4 signs your partner is secretly unhappy, according to psychology

Have you ever felt an unspoken tension in your relationship, sort of like a script waiting to unfold?

Take the film, Revolutionary Road. In it, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet play a young couple who lead a seemingly perfect life in the suburbs. 

The two of them have big dreams—only, they aren’t fully able to make them a reality. As the inevitable hardships of life set in, their relationship begins to unravel.

The lack of communication between their characters becomes a storm brewing under the surface. Secretly, both people are not happy. Not in the slightest.

Revolutionary Road has endured as a portrayal of the value of communication in relationships, urging us to pay attention to what is unsaid in our own love stories, and inviting us to speak our desires, fears, and frustrations aloud to our partners. 

So, where do we go from here?

Fortunately, in the real world, psychology has helped to lay out a blueprint, if you will, on all the signs that your partner is secretly unhappy.

Let’s take a closer look.

1) They haven’t forgiven you for a mistake you made in the past

When someone is wronged, their instinctive first response tends to lean towards retaliation. 

Researchers have put forward that looking to get back at someone in such situations is human nature, and “is deeply ingrained in the biological, psychological, and cultural levels of human nature.”

Fortunately, there is a way out of this painful cycle. And what do you know… that path involves forgiveness.

If you sense your partner hasn’t fully forgiven you for something you did in the past, it might be a sign of unhappiness.

In love, researchers tend to agree that forgiveness is one of the keys to a happy relationship—particularly when it comes to larger issues like infidelity or the breaking of trust.

In a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers went deep into exploring this important link between forgiveness and relationship satisfaction. 

While the connection between forgiving your partner’s mistakes and overall happiness in a relationship is widely known, the mechanisms underpinning the link aren’t super clear. This is where the study comes in.

The study, involving just under 1,000 participants, found that forgiveness can help to dramatically improve “negative communication patterns”. 

But here’s the clincher, it’s not enough for your partner to just forgive you.

Instead, there’s one magical little ingredient, according to the psychological study, and that’s “relationship effort.”

This effort has been helpfully defined by the Behavioral Self-Regulation for Effective Relationships Scale, or the BSRERS—Effort measure, which involves how much an individual “works” at their relationship through tactics such as regulating their behavior with the aim of improving their relationship.

So, if you sense your partner hasn’t fully forgiven you, and isn’t making the effort to do so, it could be an early warning sign of unhappiness.

(If you have the time—and curiosity!—I would highly recommend reading this comprehensive, groundbreaking study.)

2) They have stopped speaking up about their feelings 

We’ve said it before: communication is key. This is true in all parts of our lives, but especially our romantic relationships.

If you’ve noticed your partner is putting off communicating about issues or is allowing negative feelings to snowball, it can be a sign of unhappiness

This level of relationship dissatisfaction can be a result of unmet needs, unaddressed worries, or a lack of emotional connection.

Dr. Susan Albers-Bowling, PsyD, of Wooster Family Health Center, has backed this up.  

“Speak up quickly; don’t let the feelings fester,” Dr. Albers said to Cleveland Clinic. “The longer you wait, the more resentment is likely to build and explode in an argument over something insignificant.”

3) They insist on playing the blame game

In relationships, unhappiness or dissatisfaction can often be shown by the blame game.

You know what it is: that pattern of behavior where your partner is pushing the responsibility of problems onto you without taking any responsibility for their actions. It never feels good.

According to Steven Stosny, Ph.D., this tendency to blame can be a sign that your partner is unhappy.

“The law of blame is that it eventually goes to the closest person,” Dr. Stosny told Psychology Today. “Your resentful or angry partner is likely to blame you for the problems of the relationship — if not life in general — and, therefore, will not be highly motivated to change.”

He goes on to explain that your partner might have made a habit of this, of blaming external sources and people for their emotional states, and it leads to them harboring a great deal of anger and pain. 

Which brings us to our next point.

4) They get defensive

Is your partner frequently defensive when you try to talk to them? 

This defensive behavior might point to potential unhappiness or unresolved issues in the relationship, according to Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington.

Dr. Gottman introduced the concept of ‘The Four Horsemen’, which you might have heard thrown around in conversation.

The Four Horsemen are named after a biblical metaphor alluding to the “end of times” — conquest, war, hunger, and death.

In the scheme of romantic relationships, these Four Horsemen are represented by criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and you guessed it, defensiveness. 

These terms help underpin the destructive patterns and behaviors that cause unhappiness in a relationship.

When someone feels defensive, it suggests they perceive a threat or criticism. 

In a healthy relationship, partners should feel emotionally safe to express themselves without fear of judgment or attack. 

If you notice defensiveness becoming a pattern, it may show that your partner does not feel secure in sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Defensiveness is also a way for people to shield themselves from feeling vulnerable. 

If your partner is already unhappy or struggling in the relationship, admitting this vulnerability may be hard for them.

On the contrary, a partner who isn’t defensive will own up to their role and show real interest in your feelings. 

This shift allows for a far more effective and emotionally safe conversation with your partner, turning the two of you into a team that can take on the problem together. 

Final thoughts

To sum things up, keeping an eye out for signs like defensiveness, blame games, a lack of open communication, and lingering grudges can help you gauge if your partner might be secretly unhappy

The key? Foster open and judgment-free communication, creating a space for both of you to share your feelings. 

Addressing past mistakes with genuine apologies and a joint commitment to moving forward can also go a long, long way—trust me! 

Just remember, all of this is a team effort. Facing challenges together can strengthen your relationship and contribute to a happier and healthier connection. 

So, keep those communication channels wide open and tackle any issues as a united front.




Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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