Tough times often make us choose or stay with partners we might not select when our lives are more stable. Increased family responsibilities and long hours at work leave less time and energy to meet new potential dates and mates. Furthermore the economic downturn puts greater financial burdens on singles and main earners.

While you might re-discover the fine qualities in your partner, be careful—crises can make a warm body seem better than no one at all.  So how do you know if you are grasping or simply thriving in love?  Every situation is different.  Here are some tips to help you assess your relationship.

1. Know the difference between settling and making healthy compromises and trade offs.

No relationship is perfect.  You can't get everything you need from one person. This advice is both good and bad.  It can lead you to settle, especially if your parents' marriage consisted of one partner not asking enough for him or herself.

Solution:  Step back, ask yourself these questions and see what you learn. 

  • Would I be happy if my sibling, parent or child chose someone like my partner?
  • What example have my parents set in their marriage about over-accepting versus team-work?
  • Do I feel that for now we've made "sound enough" decisions that take into account both of our needs as much as possible?
  • What else do you need to discuss?

2. Do not tolerate abuse or serious insensitivities because of your unique situation.

It's understandable that you might not be able to rock the relationship boat for financial or family reasons, but that is no excuse for allowing for maltreatment. 

Solution: Here are some solutions that my clients have used. Evaluate these carefully.  No two situations are the same.

  • Get psychological counseling.
  • Get financial assistance.
  • Agree to live under one roof-but not as a couple.
  • Break up anyway, but make sure you make parenting arrangements.
  • Look for a new job.
  • Take on another part-time job.
  • Ask your family for help.

3.  Don't let your biological clock or your life phase make you stay in your relationship.

Too many couples remain together or get married because of life's key events. Women might feel it's now or never to get pregnant.  Suddenly, that guy you've been dating looks like a "good enough" to be your partner.  Sometimes, you may discover that now that schooling is over, that work is steady, and that time is marching on, the logical next step is to get married. 

Couples who have been living together or dating for a long time frequently feel that breaking up is more difficult than getting married.  They rationalize that they "know" the person or that they can't really find a good reason to end it.  As the emotional investment lengthens in time, ending the relationship becomes more difficult.  Often, they have to get married so they can divorce. Marriage carries greater expectations and commitment, and you might discover that you can not fulfill these requirements with your partner.

Solution: Ask yourself these key questions:

  • Have I just put one foot in front of the other and gone along with what seems like the logical next step?
  • Have we gone back and forth over whether to get married?
  • Do I hear loud ticking from my biological clock?
  • Are my parents pressuring me to find someone or get married?
  • Am I tired of dating?

4.  Don't let a crisis lead you to cling to someone.

It's easy to feel as though you've fallen in love when you're in a crisis.  Often, relationships can ease the pain of bad experiences such as death of a loved one or a health scare. Yet, once we are more emotionally strong, we sometimes wake up to find ourselves with a partner we would not have necessarily chosen. Other times, we make wise choices that can last.

Solution: Here are some tips to help you evaluate your situation.

  • Don't rush into marriage or other legal arrangements such as buying a home together.
  • Wait at least six months after you've recovered enough from your loss or crisis to see what your partner is like.
  • If possible, try to let your relationship time line cover both good and bad times. The partner who felt needed during your tough times might not feel needed enough when you get your life back on course.

5. Know your bottom line needs.

Most of us have dreams of what a perfect life and a perfect mate might include.  But fantasies are not needs. Needs are formed by a combination of your personality, family background and life experiences.  There's nothing to be embarrassed about if you need an easy-going person or a decision-maker, for example. Emotional needs are neutral. One of the tasks of adulthood, however, is to know your unique needs.

Solution: Here are some ways to find out what yours are.

  • Look back over your past relationships. Think about what was missing in each one.
  • Think about what your family and life experiences have taught you about yourself and your needs.
  • Make a list of your bottom line needs.
  • If you are not sure about the difference between wants and needs, go to counseling to learn about your bottom line needs.