When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, there will inevitably be arguments both big (like money you’re spending versus saving) and small (say, when she forgets to unload the dishwasher again). Not to mention there may even be days when the mere sight of your spouse makes you want to lock yourself in your bedroom indefinitely—which is part of the reason why it can be hard to tell if you’re actually in an unhappy relationship or marriage or if you’re going through a rough patch.
First things first, it’s perfectly normal to be unhappy in a relationship from time to time.
But just because you’re feeling unhappy in your relationship doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to break up, separate, or divorce. In other cases, though, staying together might not be the best choice for either of you. (Yes, you can love someone but still be unhappy.)
That I deserve to be in?” says Branson.
Still not sure where you stand?
You don’t argue at all anymore.
Common sense would pinpoint having too many arguments as a relationship red flag.”A normal dose of disagreement shows that you are investing in the growth of the relationship.”
Without that, the emotional climate of a relationship can become stagnant. “When a couple isn’t bickering or disagreeing at all, that’s a sign that both members of the couple have given up and are feeling hopeless about the impact they can have on each other and about the chances of the relationship changing.
You always prioritize your friends and family over your partner.
While it’s essential to make time for people outside your relationship, it becomes an issue if you’d always rather see them than your partner. “When you had a good day at work when you ran into someone you haven’t seen in a while when you find a $20 bill in your jacket pocket—who do you want to run and tell?” asks Raffi Bilek, a couples counselor and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center. “If you’re in a happy relationship, odds are it’s your partner. If you’re not, it’s probably somebody else.”
Another indicator? If you find yourself over-relying on friends or family for emotional safety and support. “That’s a sign that someone has lost not only the desire to bring their deeper emotions to their partner but that they may no longer feel safe being vulnerable with them,” Kimberly Ciardella, a marriage and family therapist tells Oprah Daily.
Date night ceases to exist.
Remember when you first met, and you’d squeeze in face time no matter what it took? If you stopped prioritizing quality time together (and we’re not just referring to lingering dinners), it’s a sign of disconnect. “When that effort stops, it’s a sign that your relationship is losing importance and value.”
When date nights, no matter how short, become non-existent, or your partner finds excuses to avoid coming home (or vice versa), alarm bells should go off. “People use ‘being busy’ as a way to run away from and avoid being intimate and close,” says psychologist Mary Ann Mercer. “They’re also running away from their problems. They hide in all their activities and hope that things will heal themselves, but they won’t.”
Of course, there are plenty of valid factors that could stand in the way of being able to carve out an entire evening—you’re emotionally drained from taking care of your kids or your parents, financial stress, and so on. The key is that you’re still trying to find moments for each other.
You feel like you’re under a microscope.
When someone is unhappy, the minor things tick them off. “When critical commentary or judgment outweighs intimacy, it’s hard for a relationship to recover,” says Ciardella. “How can you experience joy when you feel like you’re constantly failing?”
There’s no gratitude.
You do a lot for the other person in a partnership—from sharing paychecks to raising children. “Feeling appreciated, feeling heard, and feeling seen are all important markers of an intimate relationship,” says Ciardella. “When gratitude is lost, and partners stop thanking and recognizing each other’s strengths and efforts, there’s less motivation to continue doing the things you are hoping your partner appreciates—and that often creates a cycle of discontentment.”
Your sex life is lacking.
Though sex may not always equal intimacy, “it’s a way for couples to show their affection and desire for one another,” says Jordan Madison, a marriage and family therapist. “If sex isn’t happening, it can be a sign that the couple is uncomfortable being intimate with one another, whether that’s due to a lack of sexual satisfaction or not feeling emotionally connected.”
Neither reason bodes well for the happiness level of your relationship, so if this sounds familiar, start by communicating your feelings. While a sexless marriage can survive, you must be on the same page about your desires.
There’s nothing nice to say about your relationship.
Sure, every relationship has its downsides. “But if you can only recount negative or bad memories about the relationship, then that may mean the bad is outweighing the good,” says Madison. “When you’re constantly feeling unhappy or unsatisfied, it may be difficult to think of happier times.”
If you’re making an active effort to brainstorm the pluses of staying in a relationship and still drawing blanks, you may want to rethink your status.
You feel so alone.
The very nature of being in a relationship with someone is that you’re in it together. “Feeling alone can mean you’re not receiving what you need from your partner—that they’re not supportive or emotionally available to you,” says Madison. Of course, that would make anyone feel unhappy.
A partner shouldn’t be your everything, but it’s essential to feel that you’re a team. “When a couple doesn’t share their struggles and triumphs, this leaves an ally, someone who may be one’s primary champion, in the dark on the details of their life,” says John Duffy, a psychologist and relationship expert.
There’s contempt between you and your partner.
“It’s puzzling, but we often save our worst, in terms of anger, for our significant others,” says Duffy. Treating your partner as inferior is a recipe for discontent. In fact, “contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce,” says psychologist Caroline Fleck, Ph.D. “Whether that’s name-calling, mocking, laughing at someone’s position, eye-rolling, or scoffing, the result is that the offended party feels worthless, and in some cases even despised.” Not exactly how you expect to feel in a loving relationship.
You’re stonewalling your significant other or vice versa.
Stonewalling is when one person shuts down, ignores, or otherwise stops responding to their partner. “Think of Don Draper in Mad Men tuning out his wife Betty while he watches TV,” says Flack. “Stonewalling can look like an attempt to control the conversation because one partner is blocking further discussion by disengaging. But it typically occurs when an individual is physiologically distressed and inadvertently trying to shut down overwhelming emotions.” On the other hand, the person being stonewalled is left feeling like they don’t have a voice in their relationship.
You’re living parallel lives.
As a couple, your lives should be interwoven—at least, in specific ways. But “if you look up and see that you and your partner’s lives are not intersecting, that’s an indicator that someone may be unhappy,” says Jackson. “You shouldn’t be on your separate path and expecting your partner just to keep up.”
Even if you don’t spend all your time together or have distinct, separate interests, you should feel like an active element of your partner’s life. Think about it this way: Can you describe what your partner did in the last 24 hours that you weren’t together? “Happy partners check in on each other and share the small and big details of their days,” says Wikstrom. If you don’t know what’s going on with them when you’re not with them—or worse, don’t care—that’s a sign you could be unhappy.
You’re holding grudges.
Not to sound harsh, but you’re not in middle school anymore. “It takes far more energy to stay angry and hold a grudge than it does to let it go,” says Mercer. And if someone’s wallowing in anger, who would want to be with them? “Staying stuck in the past because your partner did something to hurt you, and you will not forgive them, continuously sabotages you in the now,” says Mercer.
Someone is always on the defensive.
Blame is a type of defensiveness that prevents someone from being able to listen or change. It’s another form of relationship sabotage.”
You’re picking fights.
If you have significant arguments about things you know are insignificant, there’s something deeper going on.
Picking fights is a way to create space and avoid interactions, adds psychotherapist Joanne Ketch.
Someone’s got a serious attitude.
If this sounds like something more applicable to a teenager, you’re not wrong. But “the most obvious thing that we often ignore is our partner’s attitude,” says Branson. “If they no longer smile when they’re around you, don’t show affection, or have an unpleasant demeanor when they’re in your presence, more than likely, they’re unhappy.”
The change in attitude could be due to a bad day at work, but that can’t always be the excuse. “Your partner should be able to relax, rejuvenate, and engage in happy moments as a result of being around you—even if it takes a little while. If they constantly have a terse attitude, anger, or an unpleasant disposition, this is a cause for concern,” she says.