A fostered partner is someone who does want to date and is looking for something serious. The relationship seems happy and healthy—at least at first. But then they unexpectedly end it—and next thing you know, they’re cozied up with a brand-new partner, settling down, and getting married. And you (the foster partner) are left nonplussed. What the heck happened?

And let’s not forget the perspective of the fostered partner themselves. From their point of view, dating has been one unending stream of disappointing partners never quite living up to their expectations. They don’t necessarily have unusually high standards—but for one reason or another, their relationships never seem to work out.

So you see, the problems of foster relationships don’t always flow in only one direction. Often, neither party recognizes what’s going on before their eyes. But let’s be clear: Sometimes both partners are happy for their time together to fizzle out after a few months—no explanation or soul searching required. However, for many people the abrupt ending can be a bit of a shock. It’s something to be mindful of, for sure—and luckily, there are signs you can look out for.

Three red flags of foster relationships

Whether you’re the fostered partner (the one who suddenly ends things) or the foster partner (who’s been unceremoniously dumped out of the blue), you can spot these behaviors both in your partner and yourself.

1) There’s a distinct power dynamic

When you take a step back and reflect on your relationship, do you note that you’re constantly by your partner’s side helping them through life’s trials and tribulations—and yet when it’s your hour of need, they’re nowhere to be found? Sorry to tell you, but that’s classic. It’s not that the fostered partner is consciously selfish—but if deep down they feel this relationship isn’t going anywhere, they may be inclined to perform fewer acts of kindness. A power dynamic is never healthy.

2) One partner is always “fixing” the other

Unconsciously or otherwise, fostered partners may lower their standards by dating someone they perceive to be a “project,” who needs “saving.” The person they choose may come from a toxic background or have recently experienced an unstable relationship. For the fostered partner, these factors mean the other person represents a challenge, for which the reward is “fixing” their partner. But treating one’s partner like a pet—that’s not a sustainable way to start a relationship.

3) One of you is the therapist

Many fostered partners act as the shoulder to cry on while they give advice, but then act aloof for no apparent reason. The mixed signals are confusing for the foster partner—especially since quite often the advice given is actually fairly sound. This can lead to a pernicious cycle of dependence on the part of the fostered partner, which is exacerbated further by the breakup.

Stopping the cycle

According to research from Purdue University, people indicate their readiness to commit to a relationship long-term by engaging in some form of “active pursuit.” This may involve flirting, screening potential dates by asking them about their life plans, and paying more attention to their appearance. They also cultivate the relationship in other ways, such as by practicing conflict management and ensuring regular communication.

These are all signals whose absence should be noted if you’re questioning whether you’re in a foster relationship. If your partner is cold, distant, and hesitant to discuss the future even casually, something may be afoot. What’s more, it can be tough to not internalize the idea that you are the problem. It takes equal parts self-awareness and accountability to get out of this. Because no one wants to admit they’re in a foster relationship—and that’s part of the problem. But if your instinct is that your partner views your time together as nothing more than a series of transactions, rather than intimate moments grounded in genuine emotion, it’s better in the long run to get out before too much damage is done.

It’s also worth keeping in mind, though, that perhaps they really meant it when they told you they weren’t looking for anything serious. And then they just so happened to find The One right after you. If that’s happened to you two or three times then it may no longer be a coincidence—but it could be. The point is, their breaking things off may not reflect how charming, eligible, or attractive you are. And be aware of the signals you give off, too. When we first date someone, the pressure to come across as chill and decidedly un-clingy can produce the opposite effect, leaving us seeming uninvested in the burgeoning romance. Your partner may actually be on the lookout for a meaningful relationship, and interpret your laid-back attitude as disinterest.

Foster relationships don’t have to be your fate

We get it: If multiple exes have found their forever partners straight after dating you, the emotional turmoil is palpable. But it could be a good idea to evaluate your own behavior, too: Are you doing things that have been turning your partners off the idea of committing to a long-term relationship with you? Consider booking in with a counselor, therapist, or relationship coach. And if you’re looking for more intricate guidance for your love life, we can help.

Maclynn International is an elite, multi-award-winning New York-based matchmaking consultancy. We’re experts at bringing you together with highly compatible singles—even after you’ve been through one or several difficult breakups. Get in touch today, and let’s help you meet the person who diminishes those pesky foster relationships to a mere footnote of your past.