“Women cannot complain about men anymore until they start getting better taste in them.” ~ Bill Maher
All the relationship advice in the world won’t make any difference if you’re choosing the wrong guy. This is the step that often gets missed or overlooked. Women hammer away, trying to pound the proverbial square peg into a round hole, then wonder what they’re doing wrong, why they can’t seem to make it fit, why they can’t get the love they want. You can’t turn a losing stock into a winning stock. You can’t force someone to change and to want what you want. You can’t convince someone to feel a certain way about you.
I spent way too long chasing after guys who wouldn’t or couldn’t give me what I wanted, and then I wondered what was wrong with me when it didn’t get me lasting love! The problem was simple: I was choosing the wrong men. It sounds straightforward enough, but it’s a very tricky thing. We fall for these guys because it feels so right, because we’re swept up in the passion, the chemistry, and the intoxicating aura of unavailability; we get sucked into the space that exists when someone is just beyond our reach and it makes us yearn for him. We convince ourselves that this is it, that he’s the one and we just need to make him see it.
This is where the problems develop. This is where all the questions and tears and doubt and uncertainties and fears start to consume you. You mistake these feelings for true love because maybe you’ve never felt this way before, and you think it must be because this guy is different and this relationship is meant to last.
This is just a glimpse into the confusion that ensues when you choose the wrong guy. If you’re hung up on a man who can’t commit or won’t commit or who is mean to you or who is just a mean person in general, a guy with baggage, a guy with serious issues, a guy who you think would be perfect “if only” he changed such and such, then you’re setting yourself up to lose before you even begin, and you are blocking yourself from ever finding the love you want.
Where Healthy Relationships Begin
Before we talk about what to look for in a guy, it’s important to look at how relationships begin. The start of a relationship can oftentimes color our lenses and sometimes lead us down a bad path and into a toxic relationship.
Here’s a situation that may sound familiar to you (it was certainly a recurring theme for me in my single life!) You meet someone, something clicks, and suddenly it feels like a force outside of you has taken over.
After this encounter you can’t—for the life of you—get this guy out of your head. You try to think about other things but nothing works. You ruminate over every detail of your interaction with him—what he said, what you said, what his body language said. You think about the things you wish you had said.
You check your phone constantly to see if he called or texted. If he does, your stomach drops, your heart races, you want to leap off your seat and shout for joy. And then of course you need to figure out the exact right thing to say back to him, the perfect quip to show him that you’re perfect for each other.
The high continues as you venture into a relationship, and it becomes even more intense. You never quite know where you stand with him. The uncertainty keeps you on your toes, constantly on alert for something that looks like a bad sign or an ominous foreshadowing. This emotional rollercoaster is as thrilling as it is exhausting. You’re hooked. The worst possible thing that could happen is him leaving. It’s a fear you can’t quite shake no matter how promising the situation looks, a fear that drives everything you say and do.
Now another scenario.
You meet a guy, you think he’s nice and all, you have a good conversation, and he gets your number. While you’re pleased, you don’t go into a tizzy over it. You may check his Facebook profile, but only for a few minutes. You are happy to hear from him if he calls or texts, but you don’t notice the hours that pass in between your interactions. You go out a few times, not expecting much, but soon enough your interest and attraction begin to grow. Things feel calm, there’s no drama, no heart palpitations … and it feels really nice.
Which relationship do you think has a stronger chance of survival?
Instinctively, you would say the second one. In real life, you would fall for the first. That’s because the first scenario illustrates everything we’ve ever been told about love.
In movies and romance novels, love is this grand, all-consuming force that takes you over in the most dramatic of ways. There are huge obstacles to overcome, but it’s OK because love conquers all! I mean, would any of us have cared for “The Notebook” if Ali and Noah were of the same social status, went on a few lukewarm dates, then got to know each other and developed a deepening connection over time? Don’t think so.
Unhealthy Relationships Start With a Pull
Relationships that start from a place of pure, unadulterated passion can seldom survive unless they have some substance and depth of connection to stand on. Explosive chemistry isn’t what creates a lasting, healthy relationship. It can lead to great sax and feelings of euphoria, and you may come to understand why they say love is a drug, but no matter how intense and all consuming, that sort of thing is seldom sustainable long term.
When you feel a strong and sudden pull towards someone else, the kind that causes you to turn him from mere mortal to deity-like being, something sinister is usually at play. OK, maybe not sinister, but something that isn’t exactly what you would term romantic. There are a few good reasons why we might become inexplicably drawn to someone who isn’t good for us.
This theory, developed by clinical pastoral counselor Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., posits that the pull we feel towards another person is guided by our unconscious desire to rectify some issue from our past. Imago is Latin for image, and the theory essentially states that we unconsciously seek partners who reflect the image of our primary caregivers so that we can try to heal lingering wounds inflicted by them by working through issues with someone in their image. These relationships present the opportunity to heal ourselves and become whole again, but they also pose the risk of continuing to pour salt into open wounds.
How it pans out is something like this: if your parents always made you feel like you weren’t good enough, you may seek out guys who make you feel like you’re not good enough, then try to win them over in an attempt to rectify those painful feelings from your past.
If your father was very critical, you may find yourself drawn to a man who is very critical, trying to win his love and approval in order to heal from the hurt of your father’s rejection. These decisions aren’t conscious, they happen very deep beneath the surface in areas we can’t easily access. When we meet someone, we immediately sense everything about him, especially the way he makes us feel (again, this happens unconsciously).
On a conscious level, you may assess the things he says, but on an unconscious level, you’re looking at his body language, his tone, the way he phrases things, how much eye contact he makes, his whole demeanor. If your unconscious finds something familiar in that person, something that reminds you of an unresolved hurt from the past, it will light up and push you towards that person.
You may also unconsciously seek out partners who have some quality that is underdeveloped in you. For example, if you’re a Type A workaholic and always wished you could ease up, you may be drawn to a laid-back partner who isn’t so driven.
Maybe this sounds a little too New Agey to you, or maybe it doesn’t describe your situation at all, but it’s a powerful concept and it has gained a
lot of praise and recognition in the field of psychology so it’s worth considering. I know I’ve seen some of this at play in my own dating life.
Being infatuated sounds like a grand, romantic thing, but it can actually be quite dangerous. The problem with infatuation is it isn’t based on anything real. Infatuation causes you to fall in love with an image rather than an actual person. It causes you to put someone on a pedestal and overlook his flaws. Since he’s so “perfect,” you become afraid to be yourself—I mean, how could your true self ever compete with perfection?
You don’t want to say the wrong thing and scare him off, so you aren’t genuine in your interactions. You rely on his approval so desperately that you also become a bit needy. You may not act needy, but it’s something that lurks beneath the surface and he will pick up on it … men always do. You lose your sense of worth because it becomes so wrapped up in how he feels about you.
Healthy Relationships Build Slowly
Healthy relationships usually begin with mutual interest and attraction that grows over time. This is the complete opposite of unhealthy relationships, which usually start out with a grand light show that quickly simmers into ash. If you can internalize this, it will change the way you date forever.
The most important trait to develop is objectivity. No one really talks about that because it’s not so saxy, but if you want to find lasting love and prevent yourself from getting hurt, you’ll need to learn how to use your head a little more than your heart, at least in the beginning. Your heart can lead you into all kinds of bad places. Your heart is the one that tells you it’s a great idea to go for the bad boy who’s just so dreamy, even when he’s out on parole and struggling with addictions, or has told you he won’t be in a committed relationship, ever. Your heart convinces you that the heart wants what the heart wants and who are you to deny your heart? Your heart doesn’t operate according to reason or rational. It makes you do things that you later look back on and wonder, what was I thinking? But you weren’t thinking, that’s not what the heart does. OK, I know I’m being mean to the heart. It does have its benefits, but that comes later. In the beginning of a relationship, it’s best to remain as objective as possible and try to keep your emotions mostly contained.
The best way to do this is to try to go slowly. Ease into the relationship instead of diving in head first. This will create an environment for you to allow your level of interest and attraction to grow steadily over time, rather than flooding you all at once in a big emotional tsunami.
If you spend all your time with him, you risk overlooking critical information about who he really is and if the relationship is built to last. Just because two people feel strongly for each other it doesn’t always mean they can be together.
It is imperative to have a foundation of compatibility, shared goals and interests, and common values. Some things simply can’t be negotiated. Before you emotionally invest, it is wise to determine if you are fundamentally compatible. And the best way to do this is to go slowly. I don’t necessarily mean physically, I mean emotionally.
When you first meet someone, you want to spend every minute of every day with him. You talk for hours and hours on the phone, text all day, you can’t get enough. The obvious reason this is problematic is because you may end up relying too heavily on the relationship for your happiness, but also, you don’t get a break from the emotional excitement and stimulation of it all. Then, if you realize this guy may not be right for you, you’ll be in too deep to get yourself out of the situation. You’ll instead rely on some cliché like “love conquers all” to justify staying with him.
I am not saying to stay away from guys you feel a strong immediate attraction to and only date guys you’re only “meh” about. I think you should date both kinds of guy—the infatuation guy could turn out to be a loser and the “meh” guy could turn out to be the love of your life. (I’ve seen it happen countless times!)
Either way you have to date smart. This will come more naturally with “meh” than it will with the object of your infatuation.
If you just met or just started seeing someone, I strongly advise that you try to limit how much time you spend with him early on. Try to not go on more than two dates a week or engage in marathon texting sessions that go all day. When you do this, you never get a break from the emotional high and you don’t get a chance to come back down and recalibrate.
So many girls make the mistake of getting caught up in how the guy feels about them rather than focusing on how they feel about him.
You can avoid falling into this trap by doing regular reality checks. Make sure you see him and the situation clearly. The best way to do this is to make sure you can recognize his flaws. The way you know you’re infatuated is if you see no flaws. Everyone has flaws.
Why It Matters
When you get in over your head, you may convince yourself that something like him wanting to live only in the country and you wanting to live only in the city is not such a big deal. Someone who maintains a more objective perspective would acknowledge that she would be miserable living in the country, and since this guy wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else, she would get out of the situation.
I’ve seen (and personally experienced) many situations where a couple breaks up after a long period of time because of some issue that was apparent right from the beginning—they’re different religions, want to live in different states, one person doesn’t want kids. In every one of these situations, the couple believed that things would magically just work out. Imagine how much time and effort they would have saved and heartbreak they would have avoided had they been dating with their heads instead of
their hearts from the beginning.
Qualities That Make Him a Keeper
A lot of women write to me begging to understand why their relationships always fail … why guys treat them badly…why they always get hurt … why they can’t get a guy to commit. The common thread in most of these cases is that these women are choosing men who clearly are not husband—or even relationship—material and hoping that by some chance the men will suddenly transform into the knights in shining armor they want. This type of situation doesn’t exist anywhere aside from cheesy romantic comedies. If you choose to pursue a relationship with a guy who clearly isn’t relationship material, then you’re setting yourself up to fail before you even begin.
Trust me, I know all too well how enticing those damage cases can be. Sure, he has emotional issues, he’s jaded, he’s struggling at work, he has no direction, he still acts like a frat boy even though his acting-like-a-drunk-idiot-and-getting-away-with-it days expired years ago, but there’s a really great guy underneath all that and as soon as we deal with all this other stuff, then we’ll have an amazing relationship. I’m sorry, but no.
The problem with these damage cases is that they often have a lot of the qualities we want, but not the ones we actually need. There is a big difference between wants and needs when it comes to relationships, but it’s not always easy to make the distinction. You might want a guy who is tall and strapping and charismatic and a CEO of a major company, but a guy with those credentials might have a host of other qualities that aren’t good for you and don’t fulfill your fundamental emotional needs. My husband is the opposite of the “ideal man” I had envisioned for myself, but even though he doesn’t have certain qualities I used to consider requirements, he is exactly what I need. That was clear to me and everyone around me very early into our relationship.
When I hit that stage in life where I realized I was done dating for the sake of dating and wanted to settle down and find “the one,” I realized that the kinds of guys I liked to date weren’t necessarily husband material, and I had to really examine my list of wants and needs and figure out the differences between the two. Doing so made all the difference. Suddenly the damage cases who were once oh so appealing did nothing for me.
Whether you’re single, dating, or in a serious relationship, these are the most essential qualities you need to look for in a man, the ones that tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s the one and this is it.
- He loves your good qualities and accepts and embraces the bad without making you feel guilty for having flaws. You don’t need to hide your true self from him and put on a front in order to be what you think he wants. You can share your true self and be vulnerable and feel safe doing so, knowing that if anything it will
make him feel even closer to you.
- He is there for you when you need him, even if it’s inconvenient for him. A partnership will sometimes require sacrifice and compromise. Life is unpredictable and unexpected. You can’t predict what will happen and nothing can possibly go as planned 100% of the time. A guy who is husband material will be there for you when you need him. He will be in it with you; he will be your partner in whatever happens and will weather the storm with you, even though he might prefer to stay in the sunshine.
- He considers you when making decisions, both big and small. A relationship is a partnership, not a dictatorship. Factoring you in shows that he respects you and that he wants to create a life with you, not simply envelope you in his world. Our worlds can be comfortable when we don’t have to compromise, so it’s not always easy taking someone else into account and factoring in their wants and needs and preferences, but that’s what a relationship is.
- He is growth oriented. No one is perfect; we all have flaws. And these flaws aren’t black and white—usually a person’s greatest strength is linked to his greatest weakness. In a relationship, his behavior affects you (and vice versa) and sometimes his less developed traits will have a negative impact on you. A growth-oriented guy will want to work to strengthen his character. A guy who isn’t growth oriented will say it’s your problem and that this is just the way he is and you need to deal with it.
- For example, let’s say you’re dating a guy who can be insensitive at times. Maybe he doesn’t give you emotional support when you’ve had a rough day and instead just gives you matter of fact advice in a direct way. His no-nonsense approach to solving problems might be useful to him in the workplace, but it might be hurtful to you sometimes when he doesn’t empathize with what you’re going through and instead just tells you what to do about it, or gets impatient by the fact that you’re upset over something he doesn’t consider to be that big of a deal.
- You want a guy who will accept that his tone can come across as harsh and hurtful to you and who actually tries to work on it, not one who says it’s your problem and you need to deal with it. He probably won’t get it right every time, but if he’s growth oriented he will at least try.
- He has similar beliefs and values. This one seems so obvious yet it’s so often overlooked. Love does not in fact conquer all. If you are not fundamentally compatible, you will face major hurdles ahead. If he is going to be your life partner, you have to make sure you are both on the same page when it comes to issues that matter. And if you aren’t on the same page, then make sure he respects where you stand (and vice versa) and that you’re both willing to work together to reach a mutually fulfilling understanding about your differences.
- Everyone’s values are different. For some, their values will be rooted in religion. Other people value a strong work ethic, while some value a commitment to a healthy lifestyle. It may sound trivial, but I’ve seen very serious, long-term relationships end because one person couldn’t deal with the other’s lack of ambition or motivation.
- He views you as his partner. The relationship is something more than each of you individually … together, you and he are a team. And as that team, you are both individually stronger than you could be on your own. He sees you as his equal, as a person of great value, someone he can grow with. Not someone who is there to feed his ego, give him validation, be his emotional crutch, or be there solely to satisfy his needs.
- He respects everything about you—your thoughts, ambitions, opinions, the things you say, the company you keep, your job. He doesn’t make you feel bad about your life circumstances and he appreciates the person you are and the choices you have made.
- He wants to make you happy. One of a man’s most fundamental needs in a relationship is to make his girl happy. It may not always feel like it or look like it, but it’s true. In order to truly bond with a woman, a man needs to feel like he can make her happy. And when a man truly cares for a woman, he wants to do whatever it takes to make her happy. Love is a selfless thing. If you love people because they make you feel great about yourself, then it isn’t real love. When a man shows he genuinely cares about you and your happiness, even if it sometimes comes at the expense of his own happiness, then you know his feelings are for real.
- He communicates with you, even about tough issues and even if one of you is upset with the other. With the right guy, you won’t be afraid of bringing up certain things for fear of rocking the boat. You know he respects you and will see what you have to say as valid and important. Every relationship will face its share of obstacles. There will be fights, miscommunications, arguments, and also times when one partner isn’t feeling loved. The only way to emerge from the tough times better and stronger is to work through them together, and this starts with open communication.
- He wants the same kind of commitment you want. A guy can have all the qualities on this list, but if he doesn’t want to marry you (or commit in the way you want), or maybe doesn’t want to get married in general, then he is not for you. When a guy is ready to get married and meets a girl he thinks he can spend his life with, he knows pretty early on. That’s not to say he’ll get engaged right away, but he knows this is it and she knows it too. Maybe he tells her or maybe it’s so obvious he doesn’t even need to. It might be the wrong time, maybe he wants to wait until he’s more established in his career or more financially stable, but he will still convey his level of commitment; she won’t be left hanging and guessing and wondering.
- If he still feels like he has wild oats to sow and is drawn to the single, bachelor, party-boy lifestyle, he is not commitment minded and you are setting yourself up for disappointment. If what you want is a serious, lasting commitment, make sure he is on the same page before you become invested. When a guy is ready for a serious commitment, it’s usually pretty obvious. And if it isn’t, then bring it up and discuss it with him. If he’s husband material, he’ll understand. If he isn’t … then at least now you know before it’s too late! And yes, I understand that not every woman makes getting married a goal and I respect that. But I’m speaking to those who want a lasting commitment, be it marriage or a partnership without a legal piece of paper.
But the Most Important Quality of All Is …
He wants to make it work. He’s willing to put in any amount of effort. If there is a problem, he wants to find a way to solve it. He wants to work harder, to be better, to be his best self. The important thing to keep in mind is that people have different ideas about what it means to put effort into a relationship. He might believe that working hard and being good at his job is putting in effort because he wants to provide for you and give you nice things and a comfortable lifestyle. (I use this as an example because it’s a classic point of contention between men and women: she will often view him working too much as him putting no effort into the relationship and being married to his work).
I remember the exact moment I knew my husband was the one. After about a month of everything being perfect (as they usually are in the beginning), we had our first conflict. It was nothing major; we just started experiencing areas where our personalities clashed and seeing how we process things differently. I tend to be more intellectual and straightforward in my thinking, while he’s more emotional and dynamic in his thinking. I would get impatient with this, and my impatience was hurtful to him. The details don’t really matter, what matters is that I remember the way he brought the issue up and how sincere he was about working through things and getting to a place of better understanding.
I have seen countless variations of this kind of scenario: girl is dating a guy, things are going great (again, as they often do in the beginning), but then they hit that inevitable point of conflict. Maybe she acts needy or maybe he gets distant, but whatever happens suddenly things aren’t as seamless as they were the week before. Then he decides he can’t hang anymore and tells her he “doesn’t have time for a relationship” or he can’t give her what she needs. The girl racks her brain trying to figure out what she did wrong, what she could have done differently.
She thinks if she hadn’t been so needy, if she had been a little more chilled out, if she hadn’t done this and instead done that. Really, the only way things would have turned out differently is if she had behaved perfectly according to his script, if she’d never disagreed or been unhappy with him, if she’d been perfectly in alignment with his thoughts and what he wanted in a partner. That sounds reasonable, right? (That’s sarcasm in case it didn’t come across!)
If a guy leaves when things get a little rocky, it means he is lacking in the most important quality you need in a partner, and that is a man who is committed not only to you, but to making it work. It’s easy to be in a relationship when everything is all sunshine and roses. The truth comes out after time goes on, when you let your guard down, when you can be more of yourselves instead of the absolute best version of yourselves. Even the best couples don’t seamlessly fit together. There is always a certain degree of work involved in order to create that deep and meaningful connection, and it has to come from both people.
When a guy is ready to settle down and sees you as a good potential partner, he wants to make it work. He wants to overcome the differences, to get to a place of better understanding. My husband and I are so different. The way we think and feel is different, and the way we communicate is different. In the beginning of our relationship this definitely caused problems, but now, after really committing to working on it, we have hit this amazing place of understanding and are so much more in sync. The differences still exist, but we were able to meet in the middle. Even when things got difficult, I wasn’t any less sure he was the guy for me because of how deeply committed he was to making it work.
A big mistake I see women making is blaming themselves when a relationship falls apart. They torture themselves with could haves and should haves. I should have been less needy, I should have been more agreeable, I could have been more supportive, etc. Yeah, you could have done all that, but it wouldn’t have mattered if he wasn’t committed to making it work.
There will always be differences, there will always be problems, you will not always behave exactly how he wants a partner to behave (same for him).
A relationship isn’t about finding the perfect match, it’s about finding someone you can form a meaningful, lasting partnership with. Notice the word form. It’s an active process; it doesn’t just exist. It’s about working together, being a team, and overcoming the challenges.
Some people have deal-breakers and that’s that. Maybe it’s religion or where to live or lifestyle preferences. But all the other stuff—personality quirks, your nature, your ways of interacting in social settings, your fundamental traits … either he’s in it or he’s not. And if he’s not, then there is nothing you can do.
Red Flags You Should Never Ignore
Every relationship is different and comes with a unique set of circumstances. However, there are some universal standards that indicate a guy isn’t the right one for you, a few red flags that should never be ignored but usually are.
You Don’t Trust Him
Without trust, there is no relationship. Period. In a good, strong, healthy relationship you feel at ease. You feel safe. You feel secure. You do not feel constantly panicked and on edge, always anticipating the proverbial other shoe to drop.
If you don’t believe the things he tells you or are always questioning his motives and his whereabouts, there is something majorly amiss. You can’t spend your life constantly on the lookout; that’s just exhausting.
Sometimes a lack of trust develops because of something substantial. Maybe he cheated, maybe you caught him in a few too many lies. And sometimes it’s something that lingers in the pit of your gut. Even though you can’t quantify the reason, you just don’t feel like you can trust this person. Either way, it’s a big red flag and a major sign that your relationship isn’t going to last.
If he cheated on you or lied to you, then you’ll have to be honest with yourself when you decide if you can truly move past it and if you really, genuinely believe that he’ll never do the same thing again. If you can’t get to that place, then there isn’t much point in sticking it out. You’re just setting yourself up for a life in which you always feel paranoid and insecure. Relationships are supposed to bring out your best, not your worst.
If you can’t quite pinpoint the reason for your trust issues, you should listen to your gut. Our gut instincts can be incredibly powerful. Just make sure you aren’t projecting your own insecurities onto him and aren’t making him pay for the sins of a cheating/lying ex.
There Is No Depth of Connection
Saxual chemistry is great and is definitely important, but that alone can’t sustain a relationship. An amazing sax life is only one piece of the puzzle, yet for a lot of couples it’s the only leg the relationship has to stand on. I know so, so many women who got so engulfed by the intoxicating chemistry they experienced with their partner that they overlooked every sign that clearly showed he wasn’t the one … and wasn’t even that great of a person.
For a relationship to last, you need to have depth of connection. You need to know your partner intimately, and this goes way beyond his bedroom skills. You need to know who he is, what he wants out of life, and what his hopes, dreams, and fears are. You need to connect to each other in an honest, unguarded way.
Each person is composed of many layers. In our lives, some people see the surface layer, a select few see what lies beneath the exterior, and very few see straight to the core. Your life partner should be in the last group.
Knowing the basics about someone isn’t knowing who they are. If you know the same things about your guy as most of the other people in his life, then you don’t have much depth of connection.
Fortunately, this issue is one that can be fixed. Try to make an effort to connect to him in a real way. If he resists, or you still don’t feel like you’re connecting in a significant way, then it means he’s probably not that invested in you or the relationship. Or maybe you’re just not the right fit for one another.
Attraction and saxual chemistry are never enough to sustain a relationship. If that’s all you have that’s fine, but you might want to move on if you’re serious about finding the one.
Lack of Respect
Respect is the most overlooked element when it comes to making a relationship work, but it’s one of the most essential. If you’re going to have a long-lasting, healthy relationship, you must respect your partner and he must respect you.
Respect is huge for guys. In fact, I’d say it’s the number one thing men want out of their relationship. Just as most women need to feel loved and adored, men need to feel respected and admired. A man needs to feel like the man; he needs to feel respected. If you don’t respect him or the way he lives his life, he will resent you and will not want to be with you long term.
At the same time, you need to be with a partner who respects you. This means he respects you as a person: your beliefs, your aspiration, and especially your boundaries.
Eye rolling has actually been shown by famous relationship researcher John Gottman to be a big predictor of divorce, and it’s no surprise … eye rolling is a manifestation of contempt, which is the opposite of respect.
He Brings out Your Worst
As I mentioned earlier, relationships are supposed to bring out your best.
The sad fact is, a lot of women end up shackled to a person who brings out their worst.
Sometimes you might not even recognize the person that your relationship has turned you into. That was definitely the case for me many years back before I knew any better. I made the same mistake countless women make. I got so caught up in my feelings for the guy that I overlooked the fact that I didn’t really like myself all that much when I was around him.
Throughout the course of my yearlong relationship with Eric, I was unrecognizable from my previous confident, happy, positive self. Instead I felt insecure, panicked, anxious, and perpetually on edge, but I couldn’t let go because of my strong feelings for him. Those feelings locked me in a tight grip, and it was only when the relationship inevitably imploded that I was able to see just how toxic the situation truly was.
It wasn’t that he was a bad guy; he was just bad for me. It’s a fact that would have saved me years of heartache had I realized it sooner. While getting myself out of that relationship felt impossible, the end was always inevitable because we brought out the worst in each other.
The point is, a relationship should lift you higher, not drag you down. It should help you reach your potential and become the best version of yourself. Of course relationships can’t be all sunshine and roses all the time. They take patience and work. But this work leads to a positive place, a place of growth and understanding and more love and connection. Bad relationships are ones where the work involved is expending energy on fighting and arguing and trying to win. A relationship won’t always feel perfect and pleasant, but overall it will help you grow into a better person, as long as you’re with a good guy who is committed to making it work and loves and appreciates you for who you are.
He Doesn’t Take Responsibility
One of the biggest relationship red flags is when someone won’t take responsibility for anything and instead blames you, maybe using a justification along the lines of, “Well I wouldn’t yell at you if you weren’t being so annoying.” Rather than admitting when he’s wrong, he comes up with excuses and justifications for his behaviors and reasons to blame you.
One of the biggest indicators of psychopaths or sociopaths is not being able to take responsibility; it’s a fundamental lack of empathy that prevents them from ever being able to see the other person’s perspective. However, it doesn’t always start out this way. In the beginning he’s enraptured by you and everything you do is right. Then suddenly he’s unhappy and he blames you for everything that’s wrong. If you erroneously reason that you’re the problem, he may feed this mentality. You don’t inspire him enough, you don’t give him what he needs, you aren’t supportive enough, you’re always negative. It’s always you, never him.
I’m not saying every guy who can’t take responsibility is a psycho; he could just be immature. But it is something to keep in mind because narcissists are out there and this is one of their key features.
I have a friend who was seeing a guy she really liked, and she continued to date him even though he was clearly a bit immature and selfish and not ready to settle down (we joked that he had her saxmotized and that’s why she wasn’t able to break free of his spell). There were signs of trouble all over the place, but most were little things and that’s why they were easy to sweep under the rug.
For example, one night she suggested they go to a vegetarian Indian restaurant she loved, and he got all pissy and said there wasn’t a point in going out for Indian food if he couldn’t eat meat. Never mind the fact that he always chose the restaurants, that they always did what he wanted, that they always slept at his apartment because that’s what he wanted, or the fact that he had told her to pick a place for dinner. It was the one time she got to decide something, and she was overruled because it wasn’t what he wanted.
This may seem like a silly example, but it demonstrates the essence of selfishness, one that will continue to pop up when dealing with a selfish person. And in that relationship, it did, over and over until finally she couldn’t take it anymore and ended it. (This launched the make-up and break-up cycle for a while, because that’s what happens when you linger in a relationship with the wrong guy, but eventually they cut it off for good.)
Selfish people also tend to engage in selfish love. That is, they love you when you make them feel good; when you’re behaving how they want you to, they’re the best partners ever. When you go off script, then they withdraw and won’t do anything for you in a sort of tit-for-tat retaliation.
That’s not how a relationship works. A relationship isn’t there to serve one person. It’s a partnership and it’s about working together, not one person working for the other.
Let Your Gut Be Your Guide
I mentioned the importance of listening to your gut earlier and want to get into it a little deeper because it’s an essential skill, one that can keep you out of sticky situations.
At the end of the day, you usually already know the answers to your dating questions. The lists I provided of qualities to look for and red flags to watch out for can help you see things more clearly, maybe making it harder to hide from what’s right in front of you, but oftentimes you already know. You know when a guy isn’t worthy of you—when you’re wasting your time, when you’re not being treated the way you would like to be treated or the way you know you deserve to be treated—but you push this knowledge down because you just don’t want to deal with it. You don’t want to deal with a breakup, with putting yourself back on the market, with dating more guys, navigating the waters, trying to find a guy who cares about you. You don’t want to because it’s exhausting! It seems somehow easier to stick with what’s broken and try to just make it work.
In a good, strong, healthy relationship, you feel loved and secure. You don’t question whether your man is using you and if the things he says are genuine. You just feel at ease. Feeling constantly on edge, waiting anxiously for the other shoe to drop, is usually a sign that something is amiss and your instincts are trying to open your eyes to a reality you don’t want to see.
Your gut is a powerful tool in relationships. It’s something we all possess and it can be fine-tuned to work optimally. The way to get in touch with it is to listen to what it’s telling you. Listen to that small, quiet voice that gently tells you: “You deserve more than this, you don’t need this guy.”
The voice of your ego is loud and overpowering. It tells you “Of course he’s the guy for you! So what if he disappears for days at a time, he told you that you were the most amazing women he’s ever met, so I mean, DUH! He loves you.”
Your ego shouts over the noise and convinces you that the outcome you want is reality because it has a lot at stake should this not be the case.
Most people allow their egos to get so entangled in their relationships that when the relationship collapses, their ego comes crashing down with it and then absolute misery ensues.
Our unconscious mind has a whole arsenal of information that our conscious mind doesn’t have easy access to. It has stored up pretty much everything that’s ever happened to us and makes decisions accordingly.
Have you ever met someone and liked him right away even though you barely knew him? Or maybe you meet someone who seems perfectly nice, but you just can’t stand her? This is the unconscious at work. The people we’re drawn to oftentimes remind us of people we’ve had positive encounters with in the past. So too with the people we don’t like right off the bat.
You can pick up on things subconsciously without even realizing it, and it will cause you to have a feeling that you can’t quite pinpoint or explain.
The point is, most of the time you already know the answer. The problem is that you wish it were a different answer so instead of accepting it you whittle away what you know with rationalizations.
Here are a few tips to help you get better acquainted with your gut:
- Ask yourself a question and listen for the immediate answer. For example, if you’re debating whether or not to dump your boyfriend, ask yourself: “Should I break up with him?” and listen to what first pops into your head. The real answer will most often come first, and then the excuses and justifications will pile on top.
- Make the decision and then listen to your body. If it’s a bad decision you’ll feel an aversion to it, usually in the pit of your stomach.
- Check with a friend. It can help to get an outsider’s perspective because sometimes we can mistake wishful thinking for our gut instincts. Talk to a friend you trust for a dose of objectivity.
- Practice mindfulness. Most people live their lives bouncing from one thing to the next—work, errands, happy hour. There isn’t that much time to listen to our own thoughts. Try to stay mindful and conscious throughout the day and check in with yourself to see what you’re thinking and feeling. It also helps to set aside some reflection time. You can use this time to meditate, do yoga, journal, take a walk around the park—anything that will give you the space to check in
Remember this: Choice is everything. It will largely determine if a relationship succeeds and lasts or fails and leaves you broken-hearted. The good news is that you have the power to choose the man you let into your life. Choose wisely!