Have you ever had a guy tell you that you’re “too good” for him? It usually feels like a really strange thing to say, and it’s not always clear exactly what he means. It’s even harder to know how to respond.
In this article, I’m going to go through the things he might be trying to say when he tells you that you deserve better and what you can say or do in response.
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Let’s start with the sad option first. Some guys will tell you that you deserve better as a way to try to soften a breakup. They’re feeling guilty about having to end the relationship, so they’re trying to make both of you feel better.
This one is usually pretty easy to spot. Firstly, it’s something he only says during your breakup conversation. Bringing it out at the very end of a relationship makes it more likely that this is a way to try to soothe your feelings rather than something deeper.
It is important to say that most guys won’t pull this idea out of nowhere. If he’s telling you that you deserve better during your breakup, the chances are that he actually does think you’re pretty wonderful. It’s just that you’re not right for each other right now.
A similar reason that he might tell you that you deserve better than him is that he knows that the pair of you want different things out of your relationship. You might be in different places in your lives or looking for different types of relationships.
For example, he might still be in the “having fun” stage while you’re ready to settle down. He knows that he doesn’t want to settle down yet, so he tells you that you deserve someone better who can give you what you need.
He might honestly be happy to stay “friends with benefits” with lots of different people. He doesn’t want you to settle for something that doesn’t actually work for you.
Again, this one is pretty sad, because what he’s really telling you is that this relationship isn’t going to work. He sees that you deserve to have a relationship that’s going to make you happy. The unspoken part is that so does he.
Sometimes, a guy might tell you that you deserve someone better because he knows that he’s got a lot going on at the moment and he’s worried about bringing chaos and problems into your life.
He tells you that you deserve better, not because he doesn’t want to be better for you. He’s saying it because he worries that he can’t.
For example, if he has a poor co-parenting relationship with his ex-wife, he might wish that he could protect you from the difficulties this brings into your lives. Given that he’s (rightly) not going to give up on his children, he just can’t do that.
In this example, he’s telling you that you don’t deserve to have to put up with any of the problems he’s having to deal with. In these cases, he’s probably right. But often he won’t deserve to have to put up with them either.
If this is the reason behind him telling you that you deserve better, he really doesn’t want to lose you. He’s worried about not being a positive influence on your life or making you unhappy through things he can’t prevent. Often, he wants to know that you can see all of those problems and that you still think he’s worth it.
He might also be asking for reassurance. The stereotype of the immensely confident man who believes that he’s God’s gift to women certainly exists, but there are also loads of guys who believe that there are different ‘leagues’... and that you’re out of theirs.1
Men are constantly told that women want certain things in a partner. They think that we want a guy who’s at least six feet tall with a visible six-pack, a flashy car, and a six-figure salary. If they don’t have those things, lots of guys think that they’ll never end up dating a wonderful woman.2
Some of these beliefs are so deeply ingrained that they will struggle to accept evidence that contradicts that belief - including the fact that they’re actually dating you! They’ll be expecting you to suddenly realize that you deserve something that they don’t have.
This struggle to accept contradictory evidence is called cognitive dissonance and breaking it down is hard.3 The good news is that when he does realize that there’s no such thing as a dating “league,” he’ll probably be able to challenge some of the other toxic beliefs about masculinity that he learned growing up.
We spend a lot of time talking about the guys we need to watch out for in relationships, and that’s understandable. We need to be aware of abusive behavior and the guys who act that way. We should also remember that some men really want to build you up and keep you safe and help you recover your self-esteem.
These guys might tell you that you deserve better, but they don’t actually mean better than them. They mean that you deserve better than you think you do. This version of when he says you deserve better usually comes when he apologizes and you tell him it’s completely ok.
For example, if he has to cancel a date at short notice, he’ll hopefully call you to apologize. If you’re a people-pleaser or have low self-esteem, you might say “That’s fine. It’s not important.” 4
He wants you to know that it is important. Even more, he wants you to know that you’re important. So he might say “No. It’s not fine. You deserve better and I'll make it up to you tomorrow.”
You’ll usually recognize that this is what he means when he says that you deserve better because he’ll apologize honestly, make a promise to make it up to you, and actually follow through with that promise.
So far, we’ve been talking about serious reasons that a guy might tell you that you deserve better. It doesn’t always have to be something big and serious, though. Sometimes he might just be offering you a cute compliment and being affectionate.
When he says that you deserve better than him in this way, he’s showing you that he feels perfectly secure in your relationship and that he trusts you.
This will often be part of a teasing conversation. For example, he might refuse to give you his amazing waffle recipe because his morning waffles are the only thing stopping you from finding someone who actually deserves you.
This is actually pretty healthy, as long as there isn’t an underlying insecurity that he’s trying to hide with his jokes. If he feels happy and confident, enjoy the teasing and the compliment.
This is one of the worst reasons that a guy might tell you that you deserve better than him. He knows that he’s not going to treat you well. He knows that he’s going to cheat on you, let you down, or keep himself at an emotional distance and he’s ok with that. He’s telling you that you deserve better to avoid a confrontation later.
He’ll be able to walk away from your relationship when he’s done without guilt because he can tell himself that he warned you. He might even tell others the same thing to try to gain sympathy or forgiveness.
One of the problems with this meaning of “you deserve better” is that it places all of the responsibility and blame for what eventually happens onto you. Because he “warned you,” it’s worryingly easy to blame yourself for the way that he’s hurt you.
Another problem is that it can actually make you less likely to walk away from the relationship. When someone tells you that they’re not good enough for you, it’s normal to want to prove them wrong. This can leave you vulnerable to staying in an abusive relationship for longer than you would otherwise.
Although I gave plenty of positive reasons that a guy might tell you that you deserve better than him, that doesn’t mean that this is the most likely outcome. In fact, it’s usually best to assume that a guy is telling you the truth when he says that you deserve better.
Remember that you deserve a relationship with someone who does deserve you. If he’s convinced that he’s not that person, it might be a sign that he’s genuinely not.
Treat his comments about you deserving better as a warning sign. If you’re not yet emotionally attached, consider walking away.
It can be tempting to just contradict him when he tells you that he’s not good enough for you. Although this comes from a good place, it’s not as helpful as you might imagine.
Rather than focusing on contradicting him, try to understand why he’s saying what he says. Ask him for more details and really listen to the answers.
Lots of guys won’t feel comfortable talking about this with you. Telling you that you deserve better can be a moment of weakness. Talking about it properly is even more vulnerable.
Trying to understand more about why he said that you deserve better is key to helping you to work out what to do next.
Obviously, if he’s decided to leave the relationship, that’s his decision and you can only respect that. If he’s not actively breaking up with you, however, it’s usually best to step back and figure things out for yourself before working things out together.
Rather than relying on his perception about what you want and deserve, make your own decision. Spend some time thinking about what’s important to you and whether you’re likely to get that dating him.
Often, it’s worth being alone for this. Whether his comments come from his low self-esteem or as a way to excuse poor behavior, it’s a distraction from understanding yourself and your needs.
Journaling is a great tool to help you understand how you feel and what you need from a relationship.5
If you’re considering staying with a guy who says that he’s not good enough for you, it’s helpful to try to identify what he’s doing to try to become the kind of man you do deserve.
A guy who says that you deserve better than him but makes no effort to change clearly doesn’t value your relationship enough to work on his issues. He’s showing that he sees what’s wrong, but that he’s not willing to make changes.
On the other hand, a guy who tells you that you deserve better than him and then goes on to show you how he’s going to change is proving how much you mean to him. It might not be easy for him and he might not change quickly, but it’s still a really good sign.
Even if you decide to continue with the relationship, it’s worth keeping an eye out for whether he might actually be a poor boyfriend or partner. Remember that telling you that you deserve better is a tool that abusers use to make it more difficult for you to leave.
Make sure that you’re staying alert to other signs that he’s abusive. If you notice him making subtle digs at you, diminishing your self-esteem, gaslighting, or any other red flags, be ready to walk away.
When a guy tells you that you deserve better it’s often best to walk away. It’s rarely a good sign for your future together. If you are going to stay, talk to him about why he feels this way and be alert for other red flags just in case.
Abusers will often tell you that you deserve better than them as a way to keep you in the relationship. When you hear him say that he’s not good enough for you, it makes you want to prove him wrong. This can mean that you stay with him longer.
Sometimes, a guy will say that you deserve better because he lacks self-esteem. Other times, he’s telling you that he’s not going to be a good partner. Decide for yourself what you deserve, and then ask whether he’s giving you that.
There are lots of reasons that a guy you're dating might tell you that you deserve better.
Unfortunately, the most common reasons are that he wants to break up with you or he knows he’s not going to treat you well. Try to understand his reasons, but be prepared to believe him and walk away.
Did this help you understand why a guy tells you that you deserve better? Let me know in the comments, and pass this article on to someone else who might find it helpful.