Photo: Oprah.comBy Amy Shearn
1. He's Obsessively Acquiring Electronics
As the novelist and essayist Charles Baxter put it in his book Burning Down the House, "People in a traumatized state tend to love their furniture." It's almost as if we're gathering things to bolster against loneliness. And there's a study to confirm the same rule applies to marriage: Margaret Clark, a professor of psychology at Yale, found that "people who attach more value to their possessions may be less secure in their personal relationships than those who put less value on material goods." A large-screen, 3D-enabled television isn't complicated. A shiny new tablet won't expect too much.
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Photo: Oprah.com2. You're the "Dining Dead."
The first time it happens, you think, "How nice, that we can just be quiet together." But the 12th time you might experience a chill so subtle you blame it on the temperature in the room. Here you are, sitting together in a nice place and...having absolutely nothing to say to each other.
Photo: Oprah.com3. Instead of Hearing You Out, He Says, "We've Been Through This Already."
No one in his right mind actually wants to argue. You know what's more fun to do with your partner than to argue? Going to see the worst band in the world play outdoors during a hailstorm. Eating undercooked, badly seasoned experimental risotto. Almost anything, really. But in a healthy relationship, your partner will at least listen to what you are saying, rather than just focus on how annoying and repetitive the argument is. It might seem like he's doing you both a favor by cutting your fight short--but it might also mean he just doesn't care enough to figure out what you're really upset about, or to work together toward a solution, so that, possibly, you won't have to have the same annoying, repetitive, truncated argument next week.
Photo: Oprah.com4. You Know Way Too Much About Sheila, at Work
"So Sheila, at work, is having this really awful thing with her ex," he says, a little too sympathetically. You nod, also sympathetically, because you know that Sheila has been having digestive problems and had to go gluten-free, and also that Sheila's aunt with whom she was really close died last month, and...hold on. Why do you know so much about Sheila At Work? An overly enthusiastic friendship with a so-called work wife may not translate to actual nookie in the actual conference room--after all, you don't mind him having female friends--but it could suggest that something is lacking from your relationship that he is looking for somewhere else. And he may not even know it himself. But when he seems to have more sympathy for the ongoing sagas of Sheila At Work than he does with your own various ordeals, that's more than being a concerned colleague. That's a "We need to talk" memo.
Photo: Oprah.com5. You've Been Put on the Toothbrush Trial
For some reason your roommate--er, life partner--has been following you around all night, when all you want is to finish up the evening's menial tasks so that you can commune with your true passion (i.e., DVR'd episodes of Game of Thrones), tapping you on the shoulder and asking you inane questions about electric toothbrushes and dry cleaning and RSVPs. Is he trying to be irritating? I'm guessing that no, he is not trying. (It comes naturally! Hey-oh!) Chances are he's hungry for a little attention, and is therefore resorting to the grown-up's version of sleeve-tugging. Give it to him--not only will you be nurturing your relationship, but you'll increase your chances of getting a foot rub while you catch up with the Lannisters.
Photo: Oprah.com6. He's Having Guys' Night at the Hibachi Grill
When you're together, you order the same Chinese food every time (same places, same dishes, same greasy packets of mustard no one uses). You select movies from the same Netflix ghetto (Romantic Comedies Based on Foreign Films with a Dark Twist Recommended for Jane & John) every weekend. "He never wants to try anything new," you complain to a girlfriend, only it's not quite true, is it, because when he's with his friends he'll try anything, from windsurfing to kale. In a romantic relationship, there is, or at least should be, the profound joy that comes from being known; that familiarity, though, can make a body feel loathe to change, afraid of eye rolls or "You do not!"'s from those closest to him. There needs to be room, in your relationship, in every relationship, for him to say, "This is going to sound crazy, but maybe we could..."
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Photo: Oprah.comBy Amy Shearn