My dear, long-time friend called me this past weekend, very upset, because she and her long-term boyfriend had had a fight. They have two recurring fights, and they are also going through major life transitions (ending grad school, moving together, trying to find jobs, etc.). All of that alone is enough to make two people go a little bananas (I can attest to that, too). Add in some recurring fights, that never seem to resolve satisfactorily, and you're bound to feel at least a little upset, depressed, frustrated, and unsure about yourself and your relationship.
My friend told me: Sometimes I just don't know if this is the right choice for me. I've only ever been with him. I don't have anything to compare my relationship with him to. I don't know if we're just trying to force two puzzle pieces together when we shouldn't be. How do you know if you are as happy as you can be? What if there is a better fit for me somewhere else? How do you know? What if I just wonder my whole life if I settled for this?
When J and I started dating, he and I had a handful of pretty heated conversations in which he asked me those same questions: How do you know when to stop looking for a better fit, a better partner, someone with whom you are even more happy?
My response then, and my response now, was: if you are happy now, you should keep doing what you're doing. If you're not happy, then change something.
(Looking back on these conversations, J and I see what was going on: I was threatened hearing him question his happiness with me, and he was freaking out about a potential lifelong monogamous relationship starting, for him, at age 17.)
I listened to my dear friend and offered emotional support. The things I didn't tell her on the phone, but wanted to (she wasn't really calling for advice):
You and your boyfriend have been together since high school; you are both each other's only romantic partner ever. You both deserve the chance to meet, get to know, and discover other people to have the knowledge about what kinds of people you are compatible with. I don't know if this means that you two would have to break up in order to go through this discovery process; ideally, you could do it together. But wondering your whole life if you just "settled" sounds crappy. You need to make a choice: choose to focus on the positive aspects of your relationship and go with it, or negotiate a change with your partner. In my experience, relationship satisfaction goes way, way up once you have a more solid idea that the partner you are with is someone you are highly compatible with (and if you discover you aren't as compatible as you thought you were, then you can make a choice about who you want to be with a in long-term relationship). If you are happy, genuinely happy, for the most part in your relationship, and if the crummy times are worth all of the happy times, then stick with it. Count yourself lucky that you created such an awesome relationship so early in your life. Be open to change and to the ever-changing dynamics of your partner and your relationship. Welcome change and be open to negotiation so that your relationship and love can be open your changing needs and desires as you grow together.