The Dangers of Comparing Relationships—and Why We All Do It
We're all destined to imagine that everyone else has got it better than us. When it comes to relationships, it's hard not to fall into the same pattern of pining after what you don't have. I can think of countless times when I coveted what I saw—or thought I saw—in other relationships. I've gazed longingly at a couple deep in conversation at a restaurant while my partner and I scrolled through our phones. I've bubbled with jealousy over a friend's anniversary holiday photos.
Every now and then, we all find ourselves contemplating our friends' relationships, assuming they're better than our own. Relationship comparison is natural, but it's rarely healthy or helpful. In fact, falling into a cycle of relationship comparison can actually be dangerous for your relationship in the long term.
Relationship comparison is more common than ever
According to Frank Thewes, therapist and founder of Path Forward Therapy in New Jersey, relationship comparison has become an increasingly common phenomenon. Thanks to social media, we see more and more "airbrushed" versions of other people's lives, and within them, we see idealized versions of their relationships.
"[Relationship comparison] is similar to seeing someone posting about their dinners and vacations on social media and assuming their life is perfect," Thewes said.
In other words, what you see from the outside of a relationship is rarely anything close to the whole truth. The real stuff all happens in private. In some ways, that's why we are so tempted to make the comparisons in the first place.
"The inner workings of other people's relationships are unknowable, and we are all prone to curiosity and drawn to the unknown," said Maria Sullivan, dating expert and vice president at Dating.com.
"What we see from the outside or even hear secondhand from a partner in another relationship is just a tiny window into that other world," Thewes said. "So much happens between two people that we cannot really ever know what another relationship, or the people involved, are like inside their own union."
In short, pining over someone else's relationship is, essentially, pining over an imagined relationship.
Comparing relationships can be dangerous
Not only is relationship comparison fundamentally flawed, it can also be harmful.
"Comparing our relationship to any other means we can start pushing ourselves, our relationship and our partners toward some mirage of a relationship we think someone else has," Thewes said. "This can ruin the foundation of what we already have."
Sullivan added, "It can create a shift and a divide where we are blocking a part of ourselves from the other person, and it can damage an otherwise healthy relationship."
This is exactly what happened to Edwina Caito, of Indiana, the head writer at Bedbible, an information resource for sex toys.
"I often compared our relationship to that of our close friends," Caito said. "I was always seeing our friends going on date nights, weekend getaways and talking about intimacy frequency, and to be honest, it made me jealous."
'If you've otherwise been satisfied in your relationship, don't let jealousy be the kiss of death.'
Caito began to doubt her partner cared about her in the same way her friends' partners cared about them.
"I pushed my partner, asking why we didn't do things like [our friends did] and why intimacy didn't seem as important to him as it did to me," she recalled. "Although I meant well—in regard to improving our marriage—unfortunately, it had a detrimental effect on our relationship."
Her partner began to feel guilty, while she became more and more resentful.
"I yearned for the relationships my friends had and couldn't focus on the positives in my own relationship," Caito explained. "Ultimately, it led to divorce."
Even though Caito now believes her marriage had the potential to last, her constant comparisons chipped away at its foundation. Her fixation on the fantasy of her friends' relationships ended up being the ruin of her own.
What to do instead of comparison
Relationship comparison is something we all do from time to time. After all, it's impossible to see your friends having an idyllic couples getaway without feeling a pang of jealousy. But according to Thewes and Sullivan, it's important to stop yourself from falling into a pattern.
Usually, relationship comparison is a sign that deep down, something in your own relationship isn't giving you what you need. Instead of pining after what you see in another relationship, look inward at your own relationship.
"Ask yourself if your relationship envy is justified," Sullivan suggested. "If there are changes that you want to make, kindly bring them up with your partner. But if you've otherwise been satisfied in your relationship, don't let jealousy be the kiss of death."
"The better perspective for someone looking for improvement in their relationship is to ask themselves, 'Am I happy?' 'What do I want more or less of?' 'What do I need?'" Thewes explained. "Change in a relationship starts with us, and comparing our relationship to someone else's won't do much to get us closer to that goal."
While it may be tempting to imagine your friends all have perfect relationships, remember, they might just be thinking the same thing about you.