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What “All-or-Nothing” says about you

by Eharmony Editorial Team - April 6, 2007

Chronic dissatisfaction may say more about you than your relationship.

Chronic dissatisfaction may say more about you than your relationship.

For some who have experienced a less than happy track record in the dating world, the scariest time in any romantic relationship is when it starts to look like it’s actually going to work out. For the most vulnerable, criticism and doubts about their partner surface at breakneck speed and the validity of the entire relationship comes into question.

All in all, though, it seems that chronic dissatisfaction and criticism of a mate may speak more to fears of disappointment than any real incompatibilities in a relationship. A study conducted at Yale University found that people who think about their partner in fluctuating terms of all good or all bad suffered from poor self-esteem. They also tended to get into relationships quickly and idealized their partners as being better than they really were in reality. Then when they perceived even the smallest of faults in their partner, they tended to withdraw into themselves in an attempt to avoid feelings of disappointment. Overly critical, all-or-nothing thinkers stifle their own needs until their lack of fulfillment explodes into criticisms and resentments. Over time they may not have any idea what they’re looking for in a partner.

While it can be easy to be lenient about another’s perceived shortcomings at the start of a relationship, as time lags hidden expectations go unfulfilled. Many people routinely choose incompatible relationships from the start, settling for less than their true needs because that new partner accepts them as they are, despite all of the awful things their sense of low self-esteem and self-worth seem to tell them. And rather than seeing people as having both positives and negatives, overly critical people hold their romantic partners to an unrealistic expectation of having no faults whatsoever. Sadly, this type of “all-or-nothing” behavior can repeat over and over in one relationship after another until a person realizes that they themselves are the problem.

What can be done?
The best way to combat all-or-nothing behavior is to get in touch with unfulfilled expectations from past relationships. For those registered with eHarmony, the Top 10 Can’t Stands and Must Haves are great tools to help refine real relationship needs so no one has to settle. For those dating and in relationships, enjoying current partners for who they are is important. Hammering someone to fit inside a set of unrealistic expectations that can never be met is a recipe for disaster, not to mention cruel and unusual punishment for the unsuspecting parties who are just being themselves.

Along these lines, another important step is to resist breaking up with an unsuspecting partner for temporary relief and the illusion of self-control because it only reinforces all-or-nothing behavior, and may hurt the other person. Truly accept and enjoy what they have to offer and teach you. One pleasurable side effect from accepting another is your own self-acceptance, and since lack of self-esteem is the basis of overly critical, all-or-nothing thinking, the more self-acceptance let in to your life, the happier you can be.

Love is not about all-or-nothing, it’s about the good, the bad and the everything. So starting right now, relax a little more; enjoy a little more, and shelve the judgments and criticisms that create your dissatisfaction. Once you start accepting others, you’ll accept yourself, and when you’re in touch with yourself, you’ll know exactly what you need to have the best relationship. And the best part? You may already be in that relationship.