Home Family & Relationship The Dangers of Double Standards in Relationships: How to Recognise and Address Them

The Dangers of Double Standards in Relationships: How to Recognise and Address Them

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Relationships require mutual respect, effective communication, and compassion. But when one partner holds double standards for the other, it can be a sign of trouble. A double standard in a relationship occurs when one person has expectations for their partner that they do not hold for themselves.

These expectations can be unfair and can harm the relationship. Double standards can manifest in various areas of a relationship, such as finances, physical appearance, and sexual behaviour. 

Examples of double standards in relationships

When we start dating someone and enter a relationship, we don’t always consciously think about our expectations. We’re sharing our life with someone we love, trust, and care about.

But once disagreements begin, we realise how our values, beliefs, and priorities differ. Here are some common examples of double standards in relationships:

  • Finances. One partner expects the other to save money, spend less, pay off bills, and be frugal with their purchases. But they themselves spend frivolously, buy things without much thought, and are racking up a ton of debt. Another example is one partner wanting complete transparency with their partner’s expenses but staying tight-lipped on their own spending.
  • Physical appearance. One partner expects the other to stay slim, work out regularly, and eat a balanced diet. They make comments about their partner’s weight and changes in their body shape and size. However, they don’t hold themselves to the same expectations, living a couch potato lifestyle and consuming less nutritious foods. Another example is one partner being critical of their partner’s clothing choices and how they present themselves while not putting the same effort into their own appearance or allowing their partner to set expectations for them.
  • Dating and sexual behaviour. Gender double standards can occur in relationships, such as judging a partner negatively for their sexual history while having a colourful past oneself. Another example is if a woman is very upset when their male partner says no to sex, they may question his libido or even accuse him of having an affair. However, when the shoe is on the other foot, they may expect a man to understand that they are tired or simply not in the mood because it is more socially accepted that women are the “gatekeepers” of their sexuality.
  • Dealing with conflict. One partner accuses the other of never listening but will constantly interrupt them when they’re talking and tell them they don’t have time to hear about their side of the story. One partner uses the silent treatment when they are upset with the other. They stonewall and withdraw as a way to deal with their anger. However, when the other partner is angry at them and feels frustrated and anxious, they force them to tell them what they’re thinking even when they’ve asked them to give them time and space to process their emotions.
  • Social lives. One partner believes they can flirt with anyone they want because they are outgoing and friendly or it’s part of their job. However, when the other partner does it, they get upset, telling them that they are being disrespectful and accusing them of cheating. Another example is if a partner asks the other to end friendships with the opposite sex and they justify it by saying they can lead to infidelity; however, they’re allowed to have friendships with anyone. If a partner asks the other to never share what they’ve told them privately with others but then turns around and discloses their secret with a friend, they are holding a double standard in the relationship.

Signs of double standards in relationships

One of the best ways to know if you have double standards in your relationship is to assess how you feel. When you’re with your partner, you may feel like you have to watch what you say, do, and behave. You may be afraid to speak up, share your feelings, and voice your opinions as they can upset your partner. You don’t feel good enough for your partner. You may feel confused about how they treat you, especially when they are supposed to love and care about you. You feel trapped in their words and controlled by them; you feel it’s unfair that they are allowed to do certain things but you aren’t. You sense a constant power differential between you two.

Another sign of double standards in a relationship is when one partner is doing things they don’t want to do as a way to appease the other partner so they stay in the relationship. The relationship doesn’t feel stable; instead, they’re constantly on an emotional roller coaster.

Harms of double standards in relationships

Double standards in relationships can be a form of emotional abuse. Abusive partners may use them as a way to manipulate their partner and gain power and control in the relationship. This can lead to power imbalances, control issues, and a lack of trust in the relationship. It is crucial to seek help if you are experiencing physical or verbal abuse in a relationship. Here are some signs of an abusive relationship:

  • Your partner has forced you to have sex or perform sexual acts when you didn’t want to.
  • Your partner acts extremely jealous and constantly accuses you of cheating on them.
  • Your partner controls your decisions, such as what you wear, what you eat, what you spend money on, or what medication you take.
  • Your partner keeps an eye on everything you do and who you spend time with. They monitor your social media use and prevent you from hanging out with your friends or family.

If you are experiencing physical or verbal abuse in the UK, you can seek help by contacting the National Domestic Abuse Helpline at 0808 2000 247. The helpline provides free, confidential support and information to anyone affected by domestic abuse, including family members, friends, and professionals. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

In the US, you can seek help by contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). The hotline provides free, confidential support and information to anyone affected by domestic violence, including survivors, friends, and family members. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

In Australia, you can seek help by contacting 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732. This is the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service in Australia. They provide confidential and free counselling, information, and support to anyone impacted by sexual assault, or domestic, or family violence. The helpline is available 24/7.

In Canada, you can seek help by contacting the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 or TTY 1-866-863-7868. The helpline provides free, confidential, and non-judgmental support, information, and referrals to women experiencing violence or abuse. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

In Ireland, you can seek help by contacting the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline at 1800 341 900. The helpline provides free, confidential support and information to women experiencing domestic violence, as well as their family members and friends. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Solutions for addressing double standards with your partner(s)

Whether someone is intentionally or unintentionally holding them, double standards can ruin relationships. If they are not addressed, double standards can erode trust, destroy intimacy, and create resentment between partners, leading to a breakup or divorce. Here are some solutions for addressing double standards in your relationship:

  • Think through what you will say. Take the time to write down exactly what you want your partner to know. Have examples of the double standards that they’ve given you. Having your thoughts organised can help make the conversation less volatile as you feel more comfortable and prepared to express yourself.
  • Manage your emotions. When you start talking about the issues, your partner will most likely act defensive. You may feel the urge to raise your voice, use threats, or even stonewall them. These are ineffective ways of communication. Instead, stay calm and speak in a normal tone while focusing on conveying your own feelings.
  • Set clear boundaries. Remember you can say no to your partner even if it makes them unhappy. Be assertive, clear, and direct so they understand your boundaries.
  • Don’t do it over text. While texting may seem like an easier or more convenient way to communicate, it is not a good idea to talk about this via a digital device. It’s better to talk about it face-to-face.
  • Seek couples counselling. Therapy can help you and your partner understand each other better, give you communication tools to connect, and address double standards so that you can rebuild trust and integrity in the relationship again.

Final thoughts

Double standards in relationships can be detrimental and harmful, leading to emotional abuse and power imbalances. It’s important to recognise and address them early on before they cause irreparable damage to the relationship. Double standards can appear in different aspects of the relationship such as finances, physical appearance, and sexual behaviors.

Examples of double standards in relationships include expecting your partner to save money and be frugal with purchases while you spend frivolously, expecting your partner to maintain a certain physical appearance while not holding yourself to the same standards, and being critical of your partner’s dating and sexual behavior while not applying the same standards to yourself.

Signs of double standards in relationships include feeling like you have to watch what you say or do around your partner, feeling confused about how your partner treats you, and feeling trapped and controlled in the relationship.

Double standards can be a form of emotional abuse in relationships, so it’s important to seek help if you’re experiencing physical or verbal abuse.

To address double standards with your partner, it’s important to think through what you want to say, manage your emotions, set clear boundaries, and seek couples counseling if needed.

A healthy and happy relationship requires mutual respect, effective communication, and compassion. It’s important to be aware of double standards in yourself and your partner so that you can work together to address them and build a happier and healthier relationship.


Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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