Relationships can be complicated. It’s not just one person who has to figure it all out—both parties must compromise and work together if the relationship is going to survive despite its many challenges.
So, in the face of uncertainty, how can you make sure that your relationship thrives?
According to experts, here are helpful ways when dealing with uncertainty in a relationship:
Dr. Marcia Longley
Relationship Psychologist, The Eternity Rose
Getting mixed signals or worrying about whether your partner feels the same way about you as you do about them can be difficult, but uncertainty is one of the aspects of a relationship you need to learn to deal with.
Here are a few ways to cope:
Share your fears and worries with your partner
Some people are tempted to hold back on their partner if they’re uncertain about how they’re feeling. However, pushing intimacy away isn’t always the right course of action. While it can protect you from experiencing pain, it could actually cause your relationship to break down.
Try to be aware of your behavior patterns, so when your emotions get the better of you, you can get an objective point of view. Recognize your patterns and triggers and then take the step of sharing the information with your significant other.
When you let your partner know what you need, you can foster more openness in your relationship. Allow your partner to support you as you work through the fears and worries that you have, and let them help you find new ways to tackle destructive behavior patterns.
This can build up trust between you through open communication that erodes uncertainty.
Be willing to give even if you don’t receive
All too often, we’re unwilling to give anything unless we’re getting something back in return. However, in any relationship, at some point, you’ll need to give with no promises of getting anything back.
Take joy in fulfilling your partner. Learn what drives them, what they need, and what they aspire to. Discover their pains and fears. You shouldn’t ask what your partner can give you; instead, open up to the idea of giving them your honesty and love without any rewards.
Try asking your partner to tell you what makes them feel loved.
Then accept their answer without trying to change it to match your own response. You need to love your significant other for who they really are rather than the person you want them to be. This will, in turn, lead to more intimacy and openness between you.
Choose to put your trust in your partner and your relationship
Even if you’re uncertain about how your relationship is going, choose to put your trust in your partner and your relationship. Try to stay in a positive mindset that your partner’s intentions are good until proven otherwise beyond all doubt.
Try to refrain from throwing accusations even when you’re angry
It can be tempting to punish your partner for making you feel uncertain about your relationship; however, you must avoid punishment at all costs.
It’s only natural to want to show your partner how much you’re hurting so that they won’t hurt you again but withholding affection, giving the silent treatment, or making accusations won’t work. Rather, it’ll only push your partner away and create more mistrust between you.
You shouldn’t make any arguable statements, even if you’re hurt or afraid. This will only lead to more arguments.
Saying things like “you never…” “you always…” or “you’re only trying to…” will cause further issues and make it even harder for you to communicate effectively – something that will only cause more uncertainty.
Making judgments, assessments, and criticisms should all be avoided, as unhelpful statements won’t get you both closer to what you’re actually seeking from your relationship.
Rather than punishing your significant other, try to show more acceptance and love for them. While it seems somewhat counterintuitive, by showing your loved one that you still care and need to understand their reasons for behaving in the way that they have, you can move closer to intimacy.
Try to refrain from throwing accusations, even when you’re angry, and always try to talk out your problems rather than resorting to yelling.
Treat as you want to be treated
The old saying “do as you would be done by” is very appropriate in relationships where uncertainty is rife. Treating your significant other in the same way as you would want to be treated by them sets an example of what you’re looking for in your partner.
Try to empathize with your partner’s feelings and be present for them in their pain.
Also, try to recognize their individual needs so you can remain connected and be more fulfilled in your relationship. Rather than making demands on your partner, set an example by providing the things they need.
- Find out what you need to do to make them feel safe and loved within your relationship.
- Listen to them with compassion if they are distressed so you can alleviate their pain.
Understand that uncertainty is a chance to rise to a greater challenge – to trust and let go of your preferred outcomes so you can forge a more natural intimacy.
Identify your own wants and needs
If uncertainty is a problem in your relationship, it could be because you’ve never actually told your partner what you need from them to feel more secure. Identify what you really need and want from your relationship and then express it to your partner in the simplest terms.
Make sure that what you say is true and basic, and don’t make it an accusation about their behavior (for example, “I need you to stop behaving like an idiot.”)
Instead, make it obvious to your partner what you’re actually seeking in your relationship.
- “I want to spend more time with you.”
- “I want you to listen to me more.”
- “I want us to find an activity that we both enjoy together.”
It invites them to get to know you and your needs better while encouraging them to help you get what you need. This opens up communication, leading to greater satisfaction and connection between you.
If you can invite each other to talk about what you truly desire from the other, you can then start to work out ways of both of you being able to get what you need. It will help you to reduce uncertainty in your relationship and enjoy a more rewarding partnership.
Dr. Sarah Rattray, Ph.D.
Leading Couples Psychologist | Founder & CEO, Couples Communication Institute
Learn how to talk about what’s on your mind with your partner
You and your partner can’t read each other’s minds, so it’s natural that there will be uncertainty about many things throughout every relationship. Learning how to talk about what’s on your mind with your partner is a skill that will serve you for years to come.
Get clear in your mind about what you’re uncertain about
Before you talk to your partner, get clear in your mind about just one piece of what you’re uncertain about that you’d like to discuss. The narrower the subject, the easier it will be for both of you to talk about it calmly and clearly.
So, for example, rather than asking your partner what they want for the rest of their lives, perhaps narrow it down to whether or not they would like to live together, or whether or not they want to spend the holidays with your parents.
Get their attention and ask them to set up a time when you’re both available
One of the things that set conversations off on the wrong foot is surprising or startling the other person by talking out of the blue when the other person might have their mind elsewhere.
Look at your partner and see whether you might be able to get their attention in a way that doesn’t interrupt anything important. Say their name, and if they respond, ask if they have a minute.
If they do, then tell them you want to talk about something (and let them know the one thing you got clear on already) and ask them to set up a time when you’re both available so you can talk about it without interruption or distraction.
Stay open and curious about their reply
Once you’re sitting down together at the time you both agreed on (in a cozy place without interruptions or distractions), ask your partner about your uncertainty. Then, give them time to answer you, and be sure to stay open and curious about their reply.
Only ask gentle, encouraging questions to learn more about what they’re thinking about, from their point of view. Resist the urge to debate or try to make your own point. Let your partner know what you’re hearing, and make sure that what you’re hearing is what they meant to say.
Then let them know what makes sense to you, from your partner’s perspective, about what they had to say. When your partner feels seen, heard, and understood, you can ask them if you can share your own thoughts and ask if they’re ready to listen.
If they agree, then you can share your perspective on the topic at hand. Try not to compare your thoughts with theirs; just share your thoughts and feelings as your own.
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine | Host, “How Can I Help?” Podcast
Spend quality time with your partner to tell them how you feel about facing the future as a united front
We often find uncertainty in a relationship is a result of a lack of transparency, honesty, and communication between partners.
First, it’s important to determine if you’re being honest with yourself.
- Do you trust your partner?
- Do you care deeply for them?
- Do you see a future together?
- Are you able to disagree in a healthy way and support each other?
- Do you feel like a good version of yourself when you are with them?
If the answers to those questions are “yes” and you are still uncertain about your relationship, it’s likely stemming from a lack of transparency. To remedy that, spend some quality time with your partner to tell them how you feel about facing the future as a united front.
- What does life look like to them five or ten years down the road?
- What do they predict your problems will be?
- Are they going to want to invest in working things out in the long term?
Remember, it’s important to be vulnerable and ask for the same vulnerability in return.
This is often not one singular conversation, but the beginning of a series of these discussions that help build trust, support between partners, and mutual understanding about some very important facets of life that can save you heartache later down the road, such as:
- Careers, etc.
Psychotherapist and Clinical Social Worker
The basis of issues that cause uncertainty is usually some form of transparency
Every relationship has uncertainty. Even in a 25-year marriage, issues arise all the time.
- “What is going to happen to our relationship after the kids are all out of the house?”
- “How will our dynamic change after one of us retires?”
However, uncertainty can be a warning sign that something in a relationship is making you feel insecure. Uncertainty is largely about trust, and this frequently breaks down into three categories:
A partner is clearly attracted to other people, is critical or unappreciative of your appearance, or is dating behind your back–these are all loyalty issues that breed uncertainty.
Loyalty is also an issue if someone you’ve been in a relationship with for a while is hesitant to be exclusive.
It could make you feel uncertain about the relationship if:
- They spend money in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable
- They have significant debt that they’re not dealing with responsibly
- You think they’re not straight with you about money in any aspect
A partner can be loyal and in a great financial position but unreliable in other ways. They can show up late to important occasions, forget about dates or significant events (like a birthday or anniversary), or fail to follow through on something they said they would do.
The basis of issues that cause uncertainty is usually some form of transparency. If you feel that your partner is withholding information from you or being less than honest, that will always make you feel uncertain.
On the other hand, uncertainty can be triggered by past experiences of betrayal or abandonment. If someone doesn’t want to respond to hourly texts from you, that’s not disloyalty or unreliability on their part. That’s you being insecure.
It’s important to get the past sorted out so that it isn’t making you feel uncertain about relationships that would actually be good for you.
Couples Relationship Coach, Synergy Coaching
Try to handle the uncertainties with grace and patience
There are times when your relationship is going to deal with uncertainty. Maybe you are waiting to hear about a decision that will affect your future, or maybe you are unsure where the relationship is going.
If you are like most people, it feels awful to be in limbo. You feel anxious, on edge, unsettled, and a little bit desperate. It is tempting to push the other person to make a quick decision.
You imagine this will give you relief as quickly as possible. However, this is often a mistake. If your partner is sitting on the fence, they might end the relationship due to the pressure or stay in the relationship but resent it. They might interpret your need for a decision as needy or controlling.
Even when it is uncomfortable, giving them time to think will give you a better chance at a favorable outcome.
Tips to surviving times of uncertainty:
- This is the time to take good care of yourself. You will weather the uncertainty better if you get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and otherwise practice good self-care.
- If your partner is trying to make a decision about your relationship, now is the time to be your best self. Be thoughtful, kind, and generous. Deal with any negative behaviors that your partner has asked you to improve.
- Get support from friends, family, or professionals who can listen as you vent your frustration and fears. It is far better to process those difficult feelings with others who can provide support rather than using those feelings to pressure your partner to make a quick decision.
- Use this time to think about what is important to you. Since you have the time, sort through your own feelings and thoughts about the possible changes. Imagine how you could handle each scenario while still being true to your values and needs.
- Be kind towards yourself and your partner. This can’t feel any better for them than it feels for you. Showing some compassion will help both of you.
- Talk about it with your partner, but only when they also are available to communicate. Keep the conversations short and don’t pressure them to talk when they aren’t ready.
Times of uncertainty are stressful. However, we all face them.
Try to handle them with grace and patience, even if it is hard for you. You will get through it. When you look back on this time, you want to know that you handled it well.
Attorney | Female Empowerment Speaker | Podcast Host
Determine if you are in an exclusive relationship or “situationship”
If you are feeling uncertainty in a relationship, then the first thing you want to do is to identify whether you are in fact in a bona fide exclusive relationship or a “situationship.”
What is a “situationship”?
A situationship is an undefined romantic relationship that is more than friends with benefits but less than a committed or exclusive relationship after dealing with a person for 6 or more months.
If you are uncertain of the official title of your “relationship,” then you are, in fact, in a “situationship.” If that’s the case, then you must decide on how to proceed.
Three steps on how to get out of a “situationship” if you actually want to be in a committed relationship:
The first step in starting or ending anything is acknowledging that there is a situation – no pun intended. Ok, well, maybe a little. You would be surprised at how many people deny that they are in a situationship. They try to make excuses as to why their situation is different or an exception. One’s gut will tell you evenif you deny it.
Regardless, you must acknowledge that you’re in situationship if you have to ask things like:
- “What are we?”
- “Are we together?”
- “Where is this going?”
Accept and acknowledge this fact, and then you can deal with it directly.
The single most important aspect in any relationship is communication.
If you want to take yoursituationship to the next level, then have a serious conversation with the other person and let them know how you feel, where you stand and where you would like for this to go.
Then, allow the other person to express how they feel about being in an exclusive relationship with you. Do not get upset or angry; just let them be honest about their intentions, wants, and desires.
After you have your conversation, then it is time to decide what happens next.
If both of you desire to be in a committed relationship, then great, do just that. However, if one person wants to be in an exclusive or more serious relationship and the other doesn’t, then you can cease your dealings with that other person.
However, if you decide to continue seeing that other person who has expressed that they don’t want to be in a relationship with you, then know the emotional risks of that decision. Whether you decide to end the situationship altogether or continue, it is strongly recommended that you start dating other people.
Uncertainty in a committed relationship or marriage
If you are married or in a mutually committed relationship and you’re feeling uncertainty, then the first and most important thing you need to do is talk to your partner about whatever is bothering you.
This is done in a calm, no drama manner. Do not approach your partner by yelling, arguing, or accusing him or her. You will get nothing resolved this way and will likely only make matters worse.
Have this discussion outside of the home, like at a restaurant, park, or on a walk with one another. We are usually more engaging with one another when we are in a relaxed setting or atmosphere.
If communicating your feelings of uncertainty doesn’t change the situation, then seek professional counseling, preferably together.
If things are left unresolved, then you have a decision to make. Either stick around and make the best of the situation or separate yourself from your partner for some time. If you stick around without resolving your uncertainty, be prepared to become more stressed about the situation. Stress over a period of time will inevitably manifest itself physically, like insomnia, backaches, hair loss, etc.
However, if you decide to separate, that will often let the other person know how much your uncertainty and insecurity are affecting you and will prompt them to ease your fears.
Head Matchmaker and CEO, Sameera Sullivan Matchmakers
Over time, I’ve witnessed numerous couples get together and break up – sometimes getting together again. Dealing with the uncertainty around the “will they, won’t they” is cumbersome, so I’ve picked up a few tips to tell my clients.
Ask yourself how long you’ve actually been feeling this way
The first thing you need to ask yourself is how long you’ve actually been feeling this way.
- Was it from the start?
- After a specific time?
- Did a major event happen?
All of these will help you identify and narrow down the timeline of when this feeling started to hit, when it increased and when you were made aware of it. Most people will be able to establish a pattern or a specific instance – and this alone can benefit you immensely when you begin step two.
Make couples therapy compulsory
It’s 2021, and I remain confused as to why people continue to treat therapy as an optional resource to consult only when the situation worsens immensely.
Do doctors wait for your condition to worsen before proceeding to prescribe medication? No, right?
You always hear, “Prevention is better than cure,” and yet we fail to apply this to other aspects of our lives, which are just as important. Make couples therapy a regular habit, even if it’s just once a month – and watch it do wonders.
Draw boundaries or cut them loose
Remember, mental challenges tend to drip into our lives and often go unnoticed. The debilitating physical effects are very possible, and may I add, very likely if gone unchecked.
You know your worth, so establish boundaries:
- Are your wishes respected?
- Can you begin healing?
If your answer to the above questions is no, then it’s likely you’ll need to cut it off to save your own sanity.
Sue English, MSW, LCSW, CADC
Licensed Family Therapist | Owner, English Meadows Counseling Services
Learn to state your concerns, express what you are willing to give, and ask for what you need
At different points in our relationships, we can become overwhelmed by the uncertainty of where the relationship is and what direction it might be heading.
People tend to overthink due to a real or perceived fear within the relationship or insecurity within themselves. If we view our current experiences through a past lens, we will miss out on so many opportunities due to our fear-based thought process.
If we’ve experienced rejection, we tend to be “fortune tellers” and foresee our current partner leaving us.
Those who can easily be overwhelmed by their insecurities can assume the worst and even experience physical and emotional discomfort even without any proof of rejection. It is important to reason with your emotions and not discount the positives that might be right in front of you.
Others might come to a point where they question how they feel about themselves within their relationship and consider options for a shift or complete change in relationship status for their own wellbeing.
If you start to notice different behaviors or negative interactions with your partner, you might begin to feel hesitant to move forward and further commit to the partnership.
Sometimes our negative behaviors are a learned dysfunctional way to replace our actual feelings. These behaviors are not truly coming from a place of resentment but rather fear or insecurity. If there are unclear interactions or misinterpreted communications between two parties, it is typical to feel unsettled with where the relationship stands.
It is important to discuss your concerns and be clear about your feelings.
What happens if the relationship feels “one-sided?”
There might be an imbalance in the bids for connection, whether in the form of conversations or physical intimacy. When we become enmeshed with one another, we lose our emotional independence and detach from what we need within the relationship.
If we feel we are becoming over-involved, it is time to reevaluate what a healthy relationship looks like and the value both parties hold in their commitment to each other.
Many couples have difficulties engaging in meaningful conversations when they are questioning their relationship status. Some seek out professional guidance as it can be challenging to integrate honesty and vulnerability into expressing their needs and concerns.
Couples can learn how to give each other a safe space to share, provide emotional understanding and support, and avoid pitfalls such as criticism and contempt.
Overall, learn to state your concerns, express what you are willing to give, and ask for what you need. Through this process, the vitality of the relationship will become more clear.
If you feel as if your commitment is not reciprocated, or you’re being dismissed, or your reasonable requests are ignored, it might be time to refocus your energy towards someone or something else that will be more rewarding and fulfilling for you. You can be certain that you will honor what you want and only accept what you know you deserve.
Psychotherapist and Mindset Coach
Dig into those deeper-level thoughts that are spinning around in your unconscious mind
Is the uncertainty in your relationship coming from within you?
If so, it’s time to dig into those deeper-level thoughts that are spinning around in your unconscious mind. What might be some hidden thought processes and beliefs that are leaving you feeling in limbo?
- Could it be that something learned in childhood could have you feeling uncertain about the future of the relationship or if this person is the right one for you?
- Are you possibly uneasy and uncertain because intuitively, you believe and know this relationship is not healthy for you?
- Or are you standing in your own way with your relationship attachment style? Perhaps you’re an avoidant style, and as the relationship has started to get more connected and close, you are starting to feel bored, smothered, or like the magic is gone.
Whatever the issue may be, if you are the one that is uncertain about the relationship, it’s time to dig in.
Explore if this relationship is good and healthy for you or not
Is your partner the one that is uncertain in the relationship?
If so, don’t panic. Generally, when someone panics over the threat of or the idea of losing their partner, they overreact, act out of character and do more harm than good to the wellbeing of the relationship.
If your partner is uncertain about the relationship, that is something that is out of your control. What you can control are your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Start with your thoughts. Stay away from telling yourself the worst-case scenario in your head. Remind yourself of your worth and that you are enough just the way that you are. Your only job is to continue to be the best and healthiest version of yourself and take good care of yourself.
You can evaluate if your partner is treating you with respect and kindness during their struggle with uncertainty.
If your partner is not treating you well, perhaps you would benefit from exploring if this relationship is good and healthy for you or not, instead of just waiting and giving your partner space.
Meredith Waller, MSW, LCSW
Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional | Owner, Rooted Wellness Counseling
Focus on what you know and remember that thoughts aren’t facts
When we are facing unknowns, our brain tries to help us prepare by considering different possible outcomes, but this can leave us stuck in “what ifs” and worry. One way to take back control is to stay focused on what we know and remember that thoughts aren’t facts—we can question them.
Consider if your current experience is tapping into a past hurt or vulnerability
Our past relationships and experiences play a big role in shaping how we feel about ourselves and others.
If we have felt abandoned or unworthy in former relationships, uncertainty or distance in our current relationship can cause those hurtful emotions or fears to resurface. This is completely natural and human.
Take a step back and consider if your current experience is tapping into a past hurt or vulnerability.
Revisit your wants and needs for more clarity
Being in tune with what we are seeking and receiving gives us a lot of valuable information and ensures we don’t lose touch with ourselves. Sometimes we feel uncertain in interactions when our needs aren’t being met, or our boundaries are being challenged.
Revisit your wants and needs for more clarity.
Arlene B. Englander, LCSW, MBA
Licensed Psychotherapist | Author, “Let Go Of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food: A Five Point Plan for Success”
Maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves is key to surviving and thriving
No relationship is guaranteed to last forever, so to some degree, uncertainty is a universal fact we all must cope with in all our relationships.
What’s key to coping with this well? It’s our ability to appreciate ourselves and our lives whether or not we’re alone.
Realizing that we can enjoy our lives even though we’re single, whether or not our circle of friends is large or small, whatever the number of family members with whom we’re in contact, is crucial to being able to feel secure enough to allow our relationships to evolve, devolve, or perhaps stay stable – all within the realm of possible outcomes.
Learning to truly accept and like ourselves, have fun on our own, and accept our successes and mistakes – in other words, to actually be a friend to ourselves, ensures that if a relationship ends, we may be alone but not unduly lonely.
So notice if you speak unkindly to yourself and change that habit:
- Develop a voice that lovingly supports yourself when things go wrong or your efforts don’t bear fruit.
- Get in the habit of enjoying time alone by engaging in hobbies, sports, adult education, or any activities that you’ve tried before or that sound appealing.
Don’t be limited by your own self-judgment about doing things alone – remember that you’re special enough to deserve pleasurable experiences, whether with another or by yourself.
When I was in my 30s and single, I traveled throughout the world, often on my own, making memories I cherish, many of which would never have happened if I’d been with a companion.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves is key to surviving and thriving, even when other relationships end.
Registered Psychologist | Founder, Overcome Anxiety Psychological Services
Most of us want to be certain that our partner(s) truly love us, that the feelings we have for our partner(s) are genuine, that we are involved with the right person(s), and that we are being faithful to our partner(s) and vice versa, to name a few. These preoccupations are common, healthy, and even desirable.
After all, most of us invest a lot of resources, and of ourselves really, in our intimate relationships.
However, uncertainty about relationships and the anxiety that accompanies it can lead us to compulsively start using strategies that bring short-term relief from the anxiety but can be detrimental in the long term.
These strategies may take the form of excessively asking for reassurance from our partner(s):
(“Do you love me?”), checking our own thoughts and feelings about our partner(s) (“Am I attracted to them?”) or the relationship (“Do I feel fulfilled in this relationship?”) or avoiding romantic movies and the inevitable comparison of the protagonists’ relationships with our own, to name a few.
This pattern of intrusive anxious thoughts and compulsions may be indicative of relationship obsessive compulsive disorder (ROCD).
ROCD is a lesser-known subtype of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). People who struggle with ROCD find that related thoughts and compulsions are time-consuming and prevent them from functioning in important areas of their life.
In my approach, I positively reframe these preoccupations as a testimony to how intensely wholesome, loyal and real the individuals who struggle with ROCD wish to be in their relationships.
However, the downside can be intense suffering, loneliness, and relational conflict.
Difficulties managing uncertainty in intimate relationships can be very difficult for all the parties involved. However, it is important to resist diagnosing our partner(s). If you believe you are struggling with ROCD, I recommend seeking out a qualified mental health professional with a clinical focus on treating OCD.
Dr. Grant Brenner, MD
Board Certified Physician-Psychiatrist | Author, “Making Your Crazy Work For You“
Slow down, take a step back, and think beyond typical patterns
Because all relationships are uncertain at their heart, learning how to deal with uncertainty in a relationship is a core relationship and life skill.
Even in the most trusting relationship, the small island of certainty is what we have, the love we need, the predictability, the expectation of faithful companionship, the kernel of existential safety which comes from community and communion.
All relationships are fundamentally uncertain, and that is part of what makes them alive. Excessive certainty in a relationship dooms the relationship to stagnancy.
Excessive uncertainty can be alluring, exciting, especially for those seeking ways to break out of repetitive, predictable personal problems. We often displace our own inner rigidities, developmental fixations, which chaotic relationships, unreliable partners, interpersonal situations which do not provide us with a stable attachment from which to explore the world.
This often springs from early developmental experiences with key caregivers who were both capricious, wild at times, and all too predictable in their unavailability or tendency to treat us poorly.
When people become used to this kind of pathological uncertainty, it often becomes the template for adult relationship dysfunction.
In this case, dealing with uncertainty in relationships requires addressing our internal disunion and the excessive uncertainty which often lies hidden within ourselves and makes it seem like a good fit to stay with people and relationships where the uncertainty isn’t working for us.
It can be “crazy-making,” as the relationship uncertainty triggers are often dimly recognized but sometimes all-too-familiar patterns. Even when we learn to see them, we often still feel trapped within them.
In addition to using good interpersonal skills and judgment with other people, we are obligated to address our own inner inconsistencies and blind spots to deal with uncertainty in external relationships.
In a relationship with that ominous, problematic uncertainty, slowing down, seeking counsel, taking a step back, and thinking beyond typical patterns is essential.
Writer | Founder, Keepler
Letting go of the outcome of your dating journey can actually improve your odds of romantic success
Why is uncertainty so uncomfortable? After all, if the outcome of any given event is undetermined, everything could turn out just peachy, right? Not knowing feels better than a guaranteed negative outcome, isn’t it?
Not so, according to a paper in Nature: when our striatum, an ancient part of our brain structure, is faced with about a 50-50 chance of things turning out well or poorly, it gets flooded with dopamine. While we’ve come to think of dopamine as a feel-good chemical, in this case, it actually prompts the nervous system to shift into the fight-or-flight mode, which is far from soothing.
With the help of the nervous system, the striatum then starts working out which actions you should take to improve the odds of a positive outcome. Your pupils dilate, you start sweating—and, ideally, you begin to work harder, faster, smarter.
This is great when, say, you’re playing a game of chess or running through an airport with 15 minutes until takeoff. But when it comes to dating, the uncertainty of success with any given match can frazzle even the most serene. Those primordial survival mechanisms can lead us to act in ways that project desperation rather than excitement, worry rather than poise.
Texting a match more often than you normally would, fretting all day about something you said, concocting elaborate stories to explain why your match hasn’t reached out—this is your brain on fight-or-flight.
So how do you override a millennia-old brain system?
Deliberately choose to recognize the activation: knowing that it’s not “you,” it’s your striatum (who’s trying to help), can prompt you to downshift into actions that bring you back into equilibrium.
When you feel activated:
- Write down what you’re feeling.
- Get outside if you can.
- Engage with some form of art (music, painting, writing).
- Thank your brain for trying to protect you.
You can even use the uncertainty in this particular context to your advantage.
Many of us (myself included) attempt to alleviate anxiety about the future by imagining nightmare scenarios and trying to work out how we would survive them. Again, this is your brain doing its darnedest to protect you.
When you’re prepared for the worst, you’ll probably make it out alive, right? But relationships—which should be fulfilling, aligned, and regulating—don’t lend themselves to this kind of disaster preparation.
What is the best outcome you can imagine? How do you want to feel in the future: valued, seen, loved for who you are?
Visualizing that scenario, rather than the “I’m going to die alone” outcome (guilty), can help you embody and actually bring about that elevated state of being.
Uncertainty is inevitable—while those $5 psychic readings may alleviate the fear of not knowing temporarily, you actually have the power to improve your relationship with uncertainty such that it begins to work for you.
Part of the adventure of dating is allowing what is meant to be to work itself out and using the external unknown to begin to know yourself. Don’t tell your striatum, but letting go of the outcome of your dating journey can actually improve your odds of romantic success.
Matchmaker & President, Select Date Society
Identify where your fear is coming from, and then talk it out with your partner
It’s important to realize that some level of uncertainty in a relationship is normal. In fact, it would probably be unhealthy if you did not feel any uncertainty. After all, life is full of changes, and your relationship is going to change as you and your partner go through different seasons together.
The first step in dealing with uncertainty in your relationship is understanding where it’s coming from. It usually stems from some type of fear.
- Do you have a fear of commitment?
- Maybe you fear your partner will be unfaithful or leave you?
- Maybe you are not sure that the two of you have the same goals for the future?
Identify where your fear is coming from, and then talk it out with your partner.
Here’s the key: You have to be willing to communicate honestly and allow yourself to be vulnerable. These conversations can be difficult, but in the end, it will bring you closer together when you learn to communicate effectively.
When you open up to your partner about how you’re feeling, do so without expectations of how they should respond. Simply share openly and trust that your partner will open up to you as well.
When you control the tone of the conversation in a positive way, your partner is more likely to respond favorably. Avoid being angry, accusatory, defensive, or guarded. Instead, approach the subject from a place of love and kindness.
The more you communicate with your partner, the more certain you will become about your future!
Wellness Coach & Health Advisor, Coffeeble
Enjoy what is, don’t anticipate what might be, or fear what could happen
How to deal with uncertainty in a professional relationship:
Enjoy what is, don’t anticipate what might be, or fear what could happen. Intention is an important aspect of a relationship. When we’re insecure, we exude it. We show and channel uncertainty as well as lack of contentment.
Try to stay focused on the present, moment by moment—developing a mindfulness practice helps with this. Don’t take this work for granted. You need to fully understand how much what you do (are being) now snowballs into the outcome of your relationship’s future.
How to deal with uncertainty in a personal relationship:
Personally, I went through a trying relationship during the pandemic that ended in the Spring of 2021. It, and by extension I, was riddled with anxiety and uncertainty.
I started to lose sleep and fret, regardless of my training and how many self-care & self-soothing rituals I applied to offset the uncertainty of where the relationship was going & when.
It can be an immersive, dark well—one that feels impossible to climb out of, so I just sat in that hole. I got used to the feeling of the damp on my skin, the smell of moss and water, the cool freshness; I sat and just was.
I used this exercise to relax and stay present in the midst of it all.
Eventually, I ended the relationship. But with equanimity, not malice. The outcome just unfolded out of my being present in each moment’s experience. The well helped me cocoon and incubate until I realized that, in the sum of moments, I wasn’t being served by the dynamic.
I reached the moment when it was time to climb out of the well and feel the warm sun on my skin.
Former Career Ambassador at the George Washington University | Founder, Transizion
Discuss what is making you uncertain, where the pain is coming from, and how it can be fixed
You need buy-in from both partners. Have a conversation with each other to find out where the other partner’s head is at. You need brutal honesty here in that it is critical to put everything on the table and explain your hesitancies.
After you are both done speaking, figure out whether your goals truly align.
If one partner wants to see other people while the other wants to travel the world, there is a problem. But, if both of you love each other and want to make it work, then it’s time for the next step—compromise.
Discuss what is making you uncertain, where the pain is coming from, and how it can be fixed over a specific duration of time. You need to communicate how each of you will do your part to solve the problem.
Again, this requires buy-in from both parties. You can only get buy-in once you communicate and leave it all on the table.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is it important to address uncertainty in a relationship?
Addressing uncertainty in a relationship is crucial because unresolved doubts and fears can lead to anxiety, stress, and even relationship deterioration.
By addressing these issues, head-on, couples can strengthen their bond, improve their understanding of each other, and build a more stable and fulfilling partnership. In addition, addressing uncertainty promotes personal growth and emotional well-being for both partners.
How can we develop resilience to better deal with uncertainty in our relationship?
Developing resilience to better manage uncertainty in your relationship involves cultivating healthy communication, maintaining a strong sense of self, focusing on emotional intimacy, and embracing adaptability.
By fostering these qualities, you and your partner will be better able to handle the inevitable challenges and uncertainties in any romantic partnership.
Resilience also involves learning from past experiences and using those lessons to navigate future uncertainties, ultimately leading to a stronger and more lasting relationship.
How can we distinguish between normal uncertainty and a red flag in our relationship?
Distinguishing between normal uncertainty and a red flag in your relationship requires self-reflection, open communication, and a clear understanding of your values and boundaries.
Normal uncertainty is usually due to personal insecurities or external factors. It can be resolved through open dialog and mutual support.
Red flags, however, may indicate deeper issues or incompatibilities that threaten the foundation of the relationship. Pay attention to behavior patterns, trust your instincts, and consider professional guidance if you suspect that the uncertainty you’re experiencing may be a red flag.
How can we practice patience and empathy in dealing with uncertainty in our relationship?
Patience and empathy in dealing with uncertainty in your relationship involve being mindful of your emotions and reactions and actively seeking to understand your partner’s perspective.
Approach difficult conversations with a genuine willingness to listen, validate their feelings, and reassure them when necessary. Acknowledge that uncertainty can be a natural part of any relationship.
Allow yourselves the time and space to work through these feelings together. By showing patience and empathy, you can create a safe and supportive environment for both partners to manage uncertainty.
Can external factors such as work or family contribute to uncertainty in a relationship?
Yes, external factors such as work, family, and other life circumstances can contribute to uncertainty in a relationship. Stressful situations, financial difficulties, or family issues can cause tension and strain, which can affect the partnership.
It’s essential to talk openly about these external factors and address them together so they don’t lead to persistent uncertainty or negatively impact your relationship.
What role do our past experiences play in the uncertainty we feel in our current relationship?
Past experiences can significantly impact the uncertainty we feel in our current relationship because they shape our beliefs, expectations, and attachment styles. Past heartbreaks, betrayals, or unhealthy relationships can make trusting and feeling secure in a new partnership more challenging.
It’s essential to acknowledge and understand the influence of your past experiences on your current feelings of uncertainty. You can work to heal from past experiences and build a healthier, more secure relationship through self-reflection, open communication, and professional guidance when needed.
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