In our world today we strive for perfection. We all have a list in our heads and want our partners to be exactly as we imagined “the one” should be.

Having different sets of preferences, likes and dislikes, we’re all attracted to different things. The person you end up with never checks all the boxes, however, sometimes, when they come close, the idea of them becomes the selling point. There’s a lot to consider when selecting your life mate. Maybe you’re in love with someone, but half the boxes aren’t checked, or you feel your age creeping up on you, your family is hounding you, you feel social pressure or you’re just tired of being alone. You may end up in a relationship with the next person you meet, or the person who looks great on paper; but are they “the one?” Perhaps you’re with someone you love, but feel certain things are “off,” or their behavior has unhealthy effects on you, however, you want a relationship so badly you convince yourself you can deal with these things. If somewhere inside there is a voice that constantly questions your happiness, listen to it, it’s time to reevaluate.

Some people are OK with “good enough.” Some want passionate love and are willing to sacrifice certain things, like financial stability, to have it. Some could care less about feeling passionately toward someone and care more about stability. These are just some examples. I am not here to tell you who or what to choose or do, I am here to tell you it’s important to figure out what you value most so you can determine whether you are settling or not. Compromise and settling are often paired together and perceived in a negative light. But they are not the same thing and it’s imperative to recognize the difference. Your life may depend on it.

No person or relationship is perfect. The choice of what you do and don’t accept, what you are willing to accommodate and what you refuse to deal with and why, is what really differentiates their meanings. Understanding the difference between your needs and your wants is key to recognizing whether you are settling or compromising. What’s most important to you? Compromise is choosing to accept traits or issues you feel you can be flexible toward, because all other aspects of your partner and relationship satisfy you. Settling is compromising your needs. When you settle, your happiness is at stake. When you compromise, you are choosing to tolerate certain things to achieve and maintain a beneficial outcome.

Settling is making do with less. Compromising is accepting less of one thing in return for more of another. If you stay in a relationship because you are afraid of being alone or that you will never find a love like this again, that is not compromise. If you compromise on something that is fundamental to the way you believe, feel or self-identify, then you’re “settling” for something less than what you deserve.

If your partner hits you or abuses you emotionally, staying with him or her is not a compromise. If your partner wants to change you into something you are not, to make you give up your way of life, your beliefs, your friends, your family or simply does not respect what you have achieved in life or want to achieve, staying with them is not a compromise. If there are many amazing things about the person you love, with a few really irritating things you feel you can bear in order to enjoy the amazing things, that’s a compromise. Giving in to something to get more. Relationships take work, compromise and sacrifice to stay together.

The truest, most satisfying love comes from knowing a person’s every flaw and choosing to love them anyway. This kind of love comes from acceptance. It cannot come from us selfishly and inflexibly holding onto our ideas of a perfect mate. But pushing aside what is unacceptable to you is no way to go through life either.

Ask yourself, what are your deal breakers, the things you cannot and will not negotiate, and what are you willing to be flexible with in a person. Does your relationship bring you happiness or do you wake up wishing to be someone else every day? Compromising is accepting the things you could do without because it means you get to have many other things that you need and want. Only you can determine what is acceptable and unacceptable.

Be careful not to be so afraid of settling that you are incapable of compromising; be aware of what matters most in order to stay true to yourself while remaining flexible enough to allow someone special to enter and stay in your life.