When you're dating, it's easy to label someone as "non-relationship material" when they flake out on you, make last minute plans, give you the busy excuse, and take forever and a day to text you back. After all, you've probably learned that not doing those things shows that someone respects you and wants to be a in relationship with you. But according to experts, it's not always that simple. In some cases, you may be dating someone who's just bad at relationships.
"Many people struggle with romantic relationships because of their social, sexual and intimate scripts," sex and relationship therapist, Stephanie Zeman M.Ed., tells Bustle. "These personal scripts are developed throughout their lifespan, predominantly throughout childhood." For instance, situations such as abuse, neglect, unhealthy relationship modeling from parents and attachment issues can hurt someone's ability to function in a good, healthy, adult relationship.
For a lot of people, being "good" at relationships takes some time and learning. You may even need to date a few people before you can acquire the skills that can make a relationship last. If your partner lacks experience or has unhealthy experiences in the past, it will affect their behavior in the relationship now. So here are some signs that your partner isn't bad, they're just bad at relationships and may need a little help, according to experts.
They're Genuinely Sorry When They Forget Important Dates
When your partner tends to forget important dates like your anniversary or fails to give you a little something when they get back from a business trip, it can make you feel like they just don't care. But that isn't always the case. According to licensed marriage and family therapist, Heidi McBain, MA, you can differentiate a bad partner from someone who's just bad at relationships by figuring out the intent of their actions. "If their intent is good, but they simply forgot something important, that’s very different than an intention to be hurtful," McBain says. If this is happening to you, she suggests to open up to your partner about your expectations and what you need from them to feel loved and appreciated. "You may have to 'plant lots of seeds' before they really get the importance of remembering the little things in your relationship," she says. But when someone really does care about you, they will make the effort.
They Have A Lot Going On In Their Life And The Relationship Becomes Less Of A Priority
A person may be seen as bad at relationships if their partner isn't a priority in their life, life coach Holly Shaftel, tells Bustle. "They may have trouble juggling a relationship with work or other obligations and they won’t take the time to nurture their romantic relationship," she says. Because of this, you'll likely end up feeling neglected even if they don't mean to. This doesn't mean your partner doesn't care about you. Knowing how to juggle a relationship with work, friends, hobbies, and other obligations can be tough, especially for someone who's been single for a while or doesn't have a ton of experience with relationships. As their partner, it's not "needy" for you to want them to take a break and have a night out together. As long as you communicate your needs and they do their best to meet them, your relationship is going to be fine.
They Get Confused When You Ask For Space
Taking some time apart from each other may seem like your relationship is headed in a bad direction. But as any healthy couple knows, having space is a good thing. As relationship expert and spiritual counselor Davida Rappaport, tells Bustle, people who are bad at relationships due to inexperience or toxic experiences may have a problem understanding that you need space from time to time. "They may be unaware that even if they love someone and are in a relationship that partners need to establish boundaries for their comfort," she says. Having a conversation about boundaries early on and often can prevent hurt feelings.
They Expect To Receive Just As Much As They Give
It's never a healthy situation when one person is giving their all to the relationship and the other is giving the minimal amount. But it can be just as bad when one partner feels the need to make the relationship as perfectly balanced as possible. "Your partner may have been raised by parents or have had prior relationships that were manipulative," Rappaport says. "For them, love may have been meted out by conditions such as, 'If you love me, you will do this.'" They basically have a "what's in it for me?" mentality. But healthy relationships aren't about scorekeeping. "Working toward establishing a healthy relationship where love is not conditional, or having healthy boundaries so both of you feel safe, can help establish unconditional love," she says.
They Like Going Off And Doing Their Own Thing
"If you have a partner who seems to be selfish and does not take your needs into consideration, this may be due to the fact that they may have always done things themselves and never had to take someone else’s needs into consideration," Rappaport says. Again, this can happen in situations where someone gets so used to being single, that they forget to invite their partner to plans or turn to their partner for advice. If this is the case, it's important to be understanding. "While you may be partners and want to share things and do activities together, you also need to make sure it’s OK for you and your partner to have a life outside of the relationship," she says. This can easily be solved through keeping each other in the loop and communicating.
Their Communication Skills Need A Lot Of Work
Communication can pretty much solve a lot of relationship issues. But it's definitely a skill that needs to be learned. Some people tend to be more private with their true feelings, some may be afraid to rock the boat, and some have developed a habit of shutting down whenever problems arise. If someone acts out or shuts you out after a fight, it doesn't mean they're a bad person. They just haven't learned how to communicate in a healthy way. "What you can do to help them is find a way to open the channels of communication with kindness, patience, and humor," Rappaport says. "Over time, they may feel comfortable enough to share. They may have problems finding their words, but if they are willing and you are patient, you can find some common ground."
Just to be clear, there is a difference between someone who doesn't know how to be in a relationship and someone who is actually toxic. There's never a good reason for someone to disrespect you or mistreat you in anyway. But if your partner makes mistakes and is genuinely apologetic, and puts in the effort to communicate more and make the relationship a priority, you have nothing to worry about.