15 common traits of unhappy couples (and how to overcome them)

You know that every relationship has its fair share of troubles but your negative interactions have escalated so that you start to wonder if you’re truly meant to be together.

Long-term relationships take a lot of work and some “negative” traits and interactions are just normal, but some of them are clear signs that a couple shouldn’t be together.

In this article, I will show you 15 alarming traits that define unhappy couples, and five ways to overcome them.

1) There’s plenty of sarcasm, and none of it is cute

Poking fun at one’s partner is quite normal among couples. One could even consider it a rite of passage or a milestone indicating compatibility.

However, no matter how close a couple may be, there will always be some things that they should never poke fun at and boundaries they should never cross. Jokes, especially sarcastic ones, should never be mean-spirited, with the intent to hurt. Neither of them should feel personally attacked.

And it’s not just with jokes. Sarcasm has become their go-to form of communication even during the most serious discussions.

Malicious sarcasm and snark in a relationship mean one or both partners may be nursing some anger and frustration on their part. Maybe one is still sore about the fight they had last month and their resentment is expressed through sarcastic remarks.

This can lead to even more resentment and unexpressed feelings that will only pile up as time goes by.

2) Someone is keeping score

Keeping score has no place in a good and healthy relationship. The only thing it’ll lead to is for the person on the ‘losing end’ to feel like they’re not getting what they deserve, and the other one to feel like they’re not good enough.

It’s perfectly normal to keep track of small things like who’s washing the dishes this week. However, a couple becomes unhappy where they would point fingers at one another for not pulling their weight.

What’s worse is that they keep track of who’s putting more effort in the relationship—like who’s buying gifts or who pays for what.

Love should be selfless. When you truly love someone, you should be doing your best to make the other person happy while accepting what they have to give without complaint.

It’s perfectly healthy to voice out one’s needs, of course. Indeed, it’s a must. But when one can’t accept the fact that there are some things the other simply can’t do, then they’ll both be unhappy.

When a couple keeps score of each other’s contributions and flaws, then one of them will win the battle, surely, but both of them have lost the war.

3) Someone’s been airing the dirty laundry

It’s cute when we see couples flex their relationship on the internet but when it comes to fights, they should be able to keep it to themselves. Struggles and private conflicts shouldn’t be broadcast for everyone to see and gossip about. Any problem between them should be a private matter between the two of them.

These couples may be entertaining to be around but they’re also a disaster waiting to happen. No healthy couple should make this a habit. Not only is it bad for their relationship, it’s bad for them as individuals, too.

It hurts when you hear that your partner has been speaking badly about you to other people. You might even doubt if they still love you. And if you’ve been sharing too much with your friends, your partner’s going to feel the same way when they hear what you’ve been saying.

A healthy relationship shouldn’t even have other people involved. Nobody matters here but you and your partner.

4) There’s little laughter and fun

A healthy relationship is one filled with happiness and laughter. If you have neither, why should you still be together?

This doesn’t mean that a good couple should burst into hysterical laughter all the time, of course. But it should be easy for them to make jokes at one another, without one fearing that the other would be offended.

Unhappy couples rarely laugh together.

They no longer find joy in one another. They can’t be bothered to throw jokes or even feel the need to make the other smile. This is a big indicator that they’re no longer happy in a relationship, especially if they’ve always laughed your asses off over the smallest things back in the day.

If you don’t laugh as much with your SO anymore, it could simply be that the two of you had gotten over your honeymoon phase and the magic that used to be there was now gone. That’s just normal.

But if you argue more than you laugh, maybe it means you’ve become an unhappy couple. No relationship might stay in the blissful highs of the honeymoon phase forever but it shouldn’t be joyless and stale either.

5) They’re just going through the motions

An unhappy couple is composed of unhappy individuals.

They’re just letting life happen to them. They’re so busy with their own troubles and goals that they’ve forgotten that they’re even in a relationship.

They might notice their relationship crack a bit around the corners but they just shrug and carry on as if there was nothing particularly important happening.

They might know that they should do something about it or else things will fall apart, but they’re too tired to care.

If you notice that you and your partner are just going through the motions, you’re probably living your life without any real shared goals. You have nothing exciting to look forward to—not a business venture nor a trip to a nearby lake.

Something like this happening means that both of you are unhappy and definitely in need of some kind of change—individually and as a couple. You might imagine yourself content in the moment, but you will look back and kick yourself for wasting your lives away.

6) They hide things from each other

We’re all allowed to have some privacy, even to the people we are married to. We’re not obligated to share all of our scars with our partner, for example, especially if it pains us to tell them of it.

However, if secrets rule a relationship, it’s a sign a couple is unhappy even if they seem okay on the surface.

Outside of the deepest, most personal secrets, our partner has a right to know about what we’re up to or how we’re feeling. Secrecy is a sign of distrust, and its presence will only breed more distrust…which is probably the most common recipe for unhealthy coupledom.

In a healthy relationship, both of you should be willing to do two things: 1) open up, and 2) give the benefit of the doubt.

Otherwise, you will eventually end up resenting one another, as well as going completely out of sync. You’d assume things about your partner that they aren’t thinking, doing, or feeling. And they would do the same to you.

7) They’re walking on eggshells around each other

Mutual respect and trust are some of the most important things that relationships are built on. A healthy relationship is supposed to be a place where one can express oneself openly without the fear of coming on too strong or driving the other person away.

An unhappy couple is the opposite—they’re scared of each other. They find it harder and harder to relax and be real.

There are, of course, times when we know we will have to tread carefully around our partners. Perhaps there are certain topics that they just don’t react to kindly, or traumas that they’d rather not get touched.

But it’s one thing to avoid a handful of topics out of respect for one’s partner, and another to always overthink and second-guess our actions in case we say the wrong thing and they’d throw a fit or give us the silent treatment all day long.

This situation is bad enough even when one-sided. When it happens that both are walking on eggshells around one another, then there’s something terribly wrong with the relationship.

8) Someone’s being bossed around

Everyone is equal in a relationship—nobody is above or below the other. It’s not like you’re working a corporate job where there’s a boss to give you work to do and evaluate your performance after.

No, relationships work with partners working with each other, hand in hand.

When someone is bossing the other around, then that means that they see themselves as being above the other, and that’s not just how relationships should be.

A healthy relationship should serve as a safe place where each other’s strengths are acknowledged. And even if one is significantly “lesser” than the other in whatever way, that doesn’t give the other the right to act like the commander.

Tearing each other down and making the other feel less, even with the best of intentions, is the very definition of a toxic relationship.

9) Communication is tainted and toxic

The adage “communication is key” is a cliché for a good reason.

At the core of every healthy and functional relationship is open communication. Most fights are often due to lack of clear and open communication.

It’s not enough to just communicate with our significant other. The way we deliver our words and getting our point across are also crucial. In a healthy relationship, a couple should feel closer when they communicate, not the other way around.

When you observe unhealthy couples, you will see that they clearly have a communication issue. When they talk, it seems exhausting even for outsiders.

There’s nagging, stone-walling, sarcasm, and many other toxic communication elements involved. Even the body language is clearly not healthy.

Is this you and your partner? Do you feel like you need to read between the lines when talking to your partner? Maybe your partner is not entirely lying, but probably leaving out important details.

Are you able to communicate your needs well to your partner without the fear of being judged or shut down?

10) Someone’s possessive

This might come as a bit of a whiplash, given how most of the entries so far painted the picture of a relationship gone dull and dead. But there’s another trait that unhappy couples might have, and that’s possessiveness.

It could be you, or it could be your partner. But someone between the two of you is incredibly possessive to the point where violence and threats aren’t unusual.

Possessiveness exists because of the presence of an insecurity or an aching want deep within someone’s heart. You might be so afraid to lose your partner to another that you’d rather cut them off from all their friends and family so that they will only have you to depend on, and nowhere to go if they were to leave you.

11) They’re no longer a team

When you’re with a couple who’s unhappy in their relationship, you can see that they’re not a team anymore. They argue endlessly about the smallest things and they even look for a way to prove the other one is wrong.

In a good teamwork, one makes up for what the other one is missing. They also try to solve things together, in the gentlest way possible.

An unhealthy couple would even ask validation from others just to prove that their partner is wrong.

When one is in crisis, the other is hesitant to rescue.

When one slacks off, the other one takes it personally instead of helping them.

This happens in all long-term relationships at some point but if it’s become the norm to your relationship, it isn’t a wonder you’re unhappy.

We all want to be in a relationship that feels like we’re one team.

12) They humiliate and shame one another

One partner might want more sex than the other and the one with high libido would jokingly call the other impotent in front of their friends.

One could be really bad at math and the other one would say they have a brain of a cactus…in front of their kids.

Not only are they verbally attacking each other, but they also make sure the whole world knows how much of a loser the other person is.

When people love one another, they try to do their best to make sure that their partner is happy and protected from the harshness of the world. They’d shield them even from their own flaws and negative self-talk.

If one is bad at math and insecure about it, the other would either say “no, you’re actually doing good” or “so what? It’s just math”. That’s what love is.

So when your relationship instead has both of you trying to bring each other down, then you’re doing the very opposite of what you should be doing as a couple.

Sadly, when your relationship has gotten to this point, chances are that it’s close to impossible to salvage. And if it hasn’t yet gotten to this point, then you can consider this a warning to do something to mend your relationship before it’s too late.

13) They sap one another dry

Unhappy couples look like they should be anywhere except near each other. They just suck the happiness out of each other, even affecting the people around them.

It’s not just that they argue because some couples who argue are truly healthy, it just seems like they are deeply unhappy when they’re together. This is such a sad thing to witness especially if they’re your parents or someone close to you.

It’s expected that when you’re in a relationship, you’d do your part and give your energy to build and maintain your bond with your partner. Normally such a thing would give you satisfaction. But if what you have isn’t fulfilling your needs as a person, then the only thing it’ll do is sap you of your energy and leave you feeling hopeless.

Yes, there will be times when you just can’t help but leave your partner wanting, and there are times when the two of you will end up getting stuck in misunderstandings.

Now, this is totally fine so long as you resolve your problems and spend more time helping one another rather than being emotional vampires.

The real problems begin when either or both of you find yourselves emotionally and physically drained around each other all the time. Neither of you are giving from the relationship, but both of you are taking from it.

And the result is that both of you are putting yourselves in a situation where your relationship is now hurting you both.

14) There’s a lot of “what if” and “if only”

Unhappy couples are full of regrets and discontent. One or both of them would regret and say “if only” they didn’t get married early, or fantasize about the possibility of living with a better partner.

If this is you, you’d find yourself lost in thought all the time, thinking about your relationship with your partner. And the thought that would cross your mind would be “if only” and “what if”.

When they disappoint you by failing to show up at your dinner date, you’d think “if only I didn’t bother.” When you look at other people being happy with their partners, you would think “if only I were with someone like them instead.”

Regret permeates your relationship. It’s there with every single decision you make involving your partner, and you just can’t help but wish you knew better or had done things differently.

A healthy relationship won’t have this sort of unhealthy, cloying regret and the desire to escape.

15) There’s mutual indifference

Sometimes what destroys relationships isn’t a lack of trust, communication, or even arguments. More often than not, it’s nothing more than indifference.

It can’t be denied that communication is one of the fundamental elements of a strong relationship. Happy couples may not always agree but, certainly, they let each other know how they’re feeling.

A relationship has trouble persisting when two people have gone into “autopilot” mode and grow indifferent toward one another. When your feelings towards your partner have become blank, then you’ve reached the point where it’s tricky to fix your relationship.

Sure, there might be communication, but it’s nothing more than just idle talk—the sort of conversations that two colleagues who had just bumped into each other in the mall might have.

Indifference is not caring anymore what your partner does in a relationship. They might even cheat on you and you won’t care.

Even misunderstandings and arguments stop. And while that might sound good, the fact is that it’s because you no longer care about them or the relationship.

You might think that you have achieved a state of Zen. A state of utter acceptance of the world as it is. But what’s really happening is that you’re now saddled with something that barely even counts as a relationship.

How to save your relationship

With so many problems haunting your relationship, is there any way it could yet be saved? The answer is—yes, and no.

It depends on just how bad you have it.

If your relationship had merely fallen into apathy or complacency, then it should be quite possible with some effort. But if it has gotten to the point where you spend most of your time together trying to hit each other in the head, then you have a high hill to climb. And you might not make it. But it’s always good to give it all you’ve got.

Here are some ways you can save your relationship:

1) Communicate better

Communication lies at the foundation of all relationships.

Oftentimes, problems arise between couples simply because they failed to maintain proper communication, perhaps due to fear, pride, or carelessness.

Whatever your problem may be, chances are that bad communication is part of the issue so you would be well served by trying to learn how to communicate better.

2) Learn to compromise

Arguments only ever seem so terrifying simply because we don’t often consider compromising.

Looking for a middle ground seems hard, but only because egos are at stake. You will have to learn how to set your egos aside and try to work towards whatever decisions and compromises will best serve you two as a couple.

3) Set aside time for dates

If your relationship is unhappy because you’ve grown apart, then it would only make sense that you should try spending time together again.

Remember how it was when you were still new and interested in one another.

Relive those days when you can, and do things just for the sake of making your partner happy. This won’t fix your relationship by itself, but it can certainly help!

4) Take responsibility

Relationships are built on trust and respect.

Taking responsibility for any and all mistakes you have committed, without saying a single “but…” is a good way to rebuild both.

Of course, it’s also incredibly important that when you do say something, you say it with intent and not just to appease your partner.

5) Visit a therapist

There are few people more qualified to fix broken relationships than a professional therapist. Don’t go to your parents or to your friends. While they can provide you comfort, they are not the best people to help you with your relationship.

If you want to fix your relationship, it’s a good idea to trust someone who actually spent a decent part of their lives studying how human minds work and how our emotions mold us.

If you can afford it, do couples therapy and individual therapy.

Last words

There are many things that could lead to couples living an unhappy relationship. Some might have just a few of the things on this list, while others might have almost all of them.

Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure: it’s not going to be easy fixing a relationship that has become dysfunctional and unhealthy.

Sometimes you will have no choice but to let go. But hey, nothing is impossible. There are so many couples who’ve bounced back after a very long phase of being unhappy.

For now, you have to stay hopeful and give it all you’ve got.

Did you like my article? Like me on Facebook to see more articles like this in your feed.

Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

8 things successful people never compromise on

17 things every woman should know before turning 40