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Avoiding Double Standards In Relationships

Written by Sarah Norman

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Feb 14, 2024, 10 min read

All relationships bring together people who may have very different backgrounds, morals, life goals and more. When these elements of our character differ, it can cause various conflicts and issues that must be resolved in order to continue seeing eye to eye. 

Avoiding Double Standards In Relationships

Here, we are taking a closer look at how double standards affect romantic relationships, including common examples, why they occur, the signs that they could be present in your relationship, why they are a problem, how to avoid or handle them when they arise, and when to seek external support or therapy to address them. At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest, so if you have questions about navigating tricky issues in relationships, we’re here to help. 

What are double standards? 

Double standards are a set of principles, rules or expectations applied to one person or group of people, but not to another. Holding one group or individual to a different standard than another – even when the circumstances are similar – often results in inconsistency and feelings of unfairness. Double standards can manifest in various ways, and someone might experience them in the context of things like their gender, social status, race, religion or something else. 

What are double standards in the context of romantic relationships?

Double standards can exist on a societal level which can lead to unequal treatment and contribute to instances of inequality and discrimination, but they can also exist in individual relationships where hypocritical behaviour may start to cause deep-rooted issues for the people involved.  

In romantic relationships, double standards come into play when one person has different expectations of the other, behaviours they think are acceptable, or rules they implement for the other person but not for themselves. While double standards can apply to anyone, often they are put upon partners based on their gender, social roles, or other factors. 

Learning how to manage and address instances of double standards can help couples reach a mutual understanding and move towards a stronger, healthier relationship. 

Why do double standards exist? 

Societal expectations can perpetuate these double standards based on things like:

  • Traditional gender roles
  • Early life experiences 
  • Familial beliefs 
  • Unequal power structures
  • Ingrained cognitive biases and stereotypes 
  • Discrimination 
  • Societal attitudes and conditioning 

When an individual unconsciously holds expectations for certain people based on their gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or something else, it can shape how these individuals and groups are perceived and treated, and can lead to problems such as feelings of resentment and imbalance. Addressing double standards by challenging beliefs and advocating for equal standards can help to shift any imbalances. 

What are double standards in relationships?

What are some examples of double standards?

There are many examples of double standards within wider society, such as:

  • At work between colleagues – Many studies have shown the differences in treatment between female colleagues as opposed to male. For example, in the financial advisory industry, one study found female advisers were 20% more likely to lose their jobs and 30% less likely to find new ones, compared to male advisers. 
  • In families when raising children Early emotional conditioning within families can lead to people growing up with differences in the way they parent their own children, for example, exhibiting double standards and opposing methods of relating to each child within the family.
  • In schools between peer groups – It has been found that students’ academic achievements are influenced by how their abilities are perceived by peers, and studies find lower status social groups affected by stereotypes had a lower perception of ability.

Double standards can look like unequal treatment by the application of one set of rules for one group and another set of rules for another, inconsistency in the enforcement of those rules based on the specifics of the people involved, justifying the behaviour of one person while condemning another for the same behaviours, and more. In the context of romantic relationships, double standards can manifest in a number of ways. Here are some of the areas that can show signs of double standards within a relationship:

Financial matters

This could be if one partner expects the other to save money, limit spending or pay all bills, while spending recklessly themselves. Perhaps one partner expects the other to provide full transparency on their finances but does not disclose their own. Or in a heterosexual relationship the man may be expected to pay, and could be seen as rude if he asks to split the bill equally. The way money is handled in a relationship can be a strong indicator of underlying double standards. 

Social attitudes

The way partners interact with people outside of the relationship can shine a light on double standards. Perhaps one partner believes it is acceptable to flirt with other people but gets upset when their counterpart does the same. Or in a heterosexual relationship one partner may insist on the other ending friendships with people of the opposite sex due to jealousy, while maintaining their own opposite-sex friendships. Or perhaps one partner is expected to stay tight-lipped about relationship problems, while their partner has been asking friends for advice on the same issues. 

Managing conflict

Arguments often air out some of the underlying feelings within relationships, and can reveal double standards. If one partner accuses another of not listening but constantly interrupts, or raises their voice but doesn’t like it when they are spoken to in the same way, these are examples of double standards. Conflict can lead to things like the silent treatment, gaslighting or denial, and while these things are unhelpful during conflict, they are especially difficult to navigate if only one partner exhibits these behaviours and expects the other not to. 

Double standards can arise during conflict management

Sexual behaviours

Differences in sexual behaviour can highlight double standards within a relationship, particularly due to societal expectations of how men and women ‘should’ act. For example, a woman with many previous sexual partners may be judged as provocative, while a man with the same number of sexual partners may be celebrated. Studies have found that double standards exist within relationships when women are judged for sexual behaviours or attitudes that men can openly exhibit without judgement.

Family roles

Many relationship issues arise from things like managing household chores, childcare, and other joint responsibilities. Double standards can become apparent in these circumstances when, for example, one partner is expected to take care of household chores because they spend more time there, or expected to look after the children even if both partners are exhausted. Gender stereotypes often come into play here, with studies finding employed women spend around 2.3 hours a day on housework, while employed men spend around 1.6 hours a day. 

Wider community

The way partners treat each other’s families and friends can offer insight into double standards within a relationship. This might look like one person wanting to spend a lot of time with their own family but avoiding their partner’s family, or one partner speaking badly about the other’s friends, but becoming defensive when the same issues are brought up about their own friends. 

Physical appearance

Studies have looked at the concept of ‘aesthetic capital’ which is the idea that physical appearance can impact the treatment someone receives, and this can come into play in relationships in a number of ways. Double standards may exist when one partner is expected to stay slim or dress a certain way, while the other doesn’t want similar demands placed on them. 

Decision making

Double standards can arise when decisions must be made within a relationship, such as where the couple should live or how children should be raised. Often traditional gender roles can result in men making the decisions and women being expected to agree without having their own input. While this old fashioned outlook is less common in today’s society, it may still exist in more subtle ways. 

Why are double standards an issue in relationships?

If you recognise any of the above double standards in your own relationship – whether in a partner or through your own actions – it is important to identify and address them to promote balance, fairness and equality. Healthy relationships require trust, mutual respect and self-awareness, but double standards can erode these elements over time and cause conflicts and communication breakdown. When one partner feels undervalued or unfairly treated, this feeling can grow as time passes, and can lead to resentment. 

Important: Double standards can often be rectified by listening and communicating, however they can also be used as a form of emotional abuse – this is completely unacceptable in any relationship. If your partner controls your spending, clothing, food, external communications and more, this is a type of abuse. You can call Refuge to discuss coercive control in your relationship on 0808 2000 247, and access help and resources.

Handling double standards in relationships

As a couple, how can my partner and I avoid double standards? 

So long as your relationship does not feature any emotional abuse, double standards can often be rectified through some of the following steps:

  • Build awareness – You cannot fix double standards within your relationship if you do not recognise and acknowledge what they are. Bring up instances of double standards with your partner, recognise them in yourself, and be open to improving and growing, both as a couple and individually.
  • Have mutual respect and equality – No relationship is healthy if one partner feels they have more rights than the other. Seek to build mutual respect for each other, make decisions as a team, compromise when needed, divide responsibilities equally, and set similar expectations for both of you so resentment cannot grow. By treating each other as equals, you learn to value each other’s perspective and contributions.
  • Have open, honest communication – Communication is a foundational element that underpins all relationships, so working on how you bring up concerns, manage conflict and speak to one another can be incredibly helpful. In a calm manner, discuss any perceived double standards with the aim of coming to a healthy conclusion. Take into account your partner’s communication style, manage your tone, and focus on using phrases like “I feel…” instead of accusations to maintain a positive conversation that leads to results for both of you.  
  • Focus on the root cause – Often the root cause of double standards can be deeper. For example if your partner insists you text them back immediately but does not do the same, there may be more to this. Are there trust issues you need to work on? Do they want to feel more connected to you? Have you been distant? While their behaviour is still unacceptable, it can help you reach a conclusion by approaching the talk with an understanding of what the root cause might be.
  • Speak up instead of letting resentment build – Over time, unaddressed double standards can grow until they cause major issues in a relationship. If your partner has long been displaying double standards and you have never brought it up with them, challenging it head-on can help to get your feelings out in the open and allow you both to start working towards a solution together. 
  • Practise empathy – Trying to understand your partner’s point of view can help you reach a conclusion faster, no matter whether you are the person displaying double standards or your partner is. Either way, listen to their thoughts and feelings on everything and put yourself in their shoes to practise empathy. Even if you disagree, give them the respect of hearing them out fully to maintain calm, fair communication. 
  • Challenge ingrained beliefs – We all have ingrained biases, some from childhood experiences, others from societal stereotypes, and these can influence our relationships. For example, traditional gender roles may have led to your belief that your wife should leave her job to take care of your child. By accepting both you and your partner will have your own beliefs, you can challenge them and move forward. Ask yourself where these beliefs originated for you both, and whether they are working for or against your relationship. 
  • Focus on the end goal – In any relationship there will be disagreements, and while double standards can be extremely serious, they can be rectified if you and your partner are able to focus on the end goal of addressing them and getting to a place of mutual understanding and compromise. 

Remember, someone’s double standards may not come from an intentional place and they may not even be aware of them. While this doesn't make them acceptable, bringing them up in a constructive way can sometimes do a lot to help them realise these blind spots. 

Can we seek therapy or other types of support to help with this?

Yes. Double standards are a difficult element of relationships to navigate, so accepting the need for support should not be seen as a negative thing. Whether this comes from family, friends or from a professional therapist, acknowledging your relationship could benefit from external support is the first step to improving it if the above methods have not worked so far. 

Working with a professional therapist can help you both to:

  • Identify patterns of double standards in your relationship
  • Explore past experiences or family dynamics that could have contributed to this
  • Challenge beliefs in a healthy way
  • Improve and practice communication skills in a safe space
  • Offer conflict resolution tools and support 
Improve your relationship by addressing double standards

Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from a private couple’s therapy and counselling, to broader private mental health care.

If you have a question about relationship dynamics, like addressing weaponised incompetence, we’re here to assist on your journey. Our free 15 minute consultation can guide you to the most relevant specialists to answer your questions and discuss next steps.

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