Watching someone in an unhappy relationship is so, so difficult. And while it's easy, from the outside, to say "just break up," that's so much easier said than done. Even though your relationship is (hopefully) only one facet of your life, relationship conflict has this virulent quality that means your general well-being and unhappiness is affected. I've been in relationships where I look back and say, "We had a good six months, followed by a bad two years. How the hell did I let that happen!?" And yet... I let it happen.
Whether you've just been in a relationship too long to imagine yourself doing anything else or you don't think you deserve any better— or even you just sort of give up— when you're in an unhappy relationship, you just let so much slide. And that's both inside and outside of the relationship. That apathy and inertia take over and you stop caring about and fighting for the things that used to matter. You may know everything you can do to make your relationship better, but can't seem to make yourself do it.
If you notice it happening, do your best to shake yourself out of it or ask your friends for advice. Here are seven things unhappy couples let slide in their relationship. But first, check out the latest episode of Bustle's Sex and Relationships podcast, I Want It That Way:
1. Their Sex Life
I'm not saying that your sex life is going to stay the same from the first week you date until your 10-year anniversary. There are bound to be some ups and downs, but if there's a big change, without an emotional or medical explanation, it shouldn't go unnoticed. My sex life has never been what's taken a hit in my unhappy relationships, but I've certainly seen it happen. And whenever I've heard a friend suddenly get cagey when discussing their lack of sex life or just act like they're not interested in sex anymore, it's almost always been a sign of much, much bigger relationship problems. Keep an eye out for it.
2. Being Kind
Being kind is such an important part of relationship longevity, but it too often gives way to contempt. Contempt is a relationship killer, says decades of research from Dr. John Gottman, and often manifests as ignoring your partner, or even in snarky, nit-picky comments. But the weird thing is, unhappiness can make people apathetic. If you find yourself just internalizing or ignoring comments and behaviors that aren't acceptable, you need to take a look at what's going on in your relationship.
3. Quality Time
With unhappy couples, not only does date night go out the window and the sex life suffers, a lot of times, couples will actively avoiding seeing each other. Friends may notice that you never know what your partner is up to and you're looking for a whole lot more girls' nights. I'm all for keeping strong friendship ties no matter how serious your relationship is, but if you're avoiding your partner something is wrong.
4. Expressing Their Opinions
Remember what I said about apathy? Unhappiness in your relationships can mean you give up on caring, and that includes sharing your own opinion. Whether you know that it's going to turn into a fight, or you never get what you want anyway, you become sort of resigned to that. And it becomes easier to just stop trying. It's so important to fight that urge— either to save your relationship or get out of it.
5. Their Values
Even though you were once someone who would never put up with infidelity, your partner not making an effort with your friends, or being spoken down to, suddenly you don't care anymore. Being unhappy in a relationship, especially long term, can start to affect what you care about. Remind yourself you have those values for a reason.
6. Their Relationships With Friends And Family
Just because unhappy couples often spend way more time with other people, doesn't mean the people they're spending time with know what's going on. But there's also a tendency to get either defensive about an unhappy relationship — or not talk about it all. And it can strain your relationship with your friends or family. My friends have had unhealthy relationships that have really driven a wedge between us, either because if I said, "You don't seem happy", they would sometimes get incredibly defensive or become completely evasive about their relationship.
7. Their Health
I've been the person going out all the time, exercising compulsively, and not sleeping enough to avoid looking at my relationship problems. I've also been the person who barely gets out of bed because it's all too much. Being unhappy in your relationship often leads to not taking care of yourself, so try to focus on what makes you happy and try to take back some control.
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