Think of the happiest couple you know or even the main characters of your favorite rom-com. Close your eyes tight and imagine them for a second. Got a clear picture in your head? OK, great. Now, I’m going to ask you to accept one simple, universal truth: even that couple most likely doubts their relationship from time to time. And that’s perfectly fine.
“Doubt is normal,” says Emmalee Bierly, LMFT. “Most of us feel it sometimes, even people who have been married for many years have a feeling of, was this the right thing for me to do?”
Take 26-year-old Melanie*. “I love my boyfriend. I laugh harder with him than I do with everyone else, and I’ve never felt safer or genuinely happier in a relationship,” she says. “But sometimes I doubt if he’s the one. I know that concept itself is problematic, but I can’t help but think that way and question whether it’s wrong that I’m not thinking of him [that way].”
Doubting your feelings for your partner — especially when your relationship is mostly happy — can feel almost treasonous, but Amy Morin, LCSW, psychotherapist and author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” believes it can actually be healthy. “It’s not enough to base your decision [to be in a relationship with somebody] on your emotions,” says Morin. “You might have chemistry with someone, but that doesn’t mean you’re compatible. So taking an occasional step back and assessing things logically is wise. And when you do that, it’s normal for a bit of doubt to creep in and you to question your choices.” That being said, it’s also important to identify when the doubt stops being normal and starts being problematic, like in these five cases.
1. Hanging out with your partner makes you physically ill.
If you’re so incredibly confused by how you feel about someone that you’re starting to feel legitimately sick in their presence, do yourself a favor and take that seriously. “Our bodies are very, very good [at telling us how we feel about people],” says Bierly. “If you feel your body literally rejecting someone, you need to take a deeper look and process that.”
John, 25, witnessed his bodily reactions grow stronger alongside his doubts about his ex. “The doubt trickled in as I discovered that we probably were not each other’s person,” he says. “I found myself exhausted when we hung out, even though they were great company, and just felt a knot in my stomach when we spent time together.”
For twenty-five-year-old Marlena*, the physical response wasn’t so gradual. She says she had diarrhea whenever she was with her ex. Finally, it became too much to bear. “One morning I woke up and saw him next to me, ran into the bathroom, got sick, and came back and dumped him. I’ve never felt better [than right after I dumped him].”
Whether we’re struck with food poisoning or the common cold, we’re not often lucky enough to have full control over the things that are affecting our bodies. The physical illness you feel while doubting a relationship is one of the only ailments that can be remedied with a simple conversation. You possess the power to leave the relationship and bring yourself back to health. Take advantage of that power.
2. You’re constantly looking to your partner for reassurance.
While feeling physically ill around your partner usually is a sign that your body isn’t fully on board with them, constantly looking to them for reassurance could be indicative of concerns about their feelings toward you. “You may doubt whether your partner is interested enough in you, which can lead to serious relationship problems,” says Morin. Those problems can be so serious that they ultimately end an otherwise healthy relationship.
That was the case for Damia, 28, who credits her doubts that her ex loved her for much of the drama that ultimately lead to their breakup. “After it was over, I realized that my fear of abandonment and that he didn’t love me played a huge role in everything,” she says. “It was the root of my codependent behavior in the relationship.”
If you fall into this category, Morin says it’s imperative to find a way to reassure yourself without pestering your partner. One way to do this is to ask them to write a letter of reassurance to you. “Then, rather than [ask for] verbal reassurance, you can read the letter,” she says. Morin suggests making the request by saying something like, “When I get anxious, my anxiety makes me doubt you love me. Deep down I know you do, but I need a little reminder sometimes. Would you be willing to write a letter of reassurance to me?” If you think your partner will balk at this request, write your own list that cites all of the evidence that they care about you. “Hold onto that list and reread it whenever you need some reassurance,” she suggests.
3. The doubt has become all-consuming.
Like with any emotion, there are healthy not-so-healthy levels of doubt. It becomes problematic when it’s all you’re thinking about 24/7. “High levels of doubt or doubt that doesn’t abate may be a red flag. Your doubt should mostly disappear over time,” says Morin. “Although it may occasionally creep back in, it’s not [healthy] to be filled with doubt constantly.”
When 27-year-old Alyssa* thinks back to her two-year-long on again, off again relationship with a toxic ex, what strikes her the most is the constant doubt she had in the back of her mind. “It was all I could think about day in and day out,” she says.
If doubting your relationship is capitalizing all of your mental energy, consider why that is. “If your partner lies to you, treats you poorly, and rarely shows love, your doubt is based on reality,” explains Morin. “If, however, your partner acts lovingly, treats you with respect, and is committed to the relationship, your doubt might be unnecessary.”
If you fall into the former category, it’s time for a change. And, unfortunately, that change may be leaving the relationship entirely. “If someone isn’t at the same level of commitment, the relationship isn’t likely to work,” says Morin. But if you and your partner are equally committed and don’t want to break up, she suggests either talking about what’s bothering you or seeking professional help. Additionally, she says it’s important to consider whether you’re doing anything to contribute to your relationship issues. “You can’t change the other person but you can change how you respond to them.”
If your doubt isn’t based on reality, the changes mostly need to come from within. “When you find yourself questioning whether your partner loves you, don’t allow yourself to dwell on it,” recommends Morin. “Get up and get moving. Change the channel in your brain.” If this proves difficult, give yourself 15 minutes a day to explore your doubts. “Then, whenever you find yourself worrying about it outside of your scheduled window, remind yourself it’s not time to worry,” Morin suggests.
4. You’re looking to friends and family to confirm your relationship is good.
Teo, 21, admits that even when he’s in perfectly healthy relationships with people he cares about, he can’t help but put a little too much stock into how other people in his circle feel about his partner. “If my family and friends don’t approve [of the person I’m dating], it makes it so hard for me,” he says.
While it’s reasonable to care what your loved ones think to a certain extent, looking to them for reassurance that your relationship is good is not, Morin says. “It’s important to learn to trust your own judgment. If you only do what others tell you, you’ll lose sight of your values, and you won’t learn to do what’s best for you.”
Next time you’re faced with the urge to seek reassurance from your friends and family in order to quell your doubts, Morin recommends asking yourself, what would I say to a trusted friend who had this problem? “It’s likely that you’d give someone else good advice,” she says. “It’s harder to give yourself that same advice. Asking yourself that question removes a lot of the emotion that is clouding your judgment.”
5. You’re holding them up against an impossible standard.
Rom-coms and fairytales have lead us to believe that there’s one absolutely flawlessly perfect human out there for each and every one of us. And that can lead to feelings of doubt when we inevitably find that our partner is, in fact, flawed.
“I have been in a relationship for six years and only recently have I taken the responsibility to acknowledge [that I compare my partner to a mythical soulmate I’ve created in my mind], that any relationship takes work, and that no one is perfect,” says Sam*, 26. “Obviously, it’s not something I’m proud of — it made me fixate on his faults or shortcomings because ‘obviously’ this soulmate would not have these faults or shortcomings.”
If you, like Sam, are doubting your relationship because your partner doesn’t meet an impossibly high standard, Morin says developing a response for yourself can help. Try “my partner is only human” or “this is an opportunity for me to sharpen my skills and practice managing my emotions.” If you repeat those words to yourself enough, they will start to ring more true. “Instead of viewing your partner’s flaws and mishaps as proof you shouldn’t be together, remind yourself that no one will meet your expectations all the time,” she says. “You, too, are going to fall short when it comes to meeting your partner’s needs sometimes.”
And if nothing in this story sounds terribly familiar? Chances are your doubts about your relationship are completely normal. (Even if they do sound familiar, don’t despair; it just means that some self-reflection is in order.) People definitely aren’t as likely to post about their doubt on Instagram as they are to share their #couplegoals, but it’s an innocuous secret among the best of us.
*Names have been changed to protect innocent daters everywhere.