A couple of rough breakups (or even just one) is enough to make anyone's heart retreat into the deepest corner of existence, but if you're not careful, you could end up holding back in your relationships.
Hard breakups and personal tragedy are a good explanation for holding back, but they're not an excuse. I worked with a lot of couples as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, and I can tell you that holding back in your relationships is a form of emotional dishonesty that's not healthy. You're letting another person develop an attachment to you and to plans for the future that you aren't reciprocating.
If you're truly not ready to love someone in a deep, serious way, you're better off to make sure that your partner is on the same page or avoiding being in a relationship altogether until you've had enough time to heal. If you don't, you're going to end up hurting someone you care about and selling yourself short.
Maybe you know you're doing it, and maybe you don't (but deep down, you probably do). The following signs might give you the "aha" moment you need to get more real with yourself and your partner.
1. You Reject Labels
If you don't believe in labels, that's fine. But if you haven't been a label avoider before and you suddenly feel the need to not call your partner your girlfriend or boyfriend or lover (or whatever he or she thinks you are) then you're probably doing so out of fear or avoidance rather than a hatred of labels. Putting a label on something may not seem like a big deal, but it can make a relationship seem much more real. Labels also sometimes come with expectations which you might not be ready for.
2. You Change The Subject
When topics of marriage, kids, moving in together, or big future plans come up, do you change the subject? Do you break out into a cold sweat? Or worse, do you move in together as a way to make your partner happy for a while without ever addressing the idea of your long-term commitment? These are all red flags that you're not all-in.
3. You Keep Your Options Open
Even when you're in a pretty serious relationship, do you keep a few other people lined up, even if just in the back of your mind? Do you refuse to be exclusive, even after you've been together for a long time? Do you refrain from telling people that you're in a relationship or continue to flirt, even though you know you're not technically on the market? This could indicate that you have a fear of going all-in in your relationship.
4. You're A People Pleaser
If you spend all of your time trying to please your partner, you're definitely holding back. When you people please, you get to avoid your own feelings, wants, desires, and dreams by focusing on your partner's. Aside from building up a well of resentment, you get to avoid being a genuine participant in the emotional side of your relationship. When you're ready to stop holding back, you might find that the relationship you want is much different than the relationship you created.
4. You're All Talk
Telling someone what they want to hear is a great way to buy time, but eventually time will run out. Actions speak louder than words, and if you are all talk and never back it up, you might be using your words as a coping mechanism for your fear of going all-in. Make sure to be physically affectionate, to do what you say you will do, and to not make empty promises. It's more believable to show someone how you feel and tell them then to just tell them.
5. You Keep It Shallow
A lot of the women I spoke to told me that their partners never told them how they felt. Or if they were willing to talk about the relationship, they were unwilling to share stories about their childhoods, hopes, dreams, and other topics more serious than what's for dinner. Sharing those types of feelings and stories are part of being vulnerable, which demonstrates that you trust your partner and you feel deeply connected. If you never share your whole story and all your feelings, you create a relationship where your partner never truly knows you.
6. You Never Make Love
Even if you have sex all the time, your sex life could still be an indicator that you're holding back in your relationship. Wild, crazy sex is great, but sometimes all couples need to really connect emotionally during sex. Sometimes you need to make love instead. Making love creates emotional intimacy, which is also tied to trust and vulnerability. That's not saying that wild sex can't be vulnerable. But you and your partner will know if you're never connecting in a deep and loving way.
7. You Have One Foot Out The Door
If you're holding back in your relationship, you'll have a lot of escape routes built in, and if you don't, you'll create them. For example, after each fight, even the little ones, you'll think you're going to break up. You'll create problems and things to fight about. You might even passive-aggressively treat your partner poorly so they will break up with you. People with one foot out the door don't get to know their partner's friends or family. They don't tie each other to their partners through shared bank accounts, pets, apartments, or other real signs of commitment.
8. You Always Dress Up
Relationships require truth, and part of that truth is letting your partner see what you look like at your worst, according to Sarah Winfrey in an article for Wise Bread. If you always make sure you're dressed well, made up, and looking your best, even the morning after, or when you're sick, then it could mean you're unwilling to share your vulnerability or your whole truth with your partner. It could mean that you're too afraid of being rejected or that you lack trust.
If you realize that you're holding back in your relationship, you have two choices: End it and work on yourself, or get really honest with your partner and work on things together. Anything else is unfair.