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October 10, 2010

Not Happy In Your Relationship? Talk About It

After working with hundreds of couples over the years, I continue to be surprised at how many people are oblivious to their partner’s unhappiness…until, that is, they are about to leave.

Too many couples come into my office following an affair, a blow up or a declaration by one partner that they are leaving the marriage.  The other partner is not only in shock and despair at this turn of events, but they are also blindsided.  They can’t believe their partner is “suddenly” leaving or had the audacity to have an affair.  The partner that cheated or is leaving is in shock that their partner is so shocked.

How does this happen?  It happens over many months, and even years.  Often the unhappy partner would throw disgruntled statements out in the heat of the moment or under their breath throughout the years.  The other partner would brush them aside, thinking they were just angry...but 100 disgruntlements later, the unhappy partner is done.

Seldom do I see couples where the unhappy partner has been direct and clear about their unhappiness.  More often than not, they pull away and find joy through others (children, affairs, friends).  Finally, they give up and decide they can’t stay in this relationship any more.

Not speaking about your unhappiness is not okay.  It does not help you, your partner, your relationship or your family.  There is no reason for anyone to be shocked by their partner leaving them.  The unhappy partner owes it to themself as well as their partner and children (if they have any) to deal with relationship problems head on.  Dealing with the issues head on starts with a conversation (not done in the heat of the moment) stating that you are unhappy and what you need changed in order to turn this relationship around for you.

If your partner does not listen, you need to ramp your message up in a steady progression until they hear you or it’s evident they don’t care.  Ramping it up may look like the following:
1.    Inform them that you are continuing to be unhappy in this relationship and the absence of their effort to change behaviors when you have informed them of their negative effect on you is pulling you away even more.  Tell them you will be thinking about your next step if things continue to not change.
2.    Begin to take action steps that they will feel if things still don’t change -- such as: no longer go out on dates with them, no longer entertain their colleagues, no longer have sex with them if you are not feeling emotionally connected (Note: do not use sex as a weapon—you want to send the clear message that because they are not treating you well, you are not feeling intimate.  You don’t want to give them the message that things are okay if they are not.  This decision should not be a moment-to-moment thing, but should be off the table until things truly change).
3.    If things still don’t change, inform them you need both of you to seek professional help or you don’t think you will make it. 
4.    If things don’t change, consider moving out of the bedroom as the last step before separation.  Do not think that you have the right to have an affair if your partner doesn’t listen.  You have the right to set limits, you have the right to put your relationship on the line and you have the right to leave—you do not have the right to have an affair.

The bottom-line is no one should be shocked if their partner leaves them.  If you are that unhappy you should be informing your partner along the way of how unhappy you are and what you are thinking about doing as a result.  Slowly pulling away from your partner, getting resentful and then suddenly deciding you’re done isn’t fair to anyone.  Deal with the issues directly, be clear along the way on where you stand and then allow the chips to fall where they may.

CHALLENGE:  If you are unhappy in your relationship, speak about it directly.  Don’t leave hints, wait for them to notice or act as if things are okay.  Say it straight and be clear about what your next step is.


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Dear I Wish I Knew: Most relationships shift from the honeymoon stage to a more relaxed, less intense stage. You have to ask yourself if you still are in love with him, enjoy his company (even though it may not be as exciting and passionate), if you enjoy seeing him at the end of the day and if you like how he treats you. If you're not happy to see him, get annoyed by many things he does and don't have joy when you're around him, then you both may benefit from having an honest conversation to see if you can change things to try to get the spark back or if it's time to see other people (especially if you're young). If you're young, it may just be that the crush wore off and you now see him more realistically and don't like what you see. Crushes have a way of putting others on a pedestal that isn't an accurate picture of the real person.
If you're unhappy decide to try to work it or let it go...don't just hang on and hope things will change.
Good luck-Lisa

Me and my boyfriend have been dating for a year
He was a crush that I wish would give me the time of day and then by 12th grade I started dating him. I truly was the happiest person for awhile then every thing changed... I caught myself thinking about where I stood in this relationship and started to feel less close to him like I used to. I keep questioning do I still love him and if was happy or just managing day to day to stay unhappy … I look at him and don’t see the look he used to give me-- the look of in love. Now he just looks depressed and miserable,
I love him and can’t see myself with out him; I don’t want to lose him …but at the same time we're unhappy (are we the people that crumbled after the cupcake stage??)

I love him but I dont think I'm in love with him anymore. We have nothing in common, he hunts, goes fishing almost every weekend with his dad which I think is great, spending time with his dad. When he is home all he does is watch tv and play video games ALL DAY LONG. I think even though we live togther I find myself lonely. When we have sex its only until he is done then THATS ITS...he says (sorry hunny). I just think im so tired of everything. Also, we have 3 kids and I do all the running around regarding sports with them and the parents on the kids teams actully thought I was single. It use to hurt my feelings that i seemed to be the only parent that was sitting by myself while everyone else had there husbands with them and their husbands supporting their kids but im kinda use to it now. I am really thinking about leaving, getting an apartment and finding myself. Its really scary though because we have a mortgage, bills and I know i could make it by myself but im so use to the two incomes. I am also afraid to hurt him but im starting to face reality and life is to short to be in a relationship where you are not happy. Its been 13yrs and i dont think anything will change. I just have to build myself up and just let him know that I am unhappy and we need to end it.

I have been in a relationship with my bf for 4 years now and I never thought it would be like this..I love him but I am so unhappy. I tell him and he does nothing to make things better. I really feel like he doesn't care about how I feel or if I left. I have been through a lot with him and I just don't think there is anything more I can do..? It's been months I've been crying and telling him. is it time to go?

Dear Unhappy: I'm sorry to hear about your relationship. Nice job being honest with him about how you feel. The next step is to show him with your actions. Sometimes we say we're unhappy but we act like we always did. Don't go out of your way to make him happy, don't be overly loving in an effort to coax him to be kind. Tell him you're unhappy and that you will be taking a weekend to yourself to think about your next move. Then take a weekend to yourself (go to a friend or family member's house) and really think about how he treats you and what you want.
Remember that you deserve to be treated well as does he. Don't ever settle for less.
Take Care-Lisa

Wow, this is amazing advice!! I have been feeling lonely/unhappy for a while! And I keep getting that feeling at the back of my mind that I should just leave! Me and my fiancé have been together for 7yrs and we have an 18month old boy! The past 12months have been extremely difficult on us as we hadn't really planned to start a family so soon, and we have had/having our financial struggles! I get the feeling that he knows I am unhappy, and he does make an effort to do chores and stuff, and does make an effort to arouse me! But we only have sex twice a month, which I know isn't much! Sometime I feel like I should make more of an effort, but then I think I would only be making an effort for my sons sake because he would be better off with two loving parents under the same roof! I also feel trapped because we have a mortgage on our flat...and if we were to split up...I don't know where that would leave us! I also have some secret debt that my partner knows nothing about, which is making me feel like I am tied into this relationship as I have a fear of him knowing this if we were to split up!!! Basically...I just don't know what to do!!
But reading this page...I think I am going to make an effort to sit down with him and get some of my emotional feelings off my chest and let him know that I have been feeling unhappy, and try and discuss anything we could change together to make it work!! I do love my fiancé very much....but I'm struggling with the thought of being "in love" with him!!!
I feel like I have been writing for ages...but kinda feels good to get this off my chest, as I have not even told my closest family/friends about this!! Any advice would be mucky appreciated :) thanks in advance xxx

Dear LonelyKatie: It sounds like you answered your own question. You're right on about sitting down with him and having a conversation about your unhappiness. Be honest about how you're feeling and be clear about what you would like.
Good Luck!

all around agreed!!
(speaking as the unhappy person)

Couldn't agree more. I see this is my practice too. One partner has one foot out the door before they speak up. That said, in the end the partner who is initially so "surprised" often had to admit something didn't feel right - and hadn't felt right for quite some time. There was an inkling...
I think this message goes both ways. If you are unhappy speak up, but if you suspect your partner might be unhappy, you have to speak up too.
Often partners don't say anything because they anticipate a reaction they don't want to deal with. So, if you think something is wrong, have an open mind and start the inquiry.

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