Double Standards: How to Identify and Avoid Them in Relationships

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A double standard in a relationship occurs when an individual has certain expectations of their partner but does not believe the same expectation should be applied to them. They are unfair expectations that can harm a relationship.

Double standards can appear in different aspects of the relationship such as finances, physical appearance, and sexual behaviors. Read on to understand examples, signs, and harms of double standards and how to avoid them with your partner.

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. However, once disagreements begin, we realize how our values, beliefs, and priorities differ.

A good relationship requires mutual respect, effective communication and compassion. However, if you or your partner holds double standards for the other, it can be a sign of trouble. Anyone can have double standards in a relationship; it’s not limited to age, gender or ethnicity. It’s important to be aware of these in yourself and your partner so that you can work together in addressing them and building a happier and healthier relationship.

To help you identify whether there are double standards in your relationship, here are some common examples:


Your partner expects you to save money, spend less, pay off bills and be frugal with your purchases; however, they spend frivolously, buy things without much thought and are racking up a ton of debt. 

Another example is your partner wants you to give them complete transparency with your expenses but stays tightlipped on their own spending.

Physical Appearance 

Your partner expects you to stay slim, work out regularly, and eat a balanced diet. They make comments about your weight and changes in your 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 your partner being critical of your clothing choices and how you present yourself while they don't put the same effort into their own appearance or allow you to set the expectations for them.

Dating and Sexual Behavior

In terms of sexual behavior, there are double standards in relationships that have been shown to be specific to gender. For instance, a man who has a colorful past with many sexual experiences may judge their female partner negativelyd for having a similarly rich sexual history. 

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.

One study looked at gendered attitudinal patterns as it relates to casual sex or “hooking up.” It analyzed the data from the Online College Social Life Survey to assess students’ perceptions on the matter. Although the results showed that almost half the respondents lost respect for both genders for having a lot of casual sex, the men were more likely to hold traditional double standards than the women.

Gender double standards may be due to parenting attitudes. A paper looked at how differences in parenting sons and daughters affect courtship and family formation. It showed that parents had significantly more permissive attitudes toward a son’s courtship behavior such as dating, having sex and cohabiting than toward a daughter.

In addition, parents were more likely to expect sons than daughters to marry later in life, and prioritize work over marriage. It concluded that gender double standards in parenting may contribute to gender differences in social behavior.

Dealing With Conflict

Your partner accuses you of never listening but will constantly interrupt you when you’re talking and tell you they don’t have time to hear about your side of the story.

Your partner uses the silent treatment when they are upset with you. They stonewall and withdraw as a way to deal with their anger. However, when you are angry at them and feel frustrated and anxious, they force you to tell them what you’re thinking even when you’ve asked them to give you time and space to process your emotions.

Social Lives

Your partner believes they can flirt with anyone they want because they are outgoing and friendly or it’s part of their job; however, when you do it, they get upset, telling you that you are being disrespectful and accusing you of cheating.

Another example is if your heterosexual partner asks you 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 your partner asks you to never share what they’ve told you privately with others but then turns around and discloses your secret with a friend, they are holding a double standard in your 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.

You may be doing things that you don’t want to do as a way to appease your partner so they stay in the relationship. Your relationship doesn’t feel stable; instead, you’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.

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 being physically or verbally abused, there is help. It is never okay for a person to treat you this way. Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 866-331-9474 or 866-331-8453 (TDD). Support is available 24/7, 7 days a week.

How to Address 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.

Sometimes, a person may not be aware that they hold these standards until their partner brings it up. Having open and honest conversations with your partner can help them understand your feelings as well as give you an opportunity to learn about the context and circumstances of their behavior and needs.

Here are some tips on how to address 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 organized 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 counseling: 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.

It’s important to recognize double standards in relationships, as they can be detrimental and harmful. At the extreme, they can be a form of emotional abuse. If your partner is holding you to expectations that they do not hold for themselves, it’s important to discuss the issue with them so that you can work together on a solution.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine is the author of three books (How To Deal With Asian Parents, A Brutally Honest Dating Guide and A Straight Up Guide to a Happy and Healthy Marriage) and the creator of 60 Feelings To Feel: A Journal To Identify Your Emotions. She has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system.