Are you settling in your relationship?
According to Dean C. Delis, author of The Passion Trap, every relationship has a reacher and a settler.
A reacher is the “one-down” partner who is dating someone who is somewhat out of their league. The settler is the “one-up” partner who could do better, but is choosing not to.
Masculine energy (which is quick to categorize things as cut and dry either/or scenarios) loves being able to think of things through such narrow lenses. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to be able to consider one person in a relationship as the “one-up” partner and the other as the “one-down?”
Feminine energy (which is creative, flexible, and ever-changing) sees the nuance in relationships. No pairing of people should be forever stuck in one way of being.
Men’s self-help (which The Passion Trap‘s limiting definitions falls under) often gravitates towards this overly black and white dichotomy of “this is exactly how things are, with no variation.” In chasing after certainty, subtlety and nuance gets lost.
And honestly, the idea that one partner in any given relationship will eternally be settling sounds pretty depressing.
So here’s my updated, more balanced take on the reacher/settler debate.
1. You Reach And Settle In Different Ways
Relationships are multi-faceted. One of you might feel that the other is more physically attractive. Maybe your partner brings more emotional durability to the table. Perhaps you have a lot of direction in life, and your partner benefits from this more than you benefit from hers.
Thanks to the cognitive bias of selective attention, when you decide to believe that you are “the settler” in your relationship, you will pick up feedback from your environment that will reinforce this belief. You will criticize things that your partner does to justify your feelings of superiority.
She accidentally forgets to put away the jar of mayo? It will appear that a horrible transgression has been committed. Her fumbling of a joke’s punch line will seem like the faux pas-iest of faux pas. She leaves her dirty clothes on the floor (and not in the hamper) and it will represent a personal affront to you and your awesomeness.
Get off your high horse, take a look at your relationship through clear eyes, and realize that you both bring value to each other’s lives in different ways.
2. You Take Turns In Each Role
If you are always the reacher and she is always the settler then neither of you are growing.
When you first started dating, you might have felt like you were seeing someone way out of your league. So what did you do? You chose to grow. You wanted to meet her on her level. You sorted your life out, started exercising more, started crushing it in business, and just generally became a more competent and amazing human being.
After a while, she sensed that you were growing and she didn’t want to fall behind. She was inspired by you and your drive.
So what did she do? She followed suit and continued to up the ante.
And just as easily as you could describe this as a reacher/settler swapping of roles, I would attribute this to an alternating divide of comfort and growth phases.
When you are the reacher, you are in a growth phase. You are pushing to be your absolute best.
The word settler seems poisonous to be keeping track in such a competitive frame… let’s go with encourager.
When you are an encourager, you help your partner by supporting them in their growth phase. You see how much work they are putting into their health/wealth/fulfillment and you are on the sidelines cheering as loud as you can.
The truly thriving relationship exists when you can take on both roles as a reacher and an encourager. You are both simultaneously building and advancing yourself, while encouraging your partner to grow.
3. Either Role Is Based On Individual Perspective
Whether you see yourself as the reacher or the settler can also fluctuate on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.
You might both think that you’re the reacher in your relationship on your best days (“I am so lucky to be with such an amazing person”) or, during a heated argument, you might both momentarily think that you’re the settler (“She is so lucky to be with such an amazing person”).
Does The Reacher Settler Debate Have Any Merit?
I believe there is value in the reacher settler model when it forces someone to realize that they are continually dating below their potential.
Being with someone that you feel doesn’t challenge you in any way is not a relationship that is benefiting you or your partner. You will grow to resent her and she will feel like she is walking on egg shells around you. She will take care to not disturb the delicate dynamic between the two of you for fear that you will leave her.
Let her go, and find someone that you feel more appropriately challenges you in becoming the best version of you that ever lived.
Which Are You – The Reacher Or The Settler?
Beliefs are powerful things. Whichever role you assume yourself to be captaining, your environment and relationship will seem to reinforce that.
Would you rather have resentment towards your partner in assuming that you’re too good for her, or be motivated towards constant growth in assuming that you might need to level up in certain areas to match her?
The choice, as always, is yours
Dedicated to your success,
Ps. This debate was also further popularized by the TV show How I Met Your Mother, so if this all sounds familiar and you haven’t read Delis’s book, this would be why.