“You’re better than this,” “He’s not worthy of you,” “Why do you put up with this?” Do friends and loved ones often say these things to you about your relationship?
Maybe it’s you who finds yourself saying it to your loved ones – to a friend who is such a catch but is with someone who doesn’t treat her as such. She dates the mooch. The user. The cheater. The guy who won’t get his act together. The guy who puts her down. It’s difficult to understand how a woman you see as attractive, strong, intelligent, and desirable would be with someone who is none of those things. But the human psyche is a bit complicated. It’s true that people don’t always look for their match in terms of emotional intelligence and maturity. Furthermore, not everyone truly understands what their value is, and so, they couldn’t possibly identify a match.
There are many factors at play, from culture to one’s childhood and emotional past that contribute to accepting less-than-great love. We spoke with Aria Craig, author of “The Single Mother Diaries” who regularly works with divorced women in her coaching practice, about why people accept less than they deserve in relationships.
It can come from childhood or faith
“We tolerate less than what we deserve because of our experience growing up. Even from our church families,” says Craig. Craig has worked with couples who take their relationship perspective from their faith, and she notes that in certain faiths, women are taught to be submissive. Craig adds, “From our childhood, we can be taught that we need to tolerate certain levels of behavior.”
The power of faith in your marriage
Without judgment, Craig told a story about how one client’s faith kept her in a marriage where there had been issues of infidelity. The affair resulted in a child out of wedlock, and for the first 12 or so years of that child’s life, the father’s wife did not allow him to have contact with that child. She didn’t want him having any sort of relationship with the woman with whom he’d cheated. But, later, the wife changed her mind, realizing her husband should know his son, no matter how he was conceived. Then things became complicated.
Divorce wasn’t an option
“That woman was part of a faith from which you don’t divorce — under any circumstances,” explained Craig. Craig had to respect that woman’s faith and say, “If you don’t divorce, this is how you have to manage the situation.” The woman proceeded to allow her husband to see his out-of-wedlock son and the woman with whom he’d cheated. But it came with extreme insecurity and was very difficult for her. Craig never instructs clients to get divorced. She says it’s always up to them to make that decision. But she did provide this story as an example of how a person’s religion can keep them in a marriage that is tumultuous.
Following in the parents’ footsteps
Another cause for accepting sub-par relationships can be familial role models, says Craig. “Sometimes women feel insecure and don’t know how to respect themselves. They’re tolerating less because they don’t feel they deserve more. A lot of times it’s because their father wasn’t around. Or they saw their mother settle, and felt they had to do the same thing. It’s learned behavior.”
You attract what you feel
When talking about tolerating poor treatment in love, Craig says “We’re talking about self-worth. Your self-value. You’re going to attract and tolerate what you feel you’re worth. If you give yourself a high level of respect, you’re going to demand it in return. So it has to start with self. A lot of women don’t even realize that they’re insecure.”
You don’t pause and reflect
Craig works with many divorced women. She tries to steer them away from jumping into relationships too quickly post-divorce because that can land them back in the same type of relationship (read: getting less than they deserve). Craig says one reason people accept less than they deserve is they don’t stop to learn from past relationships. A divorce, though painful, provides an opportunity to evaluate your part in a disappointing relationship, so you can gain some power moving into new ones. “Figure out how you can improve from the experience.”
It takes two to divorce
Even if you and everyone around you agree your ex was the problematic partner, Craig reminds clients, “[The divorce] took both of you. If he cheated, maybe there was some way you could have contributed to that behavior. Sometimes [the ex] even gave you clues and you still married them. You need to take this as a time to be accountable for your part of it.”
Own your part, even if it’s small
Though past experiences, childhood, faith, and other outside factors could be the cause of certain behaviors, it is up to you to change those behaviors. The blame game only identifies problems but doesn’t fix them. So to those struggling to accept they may have contributed to their divorce when it was their partner who cheated/messed up, Craig admits the part you played in the divorce may have been very small. But there’s still value in owning it. “There is a part of it that you need to look at…to be accountable for. And then you learn from it and move forward.” In fact, you can only own your partner. You can’t change other people.
In order for your relationships to evolve, you must evolve
“Give yourself the space to heal and learn so you don’t make the same mistakes moving forward,” advises Craig. “After a divorce, you need to be evolving and elevating. Because if you aren’t, you’re going to find yourself in the same situations where you’re settling. And you’re not respecting yourself so you can’t expect him [a partner] to respect you either.” This advice can also be applied to post-breakup scenarios and not just divorce.
You need to detox
After leaving a relationship, Craig says, “You’ve invested so much emotionally. You are vulnerable. Find patience. Find love. Find healing during that time of vulnerability. Rely on friends and family. Do not date until you purge. Purge yourself of any toxicity. Assess yourself. You’re understanding your involvement in [the toxicity] all together. You need to detox from it. That’s a process. That takes a while.”