The Five Warning Signs of a Deeply Unhappy Partner

And It Usually Has Very Little To Do With Our Relationship With Them

Ellen McRae
Apr 14 · 7 min read
Image created on Canva

My ex broke up with me on our two-year anniversary.

When I asked him what we were doing to celebrate the big day, he said we wouldn’t be celebrating. We were over.

I don’t know what sucked more. The fact he was choosing this day of all days to do it. Or the fact that inevitable had finally played out without my ability to stop it.

I wish I could lament over his decision, feign surprise in some way. Yet, I knew the break up was coming. I could see the warning signs for months. I watched his behaviour change. I observed his shifting attention away from our relationship. I watched the way our relationship diminished as he pushed me out of his life.

The more his behaviour changed, the impending break-up didn’t trouble me. My concerns weren’t for our fragile relationship. I grew increasingly restless over his happiness. He was despondent, more so than over our failing relationship, and the warning signs were everywhere.

Here are the warning signs I couldn’t ignore.

He Kept Taking Sick Days

My ex worked for a small accounting office, playing the whipping boy to their administration needs. He answered the phone, accepted deliveries, handed out the mail. It wasn’t stressful, as he would describe. Quite the opposite. He loved his work.

I noticed three months before our split that he started taking a lot of sick days. The first occasion I wasn’t too worried about, despite the fact he wasn’t sick. Everyone needs a day off, I reasoned.

But soon it was a day off every second week, then every week. I worried his job was at risk, considering he was out of sick leave and dipping into his holiday leave. When he stayed home, he rarely left the couch. Sometimes I would come around to check on him. In the middle of the afternoon, there he was on the couch, still in his pyjamas.

The Alarm Bells

Sustained and unusual behaviour is always a red flag. Yet, this is especially worrisome when it spreads into other areas of their life, such as work. There’s usually little to worry about if this happens once, but in my experience is best to look out for:

  • Repeated behaviour that is negative or damaging to their way of life
  • Uncharacteristic or sudden changes in behaviour in a negative way
  • Changes that occur independently of life events or that can’t be attributed to detrimental life events. This could be mourning a loved one, for example

He Didn’t Return Any Calls

I would try to call him, much like any other time during our relationship, and he wouldn’t return my calls. But when his friends, family, work would call him, they too received little response. He approached communication with the outside world with a deep malaise, unable to even locate his phone at one point.

I didn’t know how bad it was until one of his friends contacted me, hunting for him. He hadn’t shown up to drinks at the pub, and all the friends assumed he had been in an accident. That night I couldn’t get onto him either. At least it wasn’t just me, I thought. But that silver lining should have never gone through my head.

The Alarm Bells

It’s easy to mistake when someone loses interest in us romantically to when they lose a lust for life. That’s when it’s paramount to have a relationship with their friends and family to lean on. An alarm bell may be:

  • Shut down of emotions or reactions to specific stimuli
  • Unable to become excited about life or events
  • Shut down of communication on all levels, or on certain topics
  • Deliberate exclusion from life and usual activity

He Didn’t Sleep Next To Me

Sex was long gone before he moved beds. Though we weren’t living together, I would stay at his place often. We enjoyed a healthy sex life for most of our relationship. But with his changing behaviour became his increasingly weird nighttime routine.

No matter how much I coaxed him, he wouldn’t go to bed. He would insist on staying up past the time I went to sleep, and then always I would find him on the couch. Usually asleep with the remote still in his hand. The television would still be playing the re-runs from last week’s football game and he would be snoring at the top of his lungs.

I wondered if he had permanently moved to the couch.

The Alarm Bells

Physical intimacy changes are often attributed to changes in the relationship. With longevity comes a changed intensity towards intimacy. It’s only normal for the levels to decrease over time. But changes in sleep routine aren’t so normal. An alarm bell may be:

  • Changes in how they get to sleep or what it takes for them to fall asleep
  • Changes in how long they sleep for
  • Changes in their need for sleep, like additional naps throughout the day
  • Changes in where they sleep or their entire nighttime routine

He Made Excuses To Go Home

Work or pleasure, I could see my ex’s struggle with being away from home. When he left for work, I couldn’t coax him to come home from the pub or a meeting. This was especially true of a Friday night after the working week was over.

But one Friday night, he called me from the train, sometime after six. He was on his way home, no drinks, no desire to even pursue the weekend’s possibilities.

This pattern continued. We would go out for dinner and as soon as we finished our meal, he would insist we would leave. House parties were perfect for him. The more crowded they became, the easier it was for him to leave without anyone noticing.

The Alarm Bells

The home is a safe place for many people. But when it becomes more than an escape from a stressful day, when it becomes a bunker to hide in, that becomes concerning. An alarm bell may be:

  • Increased desire to go home as soon as being out
  • Decreased desire to leave home or want to socialise
  • Increased need to ‘hibernate’ or be away from people
  • Changed ethos towards socialising
  • Unable or willing to plan events, holidays or alike occasions

He Began To Panic

My ex always had a cool head. It’s what attracted me to him in the first place. Nothing phased him, and he always rolled with the punches. I could rely on him during every crisis. He was a logical thinker and incredibly in control of his emotions.

But as life changed for him, the panic set in. The smallest of problems would occur, like running out of salsa to make nachos, and he was in a tailspin. I watched as his hands would shake and he couldn’t focus on the task at hand. It was so unlike him.

The Alarm Bells

Sometimes people change their approach to life. They change their response to people and situation. But when these changes occur, most of the time they share them with their partner. They’re actively working on these shifts. It’s when these changes occur without intent that is of concern. Alarm bells could be:

  • Extreme shifts in responses to ordinary stimuli
  • Uncharacteristic outbursts or emotional episodes
  • Unpredictable behaviour that is emotionally charged and worrisome

Be Aware And Add Up

Some days he was his usual self, and these were the times I stopped worrying about him. Everyone has their day, I would reason, and the fact he was at work or hanging out with friends meant he was fine. But this was very naive of me.

I’m not a psychologist, nor could I ever diagnose him with depression. But with a little education, it wasn’t a surprise to learn this was what he was suffering from. And sometime later a doctor confirmed these suspicions.

If there was anything I could pass onto to anyone in a situation similar to mine is vigilance. These warning signs of an unhappy partner often fall into your lap, but you don’t know it.

It’s not until you take a step back, in my case after we broke up, and put all the little pieces together. But for some people and some relationships, waiting for all the pieces to fall into place can be too late.

Though I don’t advocate for recording your partner’s behaviour, it’s worth noting down what you’re noticing. Examine if there are any connections. Had I done that I would have realised his struggles were in more than one part of his life or more than our relationship problems.

If you can talk to them, do. It’s something I wish I did. I wished I asked him what was he was feeling, and what was changing for him. Instead, I stood by and watched as these little things added up before my eyes.

I made excuses for all it. I justified every little bit because I didn’t want to think he could be unhappy. Not just unhappy with me, but unhappy in life. So I invented ways to ignore it.

Ignoring the changing behaviour isn’t helpful for them. Or you. Don’t do what I did. Don’t let the break up happen without asking ‘are you ok?

Because it might be too late.

I’m Ellen McRae, writer by trade and passionate storyteller by nature. I write about figuring about love and relationships by analysing my experiences. Some of the stories are altered to protect the people in my life. But my feelings are never compromised. /


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Thanks to Elizabeth Dawber

Ellen McRae

Written by

Relationships. Drama. Bad Dates. Business Failures. Learning about life/business/love the hard way//



A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (

Ellen McRae

Written by

Relationships. Drama. Bad Dates. Business Failures. Learning about life/business/love the hard way//



A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (

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