The saying “when you know, you know” is used to describe the theoretical realization one might have after finding the right person or “the one.” But in practice, that a ha moment may not come, and as a result, it’s hard to know—for sure—whether you’re in a happy, healthy, committed partnership. Because while you may well really like a person, and perhaps even love them, you may not feel certain that you’ll be able to get everything you need from them and your relationship in order to be happy. This situation begs the question: Is not being totally sure about your partner a red flag about your hypothetical future together?
To get to the bottom of the conundrum (so you can stop mentally spinning), relationship experts weigh in on how to handle the notion of being currently happy and satisfied in your partnership, but not overcome with future-tense confidence.
First, know that worrying about finding the right person is common
“Think about the other decisions you’ve made in your life; did you feel 100 percent certain at all times that you were making the right decision?” says sex therapist Carly Haeck, LMFT. “Most likely, you probably questioned what you were doing; it’s human to question.”
“Think about the other decisions you’ve made in your life; did you feel 100 percent certain at all times that you were making the right decision?” —Carly Haeck, LMFT
The difference with relationships versus other decisions you may make, though, is that you’re subjected to so many external expectations of what love is supposed to look and feel like. “Often, people have unrealistic expectations,” says relationship therapist Jean Fitzpatrick, LP. “In old movies, people fell in love and got married so fast, they still had stars in their eyes. If you expect to have classic-movie certainty, chances are, you’ll be filled with doubt.”
That said, if you do happen to have a sense of certainty that you are with the right person, there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Just don’t expect the rest of your life to be smooth sailing and simple because no amount of confidence in having found your soul mate will shield you from needing to work on relationship basics and questions to ask yourself. “For example, do you two have similar ideas of what a marriage means?” says Fitzpatrick. “Similar goals? Do you each have effective ways of coping with stress, frustration, and loss? What about self care? Do you work well as a team? Can you talk things over? And how do you manage conflict?”
Let’s say, though, that you’ve asked yourself these questions, and you still aren’t totally sure about a future with your partner. In this case, you’d be wise to ask yourself some other big questions and go from there.
What to do when you’re uncertain about your relationship
Feeling unsure—meaning currently happy but lacking a feeling of certainty about the future—often leads to one of two common situations: ending things prematurely, before having given it a fighting chance or dragging things out longer than necessary out of a desire to not hurt the other party’s feelings (since you do, in fact, care about their feelings).
To safeguard you from staying in a relationship too long or quitting too early, take some mental and emotional inventory. “Reflect on what your needs are,” Haeck says. “Then, think about what needs you can meet yourself, which needs will require a partner, and which needs can be met my friends, family, or others.”
Say, for instance, you’re bummed that your partner doesn’t share your love of hiking or reading. That doesn’t preclude you from satisfying those desires on your own or joining a club of like-minded individuals. Be aware of differences in compatibility that are more so preferences, not deal-breakers, because once you can sort the essential from the would-be-nice categories, you’ll be able to better parse when a partner isn’t meeting your core needs—which is something to consider as a potential issue.
“If you have a narrative that your partner is not a good fit for you, you’ll probably start to see evidence of this and will not be paying as much attention to the things that are going well.” —Haeck
Don’t ignore glaring relationship red flags but also be aware of possible confirmation bias. “If you’re looking for something, you will start to see it,” Haeck says. “If you have a narrative that your partner is not a good fit for you, you’ll probably start to see evidence of this and will not be paying as much attention to the things that are going well.”
Can (and should) you talk to your partner about all of this?
If you’re having doubts about your partner or your relationship, it may seem counterintuitive to confide in your partner about it, but, it’s actually a really smart and healthy thing to do, Fitzpatrick says. But if you’re having trouble communicating, Haeck suggests individual therapy as a first avenue for sorting out your thoughts and feelings regarding finding the right person.
“As you work with your counselor or therapist to see if your relationship can meet your needs, they may encourage you to start having more conversations with your partner or to seek couples counseling,” she says. “Many couples therapists are skilled at helping couples have important conversations about what they would need in order to make the relationship work.” Whether you want to make it work, though, is a question you’ll have to answer for yourself.
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