THE BLOG
12/29/2011 05:09 pm ET Updated Feb 28, 2012

Did You Settle When You Picked Your Partner?

Pamela and I interview people about their worst relationship choices (podcast at iTunes and www.mypickerisbroken.com). In one of our recent interviews, Brian, a 43 year old man that had been married for 12 years, told us his story.

I couldn't tell if Brian or his ex-wife sold themselves short...but somebody, maybe both of them, did.

Here's what Brian said.

BRIAN: When I meet and start dating Sara, I can't believe this educated, great person likes me. She's nice to me. She does nice things for me. That's a new thing for me, a woman being so good to me. I'm just a dumb jock, but she really likes me. We keep going out and she's GREAT. But here's the problem...she's not hot. She's attractive. She's super fun. She's smart, but she's not hot.

I know it sounds terrible, I wish it wasn't true, but physical appearance matters to me. I didn't want to be that guy, I wanted to love her for what was on the inside...and I did, but...

Anyway, we had been dating about a year and half and I go on a business trip. 3 days at a resort and it seems like every woman I see there is more beautiful than the last. I keep thinking when I get home I gotta break up with Sara. I'm attracted to her, but not in the way I know I should be.

When I talk to Sara about breaking up, without mentioning the real reason, she's not having it. She says that whatever my problem is we can deal with it together.

We go to a couples' therapist and I do love her. She's great to me, in so many ways. So I go for it, because I DO love her.

A year later, we get married.

We're married 6 months and she's put on about 25 pounds. It was tough; I had always said fitness was important to me. It felt like she was testing me. I didn't want her weight to bother me, but it did.

She had to go on a business trip and all the way to the airport; she keeps hammering me about her weight.

Is it okay? Is it? Are you attracted to me? Non-stop, she won't let it go.

I keep telling her I love her. She's beautiful. I married her because I love her.

"Yeah, but do you WANT me?"

Yes, I want her. But she just keeps getting louder and madder. I'm driving in LA traffic without A/C. I'm in over my head. I'm 26, married 6 months, I'm trapped in that beat-up, overheated car and it's getting LOUD! I'm fucked!

And I was fucked, because she figured it out. She knew what I didn't know yet.

She deserved someone that thought she was the cat's meow. And I did, in lots of important ways. She was kind...loving...generous and I knew it. I tried to show her how much I appreciated all it.

But I couldn't or didn't want her in the way she needed...or deserved. She needed someone that couldn't keep their hands off her. I was never gonna be that guy, and she knew it way- WAY- before I did. To her credit she stuck around a long time trying to make it work for us.

We made it 12 years and we had a lot of good times.

Fuck, I don't know. I know; I loved her. We both tried our best. I don't know...it killed me when she left.

For a long time, I thought she was a quitter. But now I realize it must have been horrible feeling like I wanted something she couldn't give me. Now I can see it took a lot of courage for her to leave.

I had no idea about any of this stuff until I went to therapy. Appearance, fitness, whatever you call it, is important to me. I needed to accept that whether I liked it or not.

All that's a little too heavy (no pun intended) for me, here's what Pamela had to say about Brian's story:

Brian sounds conflicted, caught between what he wants and what he wants to want. This is not uncommon, we want to "do the right thing" rather than accept our own weaknesses. Some might think of it as settling.

Most everyone settles to some degree, no one is perfect, it comes down to what you can live with. What are you willing to give up to get what you must have?

Typically we don't focus on the small sacrifices. When we talk about settling we're talking about a compromise someone has made that they wouldn't usually make. Brian states that even though physical appearance was very important to him, he "went for it" with Sara because she was great in so many other ways.

So why would Brian settle? Make such an unexpected concession? It sounds as though he did it unintentionally and he consciously thought he was getting what he wanted; a nice woman and not letting physical attraction rule his decision.

Brian may have done what many of us do; enter a relationship for something other than romance. Sometimes we unconsciously use relationships to try to heal ourselves, heal our past. When we do this it often doesn't work because once one partner has healed the necessary part of themselves they no longer have the same need for the relationship.

In this relationship, Brian was obviously getting something he needed (kindness, love, acceptance). It was only after it ended that he came to accept physical appearance and fitness were deal breakers for him and what he got from Sara was not enough or perhaps had been healed.

What are the deal breakers for you in a relationship? Can you live with whatever compromise you make long term? Be honest.

Remember, most likely the things that bother you in the beginning will only seem more vexing as time goes on and no one is perfect.