Relationships – how good is good enough?

On Tuesday this week I found myself in a hot tub at the Lido in Bristol. I say ‘found myself’ – I didn’t wake up there, blurry eyed and confused, I got IN. You know, consciously.

Two women who looked about my age were sat opposite me, chatting about various lighthearted things. There was a natural lull in the conversation. The woman on the left, we will call her woman one, looked thoughtful.

‘I think I know what it is to love somebody,’ said woman one, seemingly out of nowhere, ‘but I don’t think I’m in love with my husband.’

There was another silence. Not so natural this time. Woman two looked shocked, like perhaps she didn’t feel like she knew woman one well enough to be hearing this.

‘Wow,’ said woman two, ‘that’s pretty big. How long have you felt like that? I think it’s pretty normal over time to feel a different kind of love for a partner.’

‘I’m not sure,’ said woman one, ‘I think I’ve always felt like it. It’s actually the first time I’ve said it out loud to anyone.’

Woman two was definitely feeling the pressure at this point, and I was doing my best not to stare directly at them, but it was hard to listen over the noise of the bubbles without being able to see their faces.

‘How do you feel about that?’ said woman two.

Woman one sighed. ‘I guess I just try not to think about it. I push it to one side. I figure that’s just it now.’ She looked sad.

WHAT THE HELL??

It was absolutely all I could do at this point to stay quiet. I was rooting for woman two to say something, anything that might encourage woman one to want more from life.

‘I was chatting about relationships to a friend the other day,’ said woman two. ‘She’s 39 and what I call an alpha-female – successful in absolutely every area of her life apart from men.’ (Was she talking about me??) ‘She’s met this guy recently and she’s thinking about getting married and starting a family but she’s having doubts.’

Where was she going with this? Somewhere positive I hoped.

‘She told me that she wasn’t 100% sure about him, and asked me how good I felt was ‘good enough’ in a relationship.’

Woman one looked interested, ready to be inspired.

‘I said I thought about 70%,’ said woman two. ‘If it was 50% then probably I’d say it was a no, but if it was 70% then I would take it.’

Woman one nodded sadly, NOT inspired.

SEVENTY PERCENT??

Am I being unreasonable to think that this is absolutely ridiculous?? I know that relationships are about compromise, I understand that no one is perfect, but 70%?? That means that 30% of your relationship is BAD. And you’re settling for that.

Another pair of women got into the hot tub at this point and sat between us. I wanted to shoo them out of the way, but I felt that probably wouldn’t make woman one feel BETTER about life, so I got out and went into the steam room to try and sweat out the despair.

What do you think? How good IS ‘good enough’ in a relationship? Would you take 70%?

how good is a good enough relationship

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

53 Comments

  1. 27 April, 2018 / 11:25 am

    People have become so materialistic that “love”, proper “love” is often little more than leverage in the eyes of many people, this woman being a prime case in point, Sadly.

  2. 27 April, 2018 / 12:41 pm

    Great post. This is a really difficult one…so many people I know do not prioritise actually being properly in love and concentrating on what’s spiritually and emotionally important to them.
    As you say, compromise is necessary on some level and no-one’s perfect, but “settling” for 70% because you think that’s as good as it’s going to get doesn’t seem right. And it gets even more complicated when feelings change over time.
    I think “settling” in this context is a depressing thought even if it’s 70%. We can do better than that.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      27 April, 2018 / 1:30 pm

      Yes! We must be able to do better than that! I get that relationships are hard blah blah but there seems to be a real trend for saying ‘oh well this takes effort and you can’t expect to be happy all the time’ and I just don’t buy it. I stayed with a man for years once because every time I tried to say I wasn’t happy he said ‘you’er not meant to be happy all the time’ and I believed him.

      • 23 May, 2018 / 11:46 pm

        I can’t seem to comment so I thought I would just replyPersonally I think a lot of the problem stems from an idealised view of what ‘love’ is, and unrealistic expectations of ourselves and partners leaving us unsatisfied and unhappy. The path to ‘true love’ is often painted in film and literature as involving ‘suffering’ ‘journeys’, fraught with difficulty but magical and wonderful after the big transformative event lots of people are ‘settling’ or getting stuck in a rut instead of accepting imperfection in each other properly, challenging one another and working together as a couple. Too much pinning our own happiness on another individual as well. We place so much pressure on ourselves, partners and relationships! Like measuring them in percentages instead of really feeling and engaging. I’m not sure if any of that made sense

  3. 27 April, 2018 / 1:20 pm

    This made me really sad, what a shame she doesn’t feel 100%. I suppose we don’t all the time but hopefully you do when you take those vows or why would you. I have to say I would have felt so awkward and wouldn’t have known what to do! Well done for sitting there xx

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      27 April, 2018 / 1:31 pm

      I couldn’t tear myself away! Like you say, it might not be 100% all the time but you’d hope at least that when you first get married you’d have that level of happiness and love.

  4. Kate
    27 April, 2018 / 5:28 pm

    I would have settled for 70% once my little one came along – maybe even 50%! That would have been a dream compared to the abusive relationship I realised I was in…. I got out…

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      30 April, 2018 / 10:03 am

      Oh gosh Kate, that’s not a good sign when 50% seems like a win! I’m so glad you got out of that relationship and I hope things are better for you now.

  5. 27 April, 2018 / 5:46 pm

    If you asked the old me I would have said absolutely. However, I decided to take a break from dating and fall in love with myself. I wanted to take the time to get to know me. Since I have taken that time, I traveled the world, began my own blog, and have learned so much. No way is 70% acceptable. The problem is that society pressures us to be a couple or we are not whole. I loved this!

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      30 April, 2018 / 10:05 am

      I love this Daniele! I’m REALLY enjoying being single at the moment. I love just hanging out by myself, pottering about, doing fun stuff. And it definitely makes you set your standards higher – someone would have to add a lot of value for me to want to give up all that free times with the cats!

  6. Sarah
    27 April, 2018 / 5:49 pm

    I think myself lucky that I married the love of my life twenty years ago this week. Don’t get me wrong, there are times that I could cheerfully reverse over him (and my best friend has said she’ll help me dispose of the body), but I love him completely. We’ve been together for 24 years, our kids are now 17 and 14, and it occurred to me the other day that in another three or four years, we will be home alone. I’m actually quite excited about being us two again, yet some people I know dread their kids leaving home. I think our love has changed over the years, but then so have we; we have grown up. Most importantly, we are IN love. I can’t imagine how empty it would feel to settle for any less. Life is too short.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      30 April, 2018 / 10:02 am

      This is such a lovely story Sarah. I do think a lot of people just sort of assume that after that long together it’s ‘normal’ to not be IN love any more, so it’s great to hear that this doesn’t have to be the case.

    • Jubemi
      7 May, 2018 / 4:14 pm

      This is so inspiring Sarah. I married the love of my life too but sometimes I worry if we’ll always be this IN love. Thanks for sparking up hope. Hugs

    • Sarah
      23 May, 2018 / 5:52 pm

      This is how I feel, it’s not always perfect by which I mean I don’t always get what I want but I’m happy and beginning to get excited about the things we can do when our boys (the same ages as your children) take the next step into independence. 70% is not enough to get through the tough times surely!!

  7. Susan B
    27 April, 2018 / 6:13 pm

    Another really interesting post. Thank you.

    I suspect that lots of us have put up with 70% or 50% in relationships but the trouble with doing so is that the road to 0% is much shorter if you are starting from those points.

    If you can’t get back to the heady 100% you should have felt when you first got together, why subject yourself to a life of disappointment?

  8. Jonet Middleton
    27 April, 2018 / 8:47 pm

    As you get older I think what you want and need from a relationship changes. Someone who cares about you and is kind, honest and loyal becomes more important than LOVE!

  9. 27 April, 2018 / 10:33 pm

    Everybody has flaws and relationships will have their bumps over the years but in general you should be aiming high and hoping for 95%+ surely?! Life is too short to stay with someone that doesn’t provide happiness, love and laughter the majority of the time… I wonder if her husband rates her at 70% too! Sounds like they lost the spark a long time ago.
    I think a lot of the problem is long term can become routine/boring. Couples often stop putting in the effort they do when they first meet – you should treat your partner how you wish to be treated, flirt with them, take them on dates and make them feel special. Keep things alive or move on when things have died.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      30 April, 2018 / 10:06 am

      From the sounds of it they never really had the spark. I would love to hear the husband’s side of the story though. (Perhaps I’m just nosy…)

  10. 28 April, 2018 / 8:27 am

    Tricky one as every person and every relationship is so insanely different and even varies over time! As long as it’s healthy and you’re mostly happy (we all have rough patches) and there’s nothing undeniably awful going on, it really depends on how YOU feel about it, I suppose.

  11. 28 April, 2018 / 10:04 am

    Very difficult I do feel sorry for the woman. However, one thing I would say is that when life gets in the way, children (sorry I know that sounds negative), job stress, bereavements, money problems etc, it is really easy to lose sight of how you actually feel. How in love you are can feel like less of a priority, especially when its so hard to get any time together. I think most of us are guilty of hankering for the way things are when you first meet someone, to be honest I am guilty of this even though I am probably too old to feel like that.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      30 April, 2018 / 9:59 am

      Yep, totally agree with this, which is why it was especially shocking to hear her say it was how she had always felt – she didn’t seem to have anything to hanker for!

  12. Rebekah
    28 April, 2018 / 11:11 am

    That’s not really fair on the man either is it? Why settle? Why is being in an okay relationship still preferable to being “alone”? I myself will stay single until I feel that being with that other person makes me a better person, someone who I want to face the world with by my side. Relationships are not the be all and end all. Settling is not good for either party. Love is about action. Yes you may not feel loving at all times but you have that solid foundation knowing that no matter what happens you have each other’s back and do love who they are, their essence. If it’s actually love then it will get better if you put the work in. Sorry rant over!

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      30 April, 2018 / 9:58 am

      Yes! Does he feel the same? Or is he blissfully ignorant of her feelings?? It would be really sad either way I think, but imagine he has been going through their life together this whole time thinking she is happy? It’s not fair on anyone is it?

  13. Keri
    28 April, 2018 / 8:54 pm

    Oh dear, this is such a sad read. You should never settle.
    I sometimes wonder if people are too comfortable to rock the boat or if they’re afraid of starting again.
    I wouldn’t be happy with 70% and wouldn’t be happy for my husband to be either. It’s got to be 90-100% for me, and luckily that’s exactly where I am.
    I wonder if this woman talks to her husband or if they’re just co-existing :(

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      30 April, 2018 / 9:57 am

      I really wish I could have heard more of her story! I think you’re right with the 90-100% thing. I know a lot of people might say ‘no one’s perfect’ blah blah but I don’t think it’s about the person being 100%, it’s about them being 100% right for you, and them making you feel 100% about yourself isn’t it?

      • Keri
        30 April, 2018 / 10:04 am

        Yes, it really is xx

  14. lauren
    30 April, 2018 / 10:37 am

    Lets assume woman one only feels one way 1 week of 4 a month. Lets be honest, hormones do that to us. Im certainly a different person 1 week in 4 thanks to my inner visitor. That said then, as NO ONE is constant, no one feels or thinks one way 100% of the time, their perception then, will only be accurate 75% of the time. 75% of a month i can deal with traffic, pins in my hair giving me headache, wet socks and leaky lunch boxes, but that other 25~% i can not deal. I think we should consider what we ourselves are brining to the table. Am i bringing 100% positiveness and happiness? no. likely about 75%. therefore if thats all im giving, i feel that is all i can hope to receive from another, fair is fair. We are all human after all.. Anyone on a quest to find someone 100% right for them are likely going to be disappointing, because no one can be 100%, 100% of the time. men and women are different, im different to who i was a year ago, change happens constantly but if someone is going to commit to a lifetime with another, they are committing to the unknown version of that person, from an unknown version of themselves, if they are unhappy with a choice a different version of themselves made in the past, lets hope no other people were involved in a selfish mistake. Im talking here of course about kids. Because they are the real victims here. unconsentually tied to two people they did not choose, but them themselves were chosen, and had the option to choose. Children of divorce have no choice. We should be mindful about how the choice effect others. Do i think its okay i was selfishly brought into the world to struggle and be told to be grateful whilst i watch my struggling single mum bring up 3 kids alone and want for so much in life she can never have? To have no idea what a loving, mutually respected relationship is? nope. I sincerely hope that woman one can outwardly say, without a doubt, she gives 100%, 100% of the time, to blame another for ones happiness is that the same as a workman blaming his tools for poor workmanship. I feel no sorrow for woman one, i feel empathy for husband of woman one, as he is who he is and if she only loves him partly, how can that be his fault? the only fault it is is her choice to emotionally, physically and financially tier herself to someone she was never sure of. How sad this is now somehow the latters fault. We should take responsibility and accountability for our own decisions, 100% of the time.

    • 30 April, 2018 / 8:30 pm

      He might be a really miserable and horrible person. I think a lot of relationships fall into a pattern which, once set, never changes much, and if you really love each other you’re lucky, but if you don’t and you continue to work to make the other person happy, then they are lucky and, if you’re a parent, you’re probably doing the right thing by trying to make it work. It’s so hard to be in an unhappy relationship, and so hard to be part of a one parent family too. We all just do what we think is best at the time, don’t we, and hope that we’ve made the right decision.

      • lauren
        1 May, 2018 / 1:34 pm

        She might be a really miserable, horrible person. Maybe relationships end up like that because they have the pressure and expectation of ‘making the other person happy’ as you say. I don’t think it should be anyone’s elses responsibility to make another person happy, you’re responsible for your own happiness

  15. 30 April, 2018 / 5:25 pm

    I think I would agree that sometimes it’s 70%, but not all the time otherwise what’s the point of being in a relationship with that person?

    Katie xx
    http://www.amikatie.com

  16. Kat
    1 May, 2018 / 11:33 pm

    But what isn’t mentioned is whether this 39 year old is a mother or not.
    If I was in a relationship that was mostly good but didn’t make my heart skip a beat, and I was childless and I was 39, I’m pretty sure I would have “settled”. The fear of being childless was a very strong driving force for me settling down.
    Also, what even is a 70% relationship? Does she mean, 70% of the time blissfully happy with butterflies when you see him and the rest is mediocre? Or does she mean 70% mediocre and 30% of the time you’re fantasising about shoving him under a bus?

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      2 May, 2018 / 1:18 pm

      Two very good points! I think part of my disappointment at not being able to hear the rest of the conversation was wanting to know exactly how she defined 70% – it’s such an arbitrary thing isn’t it??

  17. 5 May, 2018 / 10:30 pm

    Would I like to feel in love 100% time? Yes of course! Would I like to feel the way I felt about my husband in the first year of your relationship? No-shit Sherlock! Do I think it’s possible to achieve either of these things after 12 years together, running a demanding business, paying a mortgage, raising a toddler, doing up a house, looking after elderly parents etc etc etc… NO I DO NOT! Lordy give me a break, we live in the real world guys. I’ll take 70% any day of the week.

    • Nancy
      22 May, 2018 / 9:30 pm

      Yep, total sense here. Also, I’d like to add that things go up and down in a long term relationship. Stress and hard times make everything hard, including relationships. If we throw in the towel every time our satisfaction dips below 90%, then most relationships wouldn’t stand a chance!

  18. 7 May, 2018 / 1:57 am

    It’s so sad to hear this kind of story especially when woman one felt it the entire time of their relationship. It’s also unfair to the guy who thinks that everything is okay without suspecting (idk) that his wife doesn’t love him in the first place. And I was really hoping that woman two would encourage woman one to at least tell her that she needs a good talk with her husband alone.

  19. Jade
    11 May, 2018 / 10:52 am

    This has been something I have been thinking about a lot recently, I had my little girl 6 months ago, and split with her dad 2.5 months ago, I do love him, but I don’t like him some times. I would say we were 70%, which wasn’t enough for me, but now that we are no longer together I wonder if 70% was better than nothing?
    I am happy now, but I always wonder if we could be happier…

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      11 May, 2018 / 1:01 pm

      I think the grass is always going to seem a bit greener, but I think you have to trust your instincts – it wasn’t enough for you, and you must have felt that while you were in it, so trust that feeling. It’s all too easy to look back afterwards and wonder, but thats because your brain has a way of forgetting the bad stuff. It’s a bit like childbirth – no one would ever do it more than once if we remembered all the pain!

  20. Han
    11 May, 2018 / 10:24 pm

    Did you make this up? If not, it’s a very well remembered conversation you heard.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      12 May, 2018 / 10:21 pm

      No I didn’t! I did type it into my phone notes straightaway afterwards though because I knew I wanted to write about it. I wouldn’t ever just make something up!

  21. Millie
    12 May, 2018 / 7:23 pm

    I don’t think anyone should ‘settle’. You should give your all and so should your partner/husband. If you aren’t prepared to give 100% you are in the wrong relationship.

  22. 13 May, 2018 / 7:41 am

    I’ve been with my husband for 15 years and I can honestly say it’s been 50% or less for the majority of the time. He’s not a bad man, but psychologically the situations he’s gotten us into through leaving jobs and not working over the years has meant that I feel a financial obligation to stay. This has corroded my confidence so I very rarely see friends and constantly have to borrow money from my parents. Due to how the benefits system works, I would either have to leave my kids and support them and my husband with maintenance or sell the house and risk not being able to stay in the area, uprooting them from all they’ve ever known. When you’re nit at each other’s throats all the time, who’s feelings do you put first, yours or your children’s?

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      13 May, 2018 / 8:22 pm

      Oh gosh Lou-Lou, I’m so sorry you find yourself in this situation, it doesn’t sound like it’s much fun for anyone :-( Are you able to talk to your parents about the emotional pressure you’re under as well as the financial? Do you have any friends you can confide in? It sounds awful for you, but very common I’m sure, where you get dragged down by a partner and then feel trapped and unable to do anything about it.

  23. 13 May, 2018 / 8:39 am

    Okay, I’m going to comment on a completely different aspect of this post – the fact that in a hot tub people tend to talk as if nobody else was in ear shot. Why is that? Some people are like that on their mobile phones too, talking about all sorts of things that ought not to be aired in public.
    On one spa trip with a friend, we shared the hot tub with two men who were comparing notes of all the crimes they had committed, how long they had spent in prison for each one, what they were awaiting trial for at the time and how drunk they had been when each one was committed. I’m sure that wasn’t information they should have been sharing in public, in front of strangers. What if one of us had ended up on the jury at one of their trials!

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      13 May, 2018 / 8:19 pm

      Bloody hell, that sounds like a pretty intense conversation! You’re right though, I’d not thought about that, but it was a very private discussion for a very public venue. My Gran always used to talk really loudly in restaurants about the people at the next table, as though the fact of the separate table meant they couldn’t hear anything she said!

  24. Laura
    17 May, 2018 / 8:59 pm

    Hmmm, so I’ve been at 100% (at marriage) then now with two children and a busy complicated life I’d say we’re at 70%. But I’m okay with that because I know it is circumstantial. When we get past teething/potty training etc and can feel like us again I hope 100% will return. But I don’t want to wish the time away either. We are just doing what we can under more challenging circumstances. However much of that missing 30% is tiredness, frustration, confusion, lack of understanding (on both parts) I know that when it comes to the crunch those things won’t really matter. Do we go out together/have sex every night/ hold hands/ exchange I love you’s? Well no. But when I need him truly he is there, and I am his. Not sure where I was going with that! But thank you for the post and even writing that felt cathartic to me! Xx

  25. 19 May, 2018 / 11:57 am

    That’s sad really woman one probably wanted a little encouragement from her friend to encourage her to take the plunge to break up with her husband. It’s hard though when you’re married to break that all up and try to start afresh. although your happiness is what’s important at the end of the day.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      20 May, 2018 / 8:34 pm

      I would love to know – was she looking for her friend to say ‘that’s not right, you’re allowed to be happy’ or was she wanting someone to say ‘suck it up and be happy’? I guess perhaps she didn’t know either.

  26. 22 May, 2018 / 5:56 pm

    I’d settle for 70%
    Firstly time I’ve said it out loud but I think if we were better off financially we wouldn’t be together, I think my husband fell out of love with me a long time ago and we’re just together because of the children and the fact we can’t afford to run two households. It’s sad but I feel like I just get on with it.

  27. Susannah Ruscoe
    22 May, 2018 / 9:22 pm

    Today I sat opposite a man and wife, in their 80’s maybe, who had come to the cafe for lunch together. It was clear she had a degenerative disease as she tentatively used her fork to scoop up small mouth fulls of food and slowly brought it to her mouth with a shaking hand. But every step of the way her husband was there for her, from placing her napkin on her knee, to catching any food that fell. All the same time, eating his own meal and, it seemed to me, ensuring his actions to help her didn’t distract from the time they were spending together.

    It warmed my heart to see a couple so in love. He helping without thought and her such at ease with his attention. They were definitely at 100%, I couldn’t imagine going through any struggles life may throw at my husband and I if we were only 70%.

  28. 2 June, 2018 / 12:36 pm

    I think pre or post children, you have to find a way to be comfortable with your own company so you don’t fall into the trap of pinning your happiness on a relationship with someone else. Relationships can have hard times and that’s easier to weather when you know you’re staying because you’re still in love (regardless of the lustfull honeymoon period or the big gestures). If they can still make you giggle, or even a genuine belly laugh, then you’re still in love. No, you can’t be happy all the time, and you’re partner won’t always know how to help. But to look at the on a daily basis and think “I’m only 70% in love with you“ is gonna show…. In the littlest ways… But they’re the most important ways! If you were with someone you wholeheartedly loved and got the impression they only loved you 70% back, you’d stop making the effort to make them as happy, purely as a subconscious preservation tactic to prevent from having your feelings trampled all over. Going it alone is always scary, but it’s much better to love yourself, your own company and your life than make 2 people live an unforfilled life full of regrets and what if’s. And if you’re a parent, it’s even more important to teach your children what honest love looks like, or how will they find it and they’re own happiness when they grow up?

  29. Another Emma Louise
    28 June, 2018 / 2:30 pm

    Have we ever flipped the coin over and asked men if they’re settling for us? I feel there’s a lot of arrogance on some women’s parts as to how special they feel they are. If we feel we deserve some kind of perfection then we ought to be perfect too. I don’t see my relationship as settling but I know I’m not the world’s best catch either. I don’t iron or do many of the old-fashioned chores a man might hope his partner will do. I have lots of grand plans but I don’t always see them through. I’m overweight now and I hog the chocolates. And I’m reasonable to look at but no model.

    All I’m saying is that we need to look in the mirror and be realistic if we want to find happiness. I have a wonderfully caring partner who has a handsome face. He’s shit at housework and is very overweight but he loves me and the children. We have a lot of good times. We enjoy many of the same interests and he is loyal. Is he my 100%? No. But am I his? I doubt it. Do we love each other? Yes enough to hopefully make it through long term and I think we’re doing well as a result.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      29 June, 2018 / 6:51 am

      I totally agree with you, and if it had been two men sat in that hot tub I would feel exactly the same. It wasn’t really about gender for me, or wanting a man to be a particular way, it was more about the sadness and disappointment that were clear in this person’s tone. Plus I don’t think it’s really to do with being perfect, of course no one is perfect, but you could be with someone who doesn’t do half the things that the perfect person does on paper and still be 100% happy with them.

  30. Hayley
    28 June, 2018 / 8:13 pm

    I’ve been married for 29 years and even after that long would settle for nothing leas than 100%. If you do you are selling yourself short and life is hard enough to be short on anything. Love with all your heart or don’t love at all.

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