How to know if your standards are too low when dating – and how to set better ones

Set better boundaries (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Metro.co.uk)

Last week we looked at how dating with too high standards can thwart your relationship hunt, but what about the opposite problem?

Dating when you have low standards can also be a minefield. Rather than rule people out too quickly, these people let bad matches linger for too long.

Overtime, this can have a damaging effect on the person’s self-esteem and ability to trust new partners.

Relate counsellor Natasha Silverman tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The nature of dating means that it’s normal for everyone to have a few bad dates.

‘However, if you find that you’re repeating the cycle of bad dates and unsuccessful relationships, rather than learning from them, it’s time to reflect on what might be keeping you stuck.’

She says there are ways to identify if you fall into this camp.

‘If you feel consistently unhappy when dating, you might not be getting what you need from the other person,’ Natasha explains.

‘Maybe you feel incompatible in certain ways, your needs might not be met, you might have concerns about how you’re being treated, or you could be ignoring red flags.

‘You might choose dates whose core values are at odds with yours, or sacrifice qualities that matter to you in the pursuit of any romantic connection at all.

‘Your standards might also be too low if you prioritise characteristics like appearance, career, and income, instead of how the person treats you or makes you feel about yourself.

‘In a society that prioritises “high status” attributes, we can sometimes give too much weight to the wrong qualities in a prospective partner.’

So it’s not as simple as having low standards across the board, but rather having low standards where it counts.

Two characters sitting back to back, disagreement, relationship troublesAre you looking for the right things? (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Natasha continues: ‘Everyone deserves to be in a mutually respectful relationship and to feel heard, connected and supported by a team-mate.

‘No one is perfect, and ultimately the relationships that thrive are those in which each partner is willing to look inward to consider how they can work at keeping the relationship healthy and fulfilling.  

‘If you’re left feeling frustrated by partners who aren’t prepared to work with you on building something together, who shut down difficult conversations, or make you feel that you should subjugate your needs and values, it’s important to re-evaluate your non-negotiables when dating and really stick to them.’

If the other person wants to work with you to shape the relationship but lacks the strategies to do so, couple counselling can be a good form of support.  

Why do people have low standards?

So why do many people fall into the trap of having too low standards?

Natasha says clients often tell her that they’re trying to be ‘low maintenance’ for a date or partner that they really like.

‘As we explore this in therapy, it often emerges that there’s a fear of being or needing “too much”– something that women in particular seem to wrestle with,’ she explains.

‘This often means that their own values and needs – like open communication, commitment or exclusivity – are compromised and negative behaviours are tolerated, in the pursuit of being considered “laidback” enough to preserve the connection.

‘Long term, this is a recipe for a disaster. It’s important to remember that having needs does not make you “needy”.’

At the extreme end of the spectrum, people with low standards may find themselves in emotionally or physically abusive or controlling relationships. 

She adds: ‘Sometimes, I ask clients if they’d be happy to know that their best friend was dating someone who treated them in the same way. This can provide some objectivity to see the relationship from the outside.’

illustration of woman drawing boundary around herselfEstablish boundaries (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

How to develop healthy standards

Shifting away from having low standards is a journey and can’t be done overnight – but it is possible to change.

Build self-worth

The key thing is to work on self-worth and recognise that you deserve to be treated well.

Often issues around standards creep in when self-worth is low, so it’s vital to work on the crux of the problem.

Natasha says: ‘Our choice of partner is often a reflection of what we feel we deserve, so it makes perfect sense that people who don’t like themselves very much might choose an unhealthy partner or toxic relationship.

‘In turn, an unhealthy partner or relationship can erode self-worth even more, reinforcing the belief that you don’t deserve any better. Unfortunately, this can create a toxic cycle that makes it hard to leave this kind of dynamic.

Low self-esteem can also cause you to stay in a relationship that has gone past its expiry date, or be more vulnerable after a breakup if your worth was tied to the person.

Gain confidence in your non-negotiables

Improving your confidence and being more comfortable on your own will help to liberate you from the pressure to do away with your non-negotiables so you can find someone straight away.    

Natasha adds: ‘If you are repeatedly dating people who leave you feeling unfulfilled, unhappy or badly treated, it might be time to start thinking about if you could be choosing a certain “type” of partner.

‘Why is it that you are putting up with negative behaviours or unsatisfying partners, when other people might not?’

Address loneliness

Loneliness is also a common reason that people settle for less, and that’s been particularly relevant during the pandemic.

‘Many singles emerged from lockdown with a real drive to find a partner, and that sense of urgency made lots of people do away with their reasonable hopes and expectations in a prospective partner. 

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Have counselling

Counselling can be a helpful tool in exploring the patterns you might be replicating in dating and relationships, as well as gaining more confidence in enforcing healthy boundaries. 

Relearn what’s healthy

Natasha says: ‘Our expectations of dating and relationships can also be a result of our “relationship template”.

‘This template develops from childhood and is based on the first adult relationships we observed when growing up (for most people, this is their parents’ relationships).

‘The way our parents interacted, demonstrated their love for each other, the way they managed conflict, and what they may or may not have tolerated from each other is imprinted on us as being “normal” and “familiar”.

‘This can mean our expectations and standards are influenced by this template and what feels acceptable, even if on some level it is painful or unfulfilling.’

Reflecting can be helpful here.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.

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