Sometimes the most intelligent of us fall victim to the idea that we can “try” ourselves into better relationships with people who frankly, will never give us the kind of love that we really want.
While it’s true to an extent that we should all be making an effort in our relationship, there is a point where trying harder is actually detrimental.
So what’s the difference between doing the right kind of relationship work and trying too hard?
The way it feels.
Here are 10 signs that you’re forcing it:
1. You rationalize their bad behavior.
While coming to your partner’s defense can be a good instinct, unfortunately you find yourself making excuses for their downright bad behavior— and it’s a pattern.
If you find yourself saying things like:
“that’s not what they meant”
“they really mean well”
“they’re just damaged/conflicted/busy/commitment-phobic/add your own excuse”
If this is you, it’s more likely that you’re dealing with someone who isn’t treating your relationship with respect.
2. You analyze every move they make.
“Yesterday they called at 2pm, and that seems to be a pattern, but today they didn’t— so does that mean __(insert assumption here)_____? What does it all mean? Are they dating someone else?
Chill out. Letting your thoughts run wild to the negative side just causes premature balding and too much cortisol. If the other person truly has lost interest in you, you’ll know that in time— but letting your insecurities spew all over a budding romance will hasten their departure.
3. You try to buy their affection (consciously or not).
This includes giving them regular gift showers and loaning them money. When you’re trying to win someone’s affections, you’ll get much further with legitimately earning their respect than giving them your resources. Sometimes we don’t set out to do this, but with the right sob story or under the pressure of wanting them to like us, we do it anyway.
4. You complain about the amount of time, attention and resources that they allot to you.
It’s one thing if you’re dealing with someone who is genuinely busy, it’s a whole other if you’re trying to have a relationship with someone who has demonstrated that they don’t value the opportunity to spend time with you. Whining about spending time together will just make them want to avoid you. It’s the classic “hungry dog doesn’t get fed” problem.
5. You overanalyze your own normal behavior and dwell on the outcome.
While a certain amount of uncertainty in a relationship (particularly a new one) is normal, there is a point where worrying how you come off flips you into super insecurity mode. By all means, learn better relationship skills and use them often, but try not to dwell on mundane details. Wanting to be liked too much can make you, well… unlikeable.
6. You feel powerless and needy.
Trying too hard and not valuing yourself go hand in hand. There is a painful, needy, dependent feeling that comes from begging for someone’s attention— and that unhinged feeling is a sign that the power balance between the two of you is dangerously off balance.
7. You’re ready to drop anything to spend time with them.
In a healthy, balanced relationship, both people have outside interests and this is GOOD. Also, the other person doesn’t act like a limited-time engagement. Don’t be afraid they’ll disappear if you don’t “act now.” If that is truly the case, wouldn’t you rather not be a part of that anyway? So think twice the next time you want to automatically turn “me time” into “we time.”
8. You’re fully in ‘I’d to anything for love’ mode.
You don’t feel like you’re at the top of their list yet, but you’re willing to do whatever it takes. You’re sure that if you just worked harder, it would all be perfect between you two.
You’re cool with their foibles, addictions, bizarre behavior, the way they treat you, the fact that they only call at 2am. You’re ready to make this work, baby. Because “they’re worth it”… or something.
9. When they pull away from you (real or imagined), it throws you into a spiral.
This sort of off-balance behavior, analysis and pining turns any uncertainty from them into a mourning-worthy event.
10. You think more about securing ‘a commitment’ from them than you do about how the relationship is going awesome.
“Locking it down” should not take priority over genuinely enjoying someone’s company. True commitment from someone else doesn’t happen because you’re trying to make it happen. It happens because both people are having such an awesome time together that doing anything else seems absurd. Wanting to eventually have your life look a certain way (like marriage if you want that) is completely reasonable— but trying to convince anyone to give it to you is off base.
So what should you do instead?
Remember that making an effort in a relationship should be reserved for when it’s worth it.
But what does “worth it” look like?
Think of your time and attention as a gift. If someone doesn’t appreciate that gift, then you can choose to move on and give it to someone else, but you can’t wrench love out of them by giving them more. Acting desperate and like you have to go to herculean measures to get their attention will only diminish their respect for you over time. A relationship with someone else has to be both people trying, not you trying to muscle something into place while your partner behaves ambivalently.
If you’re doing these things, consider why. Find that needy beast within and see what it really wants. What might sound like “I want someone to love” can actually mean that you need to do some work on yourself first. Sometimes this work looks like valuing yourself above your relationship. Other times it means looking for the right person to bestow your gifts upon.
If the beast inside your head tells you that your efforts aren’t good enough or you worry that they won’t like you if you stop going to extreme measures, repeat after me:
Let it flow.
Instead of trying to force things, be present in the current moment. When you start to obsess (I do it too!), bring yourself back to the now. In the now, everything is always okay. Try your best to expect good things from other people— but be prepared to move on if they just don’t do actions that show they appreciate your gift.