Ah, the greatest conundrum: is it better to feel lonely in a relationship, or to feel lonely on your own?
I comforted one of my good friends recently. She was in floods of tears as she’d caught her boyfriend of 6 months out keeping up quite a few online relationships.
“I don’t want to go back to the dating world”, she sobbed.
It’s tricky. I can’t justify cheating, but having been on the receiving end myself too, it’s always more nuanced than it looks on the surface.
Can you love someone and cheat on them? I don’t know. I know that I couldn’t, personally, but I would never speak for the rest of the world.
But many couples enter this type of phase – not just those who navigate infidelity – where they love each other deeply yet are also very unhappy.
And often, they turn their heads and pretend all is well. Society does put an alarming amount of pressure upon us to seem cheerful and jovial and always up for a laugh.
The consequence of this expectation is that many couples endure relationships that are far from fulfilling, based solely on the fear of disappointing others.
People stay in unhappy relationships, and everything starts to stagnate.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can love someone and let them go; there is no shame in acknowledging unhappiness in a loving relationship. Often, this is in fact the healthiest option.
So without further ado, I present 6 signs that you might be in an unhappy relationship (even though you love each other):
1) You’re constantly compromising
This one’s tricky, as to be in a healthy relationship, you have to learn to grow together which inevitably involves a lot of compromising.
However, too much compromise isn’t a sign of a fulfilling relationship.
If you’re constantly sacrificing plans to meet your partner halfway, deciding not to pursue certain interests because they don’t align with your partner’s, or not speaking up when something bothers you, you’re over-compromising.
Compromise will always be a relationship necessity, but doing so constantly and never feeling like you’re really pursuing your own dreams is not.
2) You’re always on your best behavior
Walking on eggshells?
Afraid of exposing how sad you really are to your partner out of fear they’ll abandon you or you’ll be labeled as depressing or crazy or irritating?
Society does put an immense amount of pressure on us to be happy all the time.
And whilst you might still be working on showing your true colors to the rest of the world, it’s a sad existence to feel like you have to wear a happy-mask at home too.
Even if you’re the one doing the repressing, you might find yourself resenting your partner for not acknowledging the real you…
Which is such a toxic cycle to be in as you’re the one not expressing, so how could they ever acknowledge your feelings? They’re not a mind-reader, after all.
Very few relationships can thrive under the weight of such pretense and falsities.
And as scary as it is, someone who will turn their back on you at your worst (or even if you want to complain and vent about a bad day at work) isn’t the best match for a long-lasting relationship.
The pressure to be constantly happy and only act in a positive manner around your partner might be an indication that you’re avoiding genuine intimacy and are straying into the emotionally unavailable category.
3) You avoid conflict
Your first argument will always be a tricky hurdle to overcome.
From then on out, couples learn how to navigate conflict.
Which buttons not to push.
When to give the other person space, and when to reassure them.
If you never argue, how do you learn these things?
How do you learn to express your feelings and free yourself from any resentment you might be carrying?
It’s an interesting phenomenon that the unhappiest of couples are not always the ones who are constantly at each other’s throats, arguing.
In fact, the unhappiest of couples are sometimes the silent ones. They avoid any topic that might cause strife, self-censoring to the point of utter silence.
If the idea of even the tiniest of arguments sends shivers down your spine, you might well have entered a phase of conflict fearfulness which does not bode well for a relationship.
4) You feel lonely and isolated
Returning back to the introduction, one sign of a relationship in distress is feeling incredibly lonely.
Their physical presence is there, sure, but emotionally, you feel devastatingly alone.
You might be sitting right beside them, but you still feel hundreds of miles away.
And you try to share my thoughts and feelings and they seem to listen, but it feels like the words go in one ear and out the other.
Sure, the love is there. But loneliness usurps it.
Feeling this level of isolation in a relationship isn’t normal.
It’s also not something you should ignore or brush aside. In fact, it’s a pretty clear sign that despite the love you two might share, something fundamental is missing.
I know: it’s a harsh reality to accept, but acknowledging it allows you to actually address the issues that are causing this sense of isolation.
Sticking your head in the sand and pretending nothing is wrong only leads to more sadness and loneliness on both sides.
5) You feel emotionally drained
I think most of us can agree that love and happiness are ideally intended to energize us, not leave you feeling depleted and ready for a 100-year-nap.
But if it feels like your relationship is sucking the life out of you, chances are your emotional wellbeing isn’t where it needs to be.
This might manifest itself as physical exhaustion, or just feeling like a constant blanket of stress and anxiety hangs over you at all times.
Relationships involve a great deal of energy exchange, but being drained and never receiving that dose of energy in return is indicative that you’re ignoring a bigger problem.
6) You constantly talk about how great the future will be
A weird one, as discussing baby names (or pet names) with your partner seems loving and idealistic.
But if you’re constantly talking about the big house you’ll soon buy, and how good times are just around the corner, and how next year will be better…
What’s wrong with now?
Constantly preaching about an idyllic future suggests either one of you or you both are unhappy with the present.
Discussing a heavenly future where no one argues and everything is perfect is also a great way to gloss over current relationship issues.
(Said with sarcasm.)
So be cautious of putting too much time and energy into dreaming up a grand future where you’re loved, content, and happy.
Living in a fantasy won’t do anything to help change what’s currently amiss in your relationship.
If you resonate with the above, you have my sympathy. It’s difficult to love someone so deeply, yet feel a vast distance between you.
However, acknowledging your feelings is paramount. Living in this constant state of repression and sadness benefits no one, so whilst it might be daunting, be brave.
Take the first step and reflect upon what you’re feeling. Incorporate your partner too, and work together where possible to find solutions through better understanding each other’s emotions.
From then on out, you can choose to stay and work together to try and attain a greater sense of shared satisfaction, or you can leave.
Being alone is scary, but it’s also in those ‘scary’ places beyond our comfort zones where the best of growth happens.
But for now, even acknowledging your unhappiness and voicing this to your partner might be that big stride outside of the comfort zone which will help you the most.
And remember: unhappiness in a relationship does not mean failure.
Often, it’s a sign that there is room for growth, improvement, and deeper understanding.
It’s uncomfortable, but it’s an invitation to confront the discomfort and thrive.