It’s hard to admit, but in romantic relationships, sometimes we settle for what we’re familiar with rather than what we deserve.
Call them Band-Aid relationships. It’s the type of coupling where things are OK, but not great. You may feel lukewarm about the relationship and even wonder if you’re both just sticking around because it’s what you’ve grown accustomed to.
Band-Aid relationships can be short-term flings or long-term relationships, but the common thread is this: You ― and possibly your partner ―- feel a general sense of “this will do for now.”
Of course, inertia in a relationship can be worked on with good communication. But the therapists we spoke to on the subject say it’s also worth giving some thought as to whether you’re simply postponing an inevitable breakup.
Below, experts offer six signs you may be in a Band-Aid relationship and what to do about it.
1. You stop trying to fix the relationship.
You used to try to work on the relationship. These days, though, you’re more inclined to shrug off your problems; your requests have fallen on deaf ears so often, you figure, why bring it up again? That’s a huge red flag, said Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois.
“It might seem like you’re just compromising by not bringing it up, but when you don’t express your wants and needs to your partner, you are creating a win-lose situation,” Kepler told us. “It will slowly build up resentment between you two.”
2. You compare your relationship to other people’s relationships.
They say comparison is the thief of joy, and that’s especially true when it comes to love, said Marie Land, a psychologist in Washington, D.C.
“If you’re overly tuned into the fact that people’s relationships seem better or worse that your own, you may be in a Band-Aid relationship,” she said. “Your relationship shouldn’t seem more or less healthy or satisfying just because someone else has an awful or great relationship. It should be able to stand on its own.”
3. You never know if you’re going to spend time together.
Take note if the plans you make to hang out as a couple are last minute or a low priority, said Elisabeth LaMotte, therapist and founder of the DC Counseling & Psychotherapy Center. In strong relationships, both partners are eager to spend time together.
“If it is Thursday evening and you have no idea if you’ll hang out this weekend, it spells trouble for the relationship,” she said. “This is also true if the two of you never discuss or plan outings that will take place in the more distant future.”
4. You have a difficult time describing your partner or relationship to others.
When your coworkers and friends ask how your S.O. is doing, you smile and say “good!” ― and then you leave it at that. That’s a subtle red flag that something’s amiss, Land said.
“You should have strong enough feelings about your partner and relationship that it’s easy to describe when someone asks about the two of you,” she said. “If you are struggling for words and answer by saying things like, ‘it’s good, he’s nice’ that’s a sign you’re in a ‘this will due for now’ situation.”
5. You don’t include your partner in get-togethers with family and friends.
If it’s a long-term relationship, the “impress the family” phase has come and gone, so you shrug it off when your partner doesn’t join you at your cousin’s birthday. If you’re having a short-term fling, you figure, “What’s the point of family introductions when I know this isn’t going to last?”
“In both of these situations, you don’t view the relationship as lasting,” said Marcia Naomi Berger, a couples therapist in San Rafael, California. “If your partner was meaningful enough to you, you’d bring them around relatives, friends and coworkers. If you don’t, you may be viewing the relationship as ‘here today; maybe gone tomorrow.’”
6. You’re in love with the future relationship, not the present one.
If you find yourself thinking things like “this relationship will feel better when (fill in the blank with any future event) happens,” it’s a bad sign, according to Elizabeth Earnshaw, a therapist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“Many times we play the waiting game because it is honestly much more comfortable than leaving,” she said. “Fantasizing and imagining the future with a person we already know is less scary than imagining it with someone we don’t.”
If you’re in a Band-Aid relationship, ask yourself these questions before making any serious decisions.
1. If your partner broke up with you today, would you get over it relatively quickly?
If you’ve come to the conclusion that you’d land on your feet pretty well in the event of a breakup, you may already have mentally checked out of the relationship, Land said.
“Obviously you know it’s going to sting but if you believe you’d quickly pass through those feelings and feel relief, that’s a sign,” she said. “Ask the same thing of your partner: If you think they wouldn’t be able to handle a breakup, you may be staying with them out of guilt or convenience.”
2. If you were trapped on a deserted island and got to bring someone with you, would your partner be your first choice?
It may sound like a silly hypothetical question, but your answer says a lot about the state of your relationship, Kepler said.
“Who you choose should be someone that you genuinely want to spend time with and care about, someone that you can spend days on end with, comfortably,” she said. “If your ‘desert island person’ isn’t your partner, you might want to consider how strong your bond is right now.”
3. Do you feel good about yourself when you’re with this person?
Have you been your best self while in the relationship ― or have you become uncertain, insecure or anxious because of it? If you’re not the best version of yourself in the relationship, it’s likely that you have chosen this partner from a place of desperation, LaMotte said.
“Learning to feel satisfied and fulfilled on your own, without a relationship, is an important survival skill that increases the likelihood that you’ll become someone who chooses relationships from a place of strength rather than desperation,” she said.
4. What are the top three reasons you’re staying in the relationship?
Making a mini list of why you stay may be the best way to determine your next step, Earnshaw said.
“If one answer is something like ‘comfort’ or ‘because it’s easier than leaving,’ I suggest you work with a close friend or therapist to really process whether or not this is the relationship for you,” she said. “Healthy relationships should bring comfort, but they should also bring security, growth, support and love, among many other things. Don’t settle unless you’re getting all those things.”