BY BRIDGET CHAMBERS
There’s a reason The Hallmark Channel dominates every holiday season — and it’s not just the great excuse for a girls’ night in. An estimated 85 million people tuned in in December 2018 to watch 37 original movies about one overarching theme: LOVE. Each storyline follows the network’s tried-and-true format: An unlikely pair meets, falls in love, faces some hardship, and finds their way back to one another. In short… they unite with their soulmates. All in 90 minutes!
Sadly, though, life doesn’t always imitate art. While some still consider it controversial, the notion of soulmates is widely-discussed and often highly-regarded as the pinnacle of any romantic pairing. Though not necessarily as perfectly packaged as our favorite rom-coms suggest, experts say that the concept of soulmates is actually a solid one.
Clinical psychologist Mary Lamia, Ph.D. says that “the term ‘soulmate’ implies a special affinity, understanding, or powerful bond that exists between one person and another. The ineffable experience of being known by and knowing another lends itself to the mythical image of soulmates as two wandering souls finally reuniting.” So, experts agree that soulmates are indeed real. But how do you know: Are you with your soulmate, or are you settling?
You’re staying together just because you moved in together
Moving in with a significant other is a pivotal step for many couples, often long before marriage. In fact, according to a 2016 study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, 66 percent of current American married couples cohabited before they exchanged rings. However, experts say couples might want to think twice before assuming that living together predicts a solid relationship.
If you moved in together to help solidify your future, you may be in for less than you bargained for. “My research with more than 1,200 people in their twenties and thirties shows that moving in together increases your chances of staying together, but it doesn’t increase how committed or interested you feel,” Galena Rhoades, Ph.D., an Associate Research Professor at the University of Denver, wrote in an article for Verily magazine. “It increases the number of constraints in a relationship… but there isn’t a corresponding increase in how much you want to marry your partner.”
If you’re living together because you enjoy sharing responsibilities, finances, and a Netflix account, then soulmates you might be. However, if you’re only staying together because you share a roof, you might want to reassess the reasons you moved in together in the first place.
You never stop fighting
Bickering occurs in most normal relationships — and there’s even research to prove it can be healthy to fight once in a while. However, when arguing becomes less of a sporadic occurrence and more of a daily habit, longevity in a relationship can be harder to achieve.
Fighting is typically an emotional response that emerges when you and your partner are incapable of seeing eye to eye on a given issue. “When this happens and you have a fair fight,” marriage and family therapist Dr. Andrea Brandt wrote for Psychology Today, “you both voice your issues, listen to each other, talk, disagree, talk some more, and come away feeling closer. But many of us don’t fight like that; we fight dirty.”
There is a substantial difference between communicating and arguing. If you’re consistently finding it hard to make the distinction, you can count on quarrels down the road — and that makes for a relationship filled with strife.
You never fight at all — surprise: soulmates actually do fight sometimes
Are you in a relationship that feels easy most of the time? Something crucial might be missing. In 37 years of practicing couples therapy, Rhoda Mills Sommer has formed a strong theory on the lack of conflict in a relationship. She writes on her website that, “If you never fight, then nobody’s home. Trouble in relationships is always about the extremes. It’s just as problematic as fighting all the time because both lack respect for two people. Often couples arrive in my office surprised to be there because we never fight. Never fighting means someone is feeling invisible.”
Ramani Durvasula Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Should I Stay or Should I Go? told Glamour, “When fighting goes away completely, sometimes one or both people have checked out.” If you aren’t communicating about anything uncomfortable, you (or your partner) might be emotionally tapped-out. Couples who are meant to stay together should be able to tackle the tough stuff. If you can’t, you must ask yourself why not.
Contempt is one of the number one predictors of divorce (and non-soulmate material)
Communication turns into contempt when arguments are so bad, they diminish your self-worth. There is nothing more hurtful than experiencing an attack on your looks, intelligence, personality, or ideas. When low-blow insults come from your significant other, they are a glaring red flag that shouldn’t be ignored.
Dr. John Gottman, a world-renowned therapist known for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, says that contempt “is the most destructive negative behavior in relationships.” In fact, in Dr. Gottman’s four decades of staggering research, he has found contempt to be the number one predictor of divorce.
Contempt can be the last straw in a relationship where eye-rolling is standard and put-downs are constant. If your relationship moves from playful teasing to denigration or condescension, it is time to reevaluate the reasons you’re putting up with poor treatment. Once respect has been lost between two people, it is difficult — and often impossible — to restore.
Putting family before you is never a good soulmate sign
Do you start dreading Thanksgiving in June because you cannot stand spending time with his family? You could be in for a lifetime of relationship strife. Family issues are very common, but they are nothing to ignore.
Psychologist Terri Apter, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today, “When two people decide to marry, each makes a pledge that the other will be the most important person in their life.” This is practically impossible to accomplish if your mate’s family expects his constant time, energy, and prioritization. It is desirable to date a man who values his parents and siblings — and if you can find a healthy balance, there is a higher chance of relationship longevity. However, if you’re in a consistent tug-of-war for attention, it might be time to move on.
At the end of the day, his family is an extension of him — and that means they will become an extension of you if you choose to stay with your partner for the long-haul. Your annoyance with them might not be a dealbreaker, but it stands as something to think about. If you are unwilling to bend, and they are unwilling to change, tensions will continue to rise.
If you depend on him more than you love him, he’s your safety net — not your soulmate
Being attached to your significant other isn’t the same thing as being in love with him… but how can you tell the difference? Margaret Paul, Ph.D. wrote for HuffPost, “When it feels as if you can’t live without the other person, it is emotional dependency. The part of you that is “in love” is really a child or adolescent who is needy for love because you are not giving love to yourself or to others.” If you’re finding it hard to go anywhere or do anything without his companionship or approval, your mate might be your safety net, and not your soulmate.
ExploringYourMind.com outlines emotional dependency as having the knowledge that a relationship isn’t working, but being incapable of breaking it off. “This is when we start to make excuses that only serve to prolong the emotional dependence. We try to convince ourselves verbally and keep clinging to the person who’s harming us or who has us trapped in a toxic relationship.”
Like an old, comfortable pair of jeans, people can become our hard-to-part-with habits. It is smart to pay attention to the holes that form when something has become worn out.
You keep trying to change him
While it might be nice to envision yourself becoming the catalyst for your boyfriend to become a changed man, that effort is futile at best. And according to experts on Marriage.com, treating your mate like a project is certain to backfire.
In her article, “You Can’t Change Him So Stop Trying,” Life Coach Christine Hassler writes for HuffPost that you should be “ruthlessly honest with yourself about whether or not you are in a romantic relationship where you are hoping to change him in some way. If you are, here are your options: you accept him exactly how he is right now and find peace inside yourself or you admit that you do not have magical transformational powers over other people and lovingly end the relationship.”
Who he is today, more often than not, is who he will be tomorrow. It is wise to remember that before banking on the idea that some future version of him will suit you better.
Everyone (but you) thinks he’s not your soulmate
Loyal friends and family are commonly over-protective of their inner circle. They believe you deserve the world and want you to settle for nothing less! If they decide that your partner doesn’t measure up, are they overly scrutinizing… or do they have a point?
Here’s one way to tell: “If your friends are pointing out a lack of kindness, respect, honesty, or loyalty when they say you deserve better, you may want to seriously consider their advice and re-evaluate the relationship,” marriage and family therapist Kim Panganiban writes in Thrive Global. Additionally, if you find yourself constantly defending your boyfriend’s questionable behavior, you’re adding credence to their concerns.
Sure, your posse should have the highest standards for you — and they might not ever think anyone is quite perfect enough. However, if everyone but you notices his long list of shortcomings, you might need to give your relationship a closer look.
He expects more than he gives
You can’t always get what you want. Though, shouldn’t you get some of what you want, some of the time? Experts say yes!
In an article for Psychology Today, psychotherapist Tina Gilbertson outlines eight basic things you have the right to expect in any healthy relationship. Among them? Affection, compassion, respect, consideration, time, interest, intimacy, and generosity. Gilberton writes, “Having the right to expect these things doesn’t mean you’ll always get them. It does mean that it’s okay for you to ask for them, and that it’s okay for it to matter to you if they’re not available from your partner.”
If you’re constantly going the extra mile to make him happy and the gesture isn’t reciprocated, it’s time to ask yourself why not. Experts advise trying to articulate what you need from your partner. If he still can’t — or won’t — show up in a way that makes you feel like you’re contributing equally to the partnership, problems lie ahead. Perfect balance isn’t possible all the time — but if you’re always giving more than you get, it is probably time to consider a better fit.
You constantly compare your partner to other people’s soulmates
Do you feel a tinge of envy whenever your friend talks about her thoughtful, sweet, attentive significant other? Are you quietly cursing your boyfriend every time you open social media to another friend’s “Engaged!!!” post?
If you’re apt to making comparisons each time your mate isn’t living up to what everybody else is doing or saying, you are probably less certain about him than you’d like to be. In other words, “If you’re regularly comparing your own relationship with your friends’, and their relationships seem perpetually better than yours, then this may correspond with general unhappiness in your own relationship, says social psychologist Theresa E. DiDonato, Ph.D. in Psychology Today. “If you tend towards the negative, consider trying to shift your habits to attend to the strengths of your partnership.” If you find that to be an impossible task, your comparing might be a deeper, more serious issue.
If you are consistently noticing attributes he doesn’t have, it might be time to find someone who lives up to the soulmate you’re dreaming of.
You secretly snoop on your so-called soulmate
Trust is the cornerstone of any strong relationship. If you feel you can’t trust your partner without checking up on him in secret, your relationship is not built to stand the test of time. A 2013 UK study revealed that 34% of women have admitted to snooping on a partner without their knowledge. However, perception may be skewed when portraying women and their propensity for trust issues. In fact, that same study revealed that men are actually twice as likely to “mobile snoop” than women!
“You do not want to live your life having to snoop in order to feel safe or loved,” psychologist Mary Lamia, Ph.D. told Health.com in 2018. “Control has little to do with a mature, loving relationship.”
You might excuse secret snooping because you have a legitimate reason to believe you can’t trust him. Or, maybe you just can’t help but triple-check his phone every now and then — just to make sure you’re still his number one. In either case, you’re exhibiting trust issues that need to be examined long before you commit long-term.
You can’t converse about the future
In relationships, serious conversations are sometimes scary, often exciting — and eventually always necessary. “I cannot say whether or not having ‘the talk’ about the future with your partner will strengthen or ruin your relationship. That depends on whether or not you are able to navigate your differences with compromise, wrote counselor Monica Martinez, M.ED. on Gottman.com.
University of Denver Research Professor Scott Stanley, Ph.D. writes on Psychology Today that, “When it comes to commitment, either partner A and B are nearly equally committed or they are not. At earlier stages of relationships, an imbalance is common, since one partner often becomes more committed sooner than the other. However, when this imbalance lingers, it can become a serious problem.”
If he’s more comfortable talking about the weather than he is about future plans, that doesn’t make him a bad guy. It might, however, make him a bad fit.
You’re always wondering if your soulmate is out there
It is absolutely natural to notice an attractive member of the opposite sex, but when does a wandering eye signify more? A compelling 1987 study by Jeffry Simpson (then at Texas A&M University) concluded that people were more likely to end a relationship based on the mere idea that someone better could be suited for them. Participants in the study (200 undergrads who were dating but unmarried) who answered questions indicating they could simply imagine a replacement partner saw a higher chance of breaking up over the subsequent three months.
In other words, when you’re dating you soulmate, you’re certain he’s the best person for you. Swooning over your celebrity crush or the latest Bachelor star is a totally normal thing to do — even when you’re in love. But if you find your mind often wandering to thoughts of your ex, a stranger, or a dating app, you might want to evaluate the reasons you aren’t content with your current partner.
You’re more confused than you are at peace
Strong relationships involve work, but they should feel secure and bring you joy. Dr. Lamia suggests that, “The healthy version of love [involves] two individuals who maintain their separate identities, yet intimately join together based on mutual interests, excitement, enjoyment, and the sharing of novel or stimulating experiences.” In other words, you shouldn’t feel like you’re constantly trying to piece together the reasons you’re together; you should feel like you’re at peace because you’re together.
Paul C. Brunson, matchmaking guru and bestselling author told HuffPost, “At the core of life, the pocket of peace we create with a life partner affects everything else in our lives. Investing in honest, loving relationships — first with ourselves and then with others — is the key to unlocking the treasure of purpose, joy and fulfillment in life.”
Love isn’t always easy, but it should feel, well, good! When you’re in a relationship that feels honest, happy, and all-around peaceful, you’ll know it. If you feel more confused than you do content, you might need to start looking for a better-suited mate for your soul.
Still wondering about your soulmate?
When trying to make loaded, long-term decisions about your relationship, it might be your own intuition that serves you best. Soulmates are exactly what they sound like: a partner for your truest self. A soulmate complements you, understands you, allows you to be yourself. He is also willing to compromise and talk about tough issues. If he’s the one, your gut gathers that he is — and then your heart follows.
To that point, Dr. Travis Bradberry, coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, wrote for Quartz, “One of the primary reasons that some people are more intuitive than others is that they actually listen to their gut feeling instead of dismissing or doubting it. And that doesn’t mean that they ignore their analytical mind and their critical thinking skills; there’s a difference between using reason as a system of checks and balances and using it to talk yourself out of what your intuition knows to be true.”
It is true that the heart wants what it wants. Perhaps knowing what it needs is the key to a long-lasting union. Give yourself time to find your perfect match. After all, your soul depends on it.