Some say that actions speak louder than words — and in relationships, that can certainly prove true. Think about it: When your SO gives you an impromptu back rub, surprises you with takeout from your favorite spot, or helps you study for an exam, all of those are powerful alternatives to saying, “I love you.” So, if you're wondering, "Am I in an unhappy relationship?" — sometimes the best way to figure it out is to look at how you and bae are behaving toward each other. Because there are certain small gestures that could spell trouble in paradise.
According to Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles, these seemingly small gestures are actually quite telling, as they offer insight into how both partners are feeling toward each other, as well as about the state of their relationship. And sometimes, it’s the absence of certain gestures that used to be common that serves as a red flag. On the whole, however, these gestures all point to the glaring possibility that one or both partners are feeling dissatisfied or unfulfilled in the relationship. Therefore, taking note of these gestures is crucial — because once you’ve identified them, you can take action to get to the root of the problem and make a positive change.
Wondering which gestures to look out for? Here are a few that suggest your relationship could probably use a tune-up.
You’ve stopped saying thanks.
Your level of gratitude says a lot about how content you are in your relationship. So, according to Dr. Brown, if you used to thank each other for all the little things — like making coffee in the morning, doing the dishes, paying for dinner on date night — and no longer make an effort to show your appreciation, that can be a red flag. When you’re unhappy in a relationship, you may not even take notice of the things you previously expressed gratitude for.
You dodge the tough conversations.
No matter how healthy and happy your relationship is, there will be times when you’ll need to confront your SO about something that’s bothering you. Having those tough conversations demonstrates that you care enough about your relationship to want to improve it, no matter how awkward or challenging it may be to talk about the issues at hand. That’s why Dr. Brown says that if you actively avoid talking about things you know are important, like expressing your needs or concerns, that’s another red flag worth paying attention to.
When you no longer bother to bring these problems up to your partner, it can suggest that you aren’t as invested in the relationship as you once were. And what's worse is, if you don't have those important discussions, you can potentially start to build resentment toward your SO, thus causing you to be more unhappy in your relationship.
You go to bed at different times.
If you and your partner live together, Dr. Brown says that another thing worth noting is if you used to go to bed around the same time (or at least try to on some nights) and now you hardly ever do.
Of course, if you have vastly different work schedules and have never been able to get your bedtime or wake-up time in sync, then this probably doesn’t apply. But what if you and your boo used to brush your teeth together and spend some time snuggling in bed before snoozing, or wake up at the same time for a morning romp before work? If you’re no longer making an active effort to keep your schedules aligned, that can show that you’re not prioritizing quality time together.
You've stopped using pet names.
Whether you call each other “baby,” “boo,” or something unique that you totally made up, pet names are actually a powerful indicator of how connected and content you feel in your relationship. If you and your partner have never used these pet names, then this one doesn’t apply. However, Dr. Brown says that if you’ve suddenly stopped using your typical terms of endearment for each other, then you may want to stop and ask yourself why.
Pet names typically indicate how you’re feeling toward your SO, so if you aren’t peppering them into conversation anymore, you may not feel the same level of affection and happiness these days.
You no longer text good morning or kiss goodnight.
Sometimes, it really is the little things that can show how much you care for your partner. For example, those “good morning” and “goodnight” texts — while such a simple routine gesture, those messages demonstrate that bae is the first and last thing on your mind every day. Similarly, a quick smooch in the morning before you both head to the office, or when you get home from work, is a small display of affection that keeps you connected.
That’s why Dr. Brown asserts that your relationship may not be as happy as it previously was if those gestures aren’t happening anymore. He also adds that if you used to regularly make physical contact, like hugging or holding hands, and that contact has been MIA recently, that can be another signal that you’re no longer feeling the same level of satisfaction in your relationship.
If you notice these gestures are happening more and more — and you're starting to think you're in an unhappy relationship — Dr. Brown advises approaching your partner to talk about your observations, and the impact that these actions are having. But rather than blaming your boo for what’s happening, he suggests finding a way to express your core needs in a nonjudgmental way.
“Of course, be sure to ask them what needs they have that you can fulfill as well,” he adds. “Perhaps share your vision of what your ideal relationship would look like and ask your partner to do the same. This can help you both explore what you can do to revitalize your relationship. If you were happy before, it is certainly possible that you can be happy again. It is going to take some work, but it’s doable if you still love each other.”
Let’s reiterate that for the ones in the back: Just because your relationship includes some of these gestures doesn’t mean you can’t re-harness the joy, excitement, and fulfillment you’re longing for. So, instead of seeing these gestures as a cause for concern, think of them as super helpful indicators that it’s time to take a step back and assess your relationship, so you can ultimately get back on track to nurturing a healthy, happy relationship.