The Art of Relating

Christine Kniffen, MSW, LCSW 
Settling vs Differences


It’s hard to recall the number of clients that have come into my office to try to answer that precise question, doubting as to whether-or-not their current relationship is really the best fit. That’s not always easy to answer. However, it helps to have a better understanding of the types of attributes of the other person with which we are struggling. I feel that in relationships there are simply some things we need to accept about the other person, whether we like them or not, as we are different people and these differences will always be there with anyone. However, other attributes fall into a category of “unacceptable”, rather that settling. Talking through these feelings is what helps to put unwanted attributes into the proper category. 

As I always say to clients, any relationship has things that you don’t love about the other person. These are merely differences. They may always run late, when you are always punctual. They are frivolous with money and you are a saver. They go to bed late and you go to bed early. They are sloppy and you need things neat and orderly. They may have a family with lots of chaos and drama and you detest unnecessary drama. These I refer to as differences. Sure, you can leave a relationship over these types of things, telling yourself that you are not going to settle. However, the next person will invariably present with another set of differences. We need to learn to bridge and accept the differences at some point in life or we will continue searching for the “perfect match” that does not exist. 

Settling however, really is about putting up and staying with someone who displays a behavior that we simply find “unacceptable”. Someone’s level of drinking may be causing issues and is not acceptable to you. Someone may not be contributing to your relationship in the spirit of fairness and partnership (regarding money, chores, effort, etc.), despite having spent years voicing your needs. Someone may continually engage in behaviors that erode the trust and you cannot get them to stop for the sake of the relationship. Someone my generally seem to enjoy making fun of others and this is the exact opposite of how you feel. Therefore, the big struggle becomes trying to make yourself “accept” behaviors that are simply unacceptable to you. 

This is perhaps the hardest part of getting the relationship you want. Deciding that something is unacceptable and leaving, so you can move to another relationship with the absence of these things that fundamentally grate with your core value system. This is about valuing that which you find unacceptable and taking action to remedy it, rather that comparing yourself to someone else who puts up with these types of things. 

In short, if you question whether you are settling in your relationship you must first determine if your struggles are due to common differences or are the result of continually “putting up” with behavior that you simply find unacceptable. Perhaps another person would not find your partner’s behavior unacceptable. That is probably likely. However, you don’t find it acceptable and that is the only opinion that matters. If you find yourself putting up with behaviors that you find “unacceptable” and have not changed despite numerous discussions to that affect, then it just may be time that you learn to accept your feelings and operate in accordance. You will feel much better and be much happier in the long run. 

Christine Kniffen, LCSW is Therapist and Relationship Coach in private practice. Call today 314-374-8396.