When you really want a relationship to be meaningful, it can be easy to misread potential
signs your relationship isn't serious, or that your partner isn't taking your relationship as seriously as you hoped. But since these superficial relationships often don't go anywhere, you owe it to yourself to recognize the difference, and move on if necessary.
A superficial relationship is one that is only on the surface, often just based on looks and if the partners are having fun together," professional counselor Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT. These types of relationships are often flirty and light, a little bit like a crush.
Now, compare that to love-based relationships, where things often feel a bit deeper. In these, "the couple will truly care about the other person and who they are on the inside, their likes and dislikes, and if they are happy or hurting," McBain says. "They will enjoy just being together, doing something or doing nothing. And they will be true friends, who deeply care about the other person’s happiness and well-being."
Here are a few things you might hear your partner say
if the relationship is superficial, as well as what to do about it, according to experts.
"Let's Hold Off On Making Any Big Plans."
People in superficial relationships often pump the brakes when it comes to talking about anything beyond the present day, usually because
they aren't invested enough to consider thinking towards the future.
"Relationships take commitment, and for someone who isn’t 'all in,' the future of your relationship can sound scary," Dr. Sal Raichbach PsyD, LCSW, of
Ambrosia Treatment Center, tells Bustle. So take note if your partner won't talk about vacation ideas, holiday plans, or moving in together, as it might mean they aren't planning on sticking around.
If you get the feeling that might be the case, follow up by asking about the status of the relationship, in order to make sure you're on the same page. If you want something serious, and your partner doesn't, it may be a good idea to move on.
"I Don't Want To Talk About It."
While everyone's entitled to keep certain thoughts and feelings to themselves, couples who are invested in each other usually want to share their emotions, and be as open as possible, as a way of resolving issues and keeping things healthy for the future.
And that's why, "if it feels uncomfortable talking about your feelings with your significant other, your relationship might not be as deep as it appears," Raichbach says. "People that are truly in love share the most intimate parts of their lives, which usually involve emotions. Although people’s comfort level with their own feelings varies to some degree, this level of communication needs to be present in every loving relationship."
"I Don't See Myself Getting Married."
If your partner admits early on that
they don't want to get married — and that's a goal that's important to you — it's in your best interest to believe them. The relationship may work out anyway, if you're serious about each other and find a way to make some allowances. But often, comments like these are a go-to for people who aren't feelin' the love.
As Milrad says, if "they tell you that they are not sure that they want to get married, or that they can’t imagine being married to one person for the rest of their life," it's a sign things are superficial.
"I Feel So Close To You Right Now."
Since sex can bring out all sorts of bonding hormones, you might hear your partner say they feel really close to you whilst you're still lying in bed. Or they might say they're in love during the act. But do they show the love at any other time?
As Milrad says, someone who's only in love on a superficial level may only be capable of connection during sex. And if you're looking for something more, that fact can become a problem. "It is great to feel attractive and desired by your partner," she says. But if that's the only time they show any love, you might "begin to feel objectified and that your connection is more sexual and less emotional or intellectual than you want it to be." If you think this is the case, address it with them to find out if you both want the same things.
"I'm Sorry To Hear That."
Again, not everyone's the best when it comes to
connecting emotionally, so don't jump to any conclusions if your partner lets you down with a vague comment like, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."
Do keep in mind, however, that this is what people often say when they don't want to get too invested. "They tell you that 'they are not the best person for you to talk to about this' or suggest 'that you should talk to a close [friend] instead,'" says Milrad. "They send a strong message that they don’t want to be your emotional support system and you should seek it out elsewhere."
Since love-based relationships are all about that connection, and being each other's moral support, this may be your cue to move on and look for a partner who's a bit more mature.
"You're So Easy To Talk To."
If your partner says sweet things like this, but
only via text, the relationship might be a bit more surface level than you realize. "This might indicate that they’re loving your attention and they’re enjoying the fact of being in a relationship but they’re not super keen on you," sex expert Helen Nista tells Bustle. "Many people in our society are single for extended periods of time and many of them hate it. They might be craving a partner so much that they’ll enter a relationship for the sake of being in one and without too much thought given to whom they would actually like to be with."
Relationships like these definitely serve a purpose, and you can't blame someone for needing attention. It's also important to note that someone saying this could mean it genuinely, but take note of the context. If your partner says this to you after having a deep, expressive conversation, they might very well mean it. But if compliments like this remain over text, and communication in general is few and far between, it might be a red flag.
"I Won't Be Mad If You See Someone Else."
While some couples are down for open relationships, it's not a great sign if your partner is being super lax about your relationship boundaries — despite the fact you've said you want to be exclusive.
"Except for people who very consciously choose the polyamorous path, [the] majority of us are monogamous creatures and we don’t like to share our partners with other people," says Nista. "If they don’t want to be exclusive with you, it might mean they’re still looking for [something else]." And comments like these, while sometimes said as a way of seeming relaxed and chill, can be a major indicator of that.
"I'm Not Sure What I'm Doing This Weekend."
Again, any hint that your partner can't think towards the future usually indicates they might not be as invested as you. And that includes being wishy-washy about weekend plans. "This might mean that you’re not as important to your partner as you’d like to be," says Nista. "When we’re in love, we’re capable of overcoming any obstacles in order to be together. If your partner is not too keen on making an effort for you, the connection may be quite superficial."
There's nothing wrong with relationships that revolve around sex and nothing more — if that's what you're looking for. But if your partner wants to keep things casual, and you want to take things to the next level, be on the lookout for requests like these.
"If your partner only makes time for you for sex or turns every chance you get to be together into an opportunity for sex, your relationship may be superficial,"
licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Racine Henry, PhD, LMFT tells Bustle. "Sex can be a very healthy part of any relationship but the manner in which it happens is worth taking note of if that's all you two seem to do."
"Your birthday, anniversaries, holidays, important milestones, etc. should all be acknowledged and remembered by your partner," says Henry. "We all have busy lives with multiple moving parts but you're the person they're choosing to be in a relationship with. What is important to you should matter to them."
That's why, if your partner consistently forgets big moments like these, it can be a sign they're not making the relationship a priority. Of course, they may just be someone who needs a little reminder, so double check with them before you read into it too much. Did it simply slip their mind? Or did they forget because they aren't invested? You owe it to yourself to find out.
If your partner never reaches out to talk, is silent when you're together, or almost always leaves your texts unanswered, take it as a sign. "A relationship involves some level of routine in terms of how often you speak, text, and see each other," Henry says. "If you consistently get radio silence from your partner, are you even in a relationship? How are you sharing your lives if you don't communicate on a regular basis?"
While superficial relationships definitely have a time and a place — and they can be super fun — this isn't what you want when you're looking for something more long-term.
Everyone is different when it comes to how they show their love, and how often and when they communicate. But if it feels like your relationship is superficial, it probably is. Talking with your partner can be a great way to figure out whether or not you're on the same page, so you'll know whether or not it's worth it to try to move forward.