re unhappy and your relational needs are not being met, but you feel tied to each other. So you choose to accept the pain, as a sacrifice or to avoid the potential of other sources of pain. Consideration:  Sharing important responsibilities with each other is powerful motivation to work together to make your relationship more wonderful for both of you.  ‘Sticking it out’ for the sake of your children or similar shared responsibilities is simply another layer on top of “Things will not change.”  And my guess is your resignation boils down to a judgment of your partner, because of course you have the potential for change and for co-creating a wonderful relationship, right?!?  “There must be something wrong with my partner” so from this perspective the only perceived option is a breakup as a step towards finding a partner who is not defective and is a good fit for you. With the right support combined with commitment, effort, and time, positive change is possible. It is even more likely when both you and your partner feel a strong commitment to stay together and make your relationship better.

Obviously there are more than these four.  What others have you experienced? For everyone’s benefit, please contribute more reasons in the comments below on this page.

Know anyone else who might feel stuck in settling for less than getting their relational needs met?  Please share using the social icons on this page.

Now what?

Your romantic relationship is a major factor that touches all areas of your life and well-being. It deserves your care and attention.

Hopefully this exploration has been helpful to you.  Maybe share it with your partner too if it seems appropriate, to spark a conversation.  Consider sharing it with others you know who may be settling for the status quo of their relationship.

If any of what I shared above resonates with you, the choice is yours.  You decide on the direction and the timing.  You decide on the resources to support you in this journey.  You can explore and evaluate what it the right fit for you.

If it would be helpful to explore it with me, I offer a free initial consultation as a service exactly for that purpose.


Exercise 1: What needs are important to you now?

I invite you to read through this short list of relational needs:

  • Being understood
  • Respect
  • Care
  • Trust
  • Affection
  • Intimacy
  • Presence
  • Mutuality
  • Support
  • Collaboration

If it feels comfortable to you now, notice what you feel in your body and where you feel it as you read through the list.  It’s quite common that your body will send clear messages about the needs that are most important to you right now.  Jot those down. That’s valuable clarity for yourself, for your partner, and for your anyone who is supporting you in getting more of your relationship needs met.

Exercise 2: How are your relational needs being met?

I invite you to take a moment and jot down a short list of which relational needs are most important to you right now.

Next to each, on a scale of 1-10 (never to consistently & reliably), rate how well they are being in your current romantic relationship recently. 

For some needs that you rank on the lower end of the scale, make best efforts to lean into this exercise, not as an evaluation, but as a stop in your journey forward.