Put simply, the only true gauge of your own happiness is you. And while sometimes deciphering emotions and deciding how to act on them isn’t crystal clear, you generally know when something doesn’t feel right. That said, relationships can be tricky to navigate emotionally, no matter how sure you are of your own feelings.
It can be difficult to differentiate between having a bad day or week with your partner and feeling a prolonged sense of discontent with them. Have you been feeling stuck? Are things not moving fast enough? Are you constantly asking yourself, “Am I unhappy in my relationship?” Unfortunately, having such a deep attachment to or familiarity with your partner can cloud your judgment.
Studies have shown, though, that staying in a relationship even though you are unhappy can have a major negative effect on personal well-being and mental health. So, if you’re having a general, overwhelming feeling of being stuck in your relationship, it likely means it’s worth giving some introspection.
To better understand how you feel, grabbing a pen and journal — or opening the notes app on your phone — might be a good first step, according to Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, a nationally recognized psychotherapist and author of Training Your Love Intuition. “Keep a log of things that are bothering you, and see if the same themes keep occurring,” Wish suggests. “Just brainstorm. Write for about three or four minutes, and just see what comes up.”
When it comes to finding the root of your feelings of unhappiness in a relationship, writing down your thoughts can help you gain clarity about what is bothering you and how to figure out what course of action will best serve you. To get started, here are nine questions you should think about and answer as completely and as honestly as you can, according to experts.
1. Am I Being Fair In My Expectations?
Every individual who enters a relationship does so with their own set of wants and needs from a partner. And because every individual who enters a relationship is human, some of those wants become expectations that a partner may be unable to fulfill.
“Everyone has needs and we hope and expect our partner to meet them all. This is highly unrealistic,” Sarah Watson, licensed professional counselor and certified sex therapist, previously told Elite Daily. “Talk about your needs and desires honestly and openly. They might not know what you need, and that's OK. Some people need to be told. Embrace that."
If you think you are unhappy in your relationship, it is probably because your partner is letting you down in some way. Maybe they are not making enough time for you. Maybe they are not ready to move in or make a long-term commitment. Maybe you are the one pumping the breaks and questioning whether your cold feet mean you need to get out altogether.
Some of these let-downs are totally resolvable, depending on your flexibility. Do you really need to see your partner more than, say, twice a week in order to feel connected? Or are you placing that expectation on your partner to resolve a lingering insecurity you have from a previous relationship or your upbringing?
If your partner isn't open to moving in at this time, would they be willing to do it later? Is cohabitation really a step you need to take right this second, or can you practice some patience and focus on building other strong foundations of a lasting partnership?
None of these are trick questions. Your past experiences inform what you need in the present — but it is easy to confuse what you need with what you want. “It is important to have expectations, but we can't choose our emotional, personalized needs, because so many of them are set in motion by your upbringing and external things,” Wish says.
If you are wondering “Am I happy?” consider whether you are expecting too much from your partner. And if you have more desires than your partner can provide, reach out to other networks of support — friends, family members, therapists — to help satisfy what a single partner cannot.
2. How Long Have I Been Feeling Unhappy?
Relationships do go through rough patches, and just because you are unhappy now, does not mean there isn't room for resolution or healing in your relationship. However, if you have been feeling unhappy for weeks, months or even a whole year, that means it's likely more than a rough patch. For that reason, Wish recommends taking note of the frequency and duration of your negative feelings.
“How long have I been feeling unhappy? Is this just a short term thing? Or have I been feeling this for quite a while now? And do I understand what I’m unhappy about? I like all those questions,” she says.
The reasons you are not happy in the relationship may very well have changed in that time frame. Past issues may have been resolved, but if a new problem crops up every other week, that's a sign that you are unhappy in your relationship consistently. The specific reasons might not even matter.
If you can't remember when exactly you started feeling unhappy in a relationship, but you've been talking about your feelings with your friends, ask them if they can remember when you started feeling less-than-satisfied and what patterns they have noticed over the course of time. If they've been listening, they will definitely be able to tell you whether this feeling is something new or if it has been an ongoing reality.
3. Does The Emotion I'm Experiencing Right Now Remind Me Of Anything I've Experienced Before?
In other words, are you unhappy because your partner is doing something that reminds you of someone who has hurt you in the past? Old relationships — both romantic and not — take a long time to heal, and there is no linear process to the grief that comes from experiencing trauma or loss.
“Don't keep the mirror just on yourself — keep the mirror on yourself and have a mirror behind your head, so you can look to see what and who is behind you,” says Wish. “You are not a flower that grew from thin air. You have roots, and almost all of our issues are somehow connected to root cause life events.”
Maybe the cadence in your partner's voice reminds you of the way your father used to speak to you, and you are recoiling subconsciously. Maybe you feel anxiety about your partner's wide social circle, because you have been cheated on before, or you have a fear of abandonment from a different unresolved issue in your past.
If the problem really is with you, and not an incompatibility in the relationship, then you probably need to seek out some resources for healing in order to be the best you both for yourself and for your partner.
4. Is My Unhappiness Something I Can Bring Up To My Partner?
Whether or not you are unhappy in your relationship or unhappy in this particular moment, your feelings need to be something you and your partner can talk about openly. If you are planning to be together for a long while, then you are going to experience ups, downs, and everything in-between that life offers. And some of those downs will take you really, really far down. Being able to talk things out and air your emotions with your partner is essential to being happy together.
“The primary way that we establish, maintain, and grow our relationships is by being truly open with our partners,” Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples' therapist in Los Angeles, previously told Elite Daily. “This requires vulnerability and courage in order to build much-needed trust so that we know we’re safe when we open ourselves up.”
However, if you are in a relationship with someone who dismisses your feelings, gets defensive when you bring an issue to their attention, or who otherwise makes you feel like talking to them about your unhappiness wouldn't make a lick of difference, that doesn't give the relationship much confidence.
“There are plenty of ways to improve the relationship and increase satisfaction if one person is unhappy, but if that partner isn’t willing to talk about it or put in the effort to work on it, then it likely won’t work," Samantha Burns, relationship coach and author of Breaking Up & Bouncing Back, told Elite Daily.
If you feel like you can't bring your problems to your partner's attention, regardless of the reasons why, then it's only natural you would be unhappy in your relationship. Bottling up feelings will only lead to more emotional turmoil and regression.
5. Are There Concrete Changes That Can Be Made To Improve This Situation?
If you think you are unhappy in your relationship, identify the cause. Are you unhappy because your partner doesn't turn you on anymore or because you are realizing you have fundamental incompatibilities? Or are there little things you can do to improve the source of your unhappiness?
If the issue is that you don't see your partner enough, maybe you could have a set schedule for hanging out each week. If you feel like you want room to experiment with your identity, maybe you could discuss opening up your relationship.
If you have a conversation with your partner and find that they are unwilling to make compromises or that the source of your unhappiness is more fundamental than you initially thought, then you're going to give something up. And the healthiest loss might be your relationship.
6. Is This Relationship Bringing Out The Best Or The Worst In Me?
Are you irritable with your partner, constantly anxious, worried about the future, or feeling otherwise unstable in your emotional life? Or for the most part, do you feel like your partner supports you and brings out the best sides of yourself?
If you're thinking you're unhappy in your relationship, then think about how this unhappiness is impacting you on a personal level. If you think that, in general, your partner brings out the best in you, then the happiness you're feeling might not be about the relationship at all, according to Wish. Maybe you need a better job or to move to a different city for more opportunities. Maybe you need to buckle down on pursuing those creative ambitions you stalled for your relationship.
A strong partnership has room for you to do all of the things you need to seek out your own personal fulfillment. If you think you are unhappy in your relationship, you need to make sure you are able to adapt and thrive so you can continue to grow as the individual you are.
7. Do I Feel Happier With Other People?
When you think about your happiness as a whole, does it involve being around people other than your partner? It’s normal to have off periods with your girlfriend or boyfriend, when you’d rather just have some space and be with your friends. But if you constantly feel a shift in your energy when it comes to being around your partner as opposed to others, it could be a sign that you two are simply drifting apart.
"You seem to get much more joy from interacting with others," Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, previously told Elite Daily. "It may be friends, it may be co-workers, but you notice that your happiness comes with others versus your partner."
If you find yourself thinking about how much better it would be to be around other people or be by yourself, it’s an even more glaring sign that your unhappiness is rooted in your relationship.
8. Do I Want To Be With This Person Tomorrow?
Just as it’s important to think about the relationship between your unhappiness and the past, it’s also important to consider your future. You never know whether you are going to be able to continue to grow together always, or if circumstances in your life are going to place distance between you and your boo. The only thing you can know, on a day-to-day basis, is whether you still want to be with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or significant other when you wake up the next morning.
If the answer is yes, then you know there is likely something to fight for and try to work out. If the answer is no, it’s an opportunity to think about what you really want — or don’t want. But it’s also important to remember that not everything is going to be smooth every day when it comes to love.
“Rough patches are a part of the relationship. Our partners, like us, go through so many changes over the course of a relationship," Klapow said. "We need to be careful not to attribute changes in the nature of the relationship, our emotions, or their emotions, to falling out of love."
9. Have I Given This Enough Thought?
Often, feelings of unhappiness are reactionary and fleeting. What may feel like a big deal one moment might just fade with time. For that reason, Wish recommends being patient with your emotions and not always trusting your immediate gut feelings. “Don't trust your gut all the time,” she says. “Instead, ask yourself, ‘This feeling I’m having, what could be wrong with it? What could be incorrect about it?’”
When in doubt, confer with someone else, such as a friend, family member, or therapist. Talking to people who are both close to and distanced from the situation can be helpful. Someone who knows your history and what you’re like at your happiest can help you identify the cause of your unhappiness, and a neutral third party can help parse through your emotions objectively.
If you’re someone who has difficulty with introspection and identifying their own emotions, Wish recommends seeing which characters in TV shows, movies and books you emotionally identify with. “Think about your favorite movies and watch them again. Which person or situation do you identify with? Sometimes that helps give you clues,” she says.
Asking yourself the tough questions and really giving it thought about whether or not you are unhappy in your relationship will help guide you and your decisions. Most importantly, though, do whatever it is that will make you the happiest. Regardless of if you choose to break up with your partner or commit to working through your shared problems, the top question you should ask is, “Am I happy?” and your top priority should be yourself.
Hawkins, D. N., & Booth, A. (2005). Unhappily Ever After: Effects of Long-Term, Low-Quality Marriages on Well-Being. Social Forces, 84(1), 451–471. https://doi.org/10.1353/sof.2005.0103
Dr. Gary Brown, prominent couples' therapist in Los Angeles
Samantha Burns, relationship coach and author of Breaking Up & Bouncing Back
Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show
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