Imperfect partners: He likes the spare room, she hates his jokes

When did you last call your spouse at work? Or book a night out? It’s the little things that show you’re still into each other. So how many have dropped off your list? Try Shane Watson’s test

Maybe it is standard January introspection, and all the talk about it being the biggest month for filing for divorce; maybe it is the buzz surrounding Apple Tree Yard, the new BBC series about a fiftysomething couple whose marriage looks fine (if you’re a fiftysomething couple) until she has sex with a stranger in the House of Commons. It could even be in the wake of the success of La La Land, the message of which is, can you be with the person of your dreams and follow your dream — and what if you never get close to either? Whatever is driving it, we’re all relationship-gazing like crazy.

This past week has been a particularly busy time for analysing public marriages. The outgoing first couple, Barack and Michelle Obama, have been such a reliable source of Into Each Other material (remember they made date night cool, eight years ago) that it has made the many images of the incoming president and his wife all the more jaw-dropping.

Whether it was Donald Trump striding ahead of Melania through the doors of the White House, forgetting they’re meant to be a couple, never mind a team. Or the sight of Melania, forcing a smile when he turned round to speak to her at the inauguration and then, the instant he turned back, letting her face fall, these two are the Not Remotely Into Each Other couple of the hour.

We know what loved-up looks like. And comfortably together. And together but not necessarily loving it. We are well versed in our friends’ relationships and five, ten, twenty years down the line there is nothing we like more than weighing up each other’s scores, and our own. So here goes.

HE’S NOT THAT INTO YOU, IF . . .

He doesn’t like to spend time alone with you
He panics at the prospect of a weekend spent à deux, never mind a week, and will sabotage any hint of a romantic assignation by asking along your best mates (which is to say his best mate and his wife). Initially you thought this was quite sweet, but now you are wondering. At best, the friends are back-up. At worst, he has nothing to say to you, and/or needs ever-present posse validation, like Elvis.

He is not interested in your views
Once he appeared to hang on your every word, but now you wonder if that was just best-behaviour acting. He often avoids meeting your eye when you’re talking, and always if you’re telling an amusing anecdote. Recently — unless you were imagining it — he told you to shhh so he could listen to what someone more interesting was saying.

He doesn’t respect your taste
When decorating his home office he asks his mother’s opinion, then his sister’s. What is more, not to be paranoid, he is secretive about the whole office decoration project and it seems to you that he is creating his own fantasy bachelor pad, with pictures and objets culled from your house. Either that or he has something else to tell you.

He is not that interested in you
Here’s a clue. He says things like: “All women like designer handbags/spa breaks/sushi/white wine/Jimmy Choos.” You are not bothered about any of the above, apart from white wine. And, now that you come to think of it, he can’t remember anything about the real you.

He knows what you earn, but he isn’t interested in what you do
He never asks you how your day was. Glazes over when you start talking about a work problem. Seems faintly astonished when you announce you’ve had a success or promotion.

Your social life is split between His friends and Your friends
He doesn’t seem to feel an automatic obligation to turn up for your friends’ stuff. Similarly, if you want to leave the party before he does, he will wave you off and tell you he’ll sleep in the spare room so as not to wake you when he gets in.

He sometimes sleeps in the spare room for reasons that are not entirely clear
It started when you had that cough, and then it became about the mattress and his back. He is keeping odd things in the spare room too.

He is definitely not spending any money on you
He keeps a mental tab of who paid for what, right down to the money you borrowed from him to get some emergency tights. If he pays for dinner, he makes a huge deal of it.

He would never, ever pick you up at the airport


On New Year’s Eve, when it came to the countdown, he was nowhere to be seen
Not kissing each other first at midnight, even at this stage, is not a good sign. It means your relationship is condemned in the not too distant future. It’s just Very Not Bothered. NB: if you were giving the party and one of you was wrestling with the fuse box at the time, this doesn’t count.

On group outings to the cinema he shows no interest in sitting next to you
He won’t sit anywhere near you at a restaurant table with friends either. If you do end up at either end of the room at some hellish birthday do, you don’t catch him looking at you.

He cuts loose and avoids you at parties
If you were to approach him in a group at a party he would shuffle off quickly, as if time spent in your vicinity is automatically time wasted. “See her all the time!”

He will not go to see La La Land with you

When you were struck down with the mega-runs on holiday he left you in the hotel
He thought it perfectly fine to go off for the day to visit some unmissable historical site. HELLO?

He has a female friend he refers to as “a truly amazing woman”
He has never made the effort to get you together with this woman, as you might have expected (on the basis that you are amazing too . . . slightly more amazing . . . hopefully . . . and naturally he wants you to be the best of friends). In fact, you suspect he prefers having her all to himself.

When you got lost at the Christmas party, having been horribly overserved early on, he made no attempt to find you
You were lying under the pile of coats in the spare room. This counts as a three in one. He didn’t miss you. He wasn’t looking out for you. And when he did miss you, he didn’t care. How is this going to pan out when you need your solids mashing up?

He did not respond correctly when you last did the standard self-flagellating routine of “Urgh, look at this . . . I need to lose a stone!”
He said not: “Don’t be ridiculous you are gorgeous” (the correct response), but “Well, why don’t you just give up carbs for a bit?” WHAT! What does he mean carbs? Is he talking about biscuits?
You saw him wince when you were dancing

SHE’S NOT THAT INTO YOU, IF . . .

She sometimes wears that Russian wedding ring that a previous (very serious) boyfriend gave her
Are you kidding? Yes, it’s “too nice not to”, but Ffffff. That’s a hex. That’s worse than a Daniel For Ever tattoo.

She isn’t bullying you about your drinking/diet/mole checks/carcinogenic deodorant/sugar habit
That’s right, she seems to be no longer putting her back into Project Keep Him Alive. Her line is that she hates nagging and doesn’t want to get on your nerves. Obviously you are not looking for a mother, but you might want someone who cares whether you live or die.

She really flirts with your friends, in a way that you don’t remember at the outset
Some well managed flirting can be good for your ego and rep. However, when you can’t remember the last time she laughed at your jokes but she’s roaring with laughter at your friends, you’ve got a problem.

She is not overly concerned with keeping the WAGs on side
Bull’s-eye Alarm Bells! The woman who is into you will make it her top priority to keep those girlfriends on side. Also your work colleagues and their spouses.

She won’t go to your work do’s

She never gets you asked to her work do’s
She always says, “Oh, you’d be bored.” Or, “There’s no point, it’ll be mainly women.” NB: Women who are Into You love nothing more than showing you off to their girlfriends. “Mainly women” does not wash.

She has misplaced the (not cheap) bracelet you gave her
She is about as bothered as you are when you discover at the supermarket checkout that you’ve left your “bag for life” at home.

You have heard her say to her friends, “Oh, he wouldn’t notice either way”, in the context of appearance/house/her mood
That started with you being Not That Into Her. Or just lazy. Now it’s taken root — now she’s not bothered.

She won’t indulge your ailments
Even if you are, by any standards, a ridiculous hypochondriac.

She never says “we”
She says “I” a lot. And “my” house. Party. Children. Dog.

She knows how much you earn, but she definitely doesn’t want to hear about what you do

She watches The Affair season three on her laptop in bed with headphones
Also The Staircase, which was your idea, and now she’s four episodes in without you.

BUT ACTUALLY YOU DON’T NEED TO WORRY IF

She . . .
• Still meets up with an old ex. Women like to do this once in a while, especially if they are looking particularly good, to demonstrate (to him and to themselves) how far they have come. If it was a heartbreaker she is checking in to prove that things have never been better. It’s like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman returning to the designer shop where they wouldn’t serve her, dressed to kill: “Big Mistake. Huge.”
• Goes on and on about how attractive Karl Ove Knausgaard is. And the bloke who is painting the windows at work. This, believe it or not, demonstrates confidence and security in your relationship. Usually.

He . . .
• Is exceptionally tactile with all your friends. He’s just one of those. Assuming he is tactile with you, that is.
• When on the romantic mini-break he becomes obsessed with the in-room TV film library as if you don’t own a TV at home. Infuriating but not necessarily a bad sign.

BRING YOUR RELATIONSHIP BACK FROM THE BRINK: THE PSYCHOTHERAPIST’S GUIDE By Jean-Claude Chalmet, psychotherapist

It is common for couples to be struck by a sense of having drifted apart, as if they are suddenly strangers. Nothing dramatic has happened, no affairs, but they realise that the intimacy in their relationship has been lost. There is no contact, no communication, no sharing, no connection. Instigating change is frightening, as is the feeling of standing on the cliff edge of your relationship, yet the fact that you have not asked for a divorce is a reason for optimism. If the will is there, togetherness is recoverable.

Remember how you felt when you first met
If a couple comes to see me, the first thing I ask is: “Do you remember what you felt for each other when you first met?” To rescue a relationship from the brink requires rediscovering what existed at the start, recalling why you chose to make a life together.

Try to get the sex back
Some couples who have drifted apart can end up going five, six, or even ten years without sex. And a lack of sex only increases your sense of distance. Sex is the hardest part to rekindle because there is so much fear and anxiety around it. For many, there is no question of bonding through sex or touch until they have exorcised long-held hurts and can feel warmth again. That said, if the sex could come back it can preclude the need to discuss other things. Sex can be healing — a shorthand that kick-starts forgiveness and starts to bring you back together.

Actually listen to each other when you are talking
To reconnect emotionally requires resolving resentment and indifference. To reignite passion, the feeling of nurturing your partner, and being nurtured, requires honest communication. So talk, but listen to hear rather than listen to answer. If you are always misunderstood you will give up talking. A technique we use in therapy is for the couple to sit opposite each other; one talks, the other repeats what he or she has heard. Listen in a state of curiosity, where you genuinely try to understand your partner’s viewpoint rather than foist blame. Often, part of the unravelling is that couples have lost respectful communication.

Work out what you do that drives the other mad
Recognise what behaviours, and why, make you resentful. Perhaps you are extremely tidy and your partner has for years left their socks under the sofa. This might be thoughtless, semi-spiteful or an unconscious way of trying to desensitise you. Once you have clarified what actions or attitudes you find unacceptable, your partner has a choice. They can change or compromise. If they don’t, that’s a message of a different kind.

Try to let go of the small injustices
Soothing the smarting scars of old wounds is important. Sometimes couples arrive in clinic with a catalogue. If it is a significant injury, I ask: “What would you like to see or hear to be able to overcome that resentment?” Then I ask the partner if it is possible to oblige them. Sometimes, what seems insignificant can hurt deeply because it touches a sore point from early life. That isn’t your partner’s responsibility, but if they can take responsibility for what they did, that engenders goodwill.

That said, it is not essential to discuss every injustice. It is the greater sense of feeling understood and validated that matters; then it is easier to let go of niggles. “That time, 20 years ago, when you mocked me at that dinner party!” may relate to your being mocked as a child and the consequent fear that your partner finds you dull. But of course, we are all dull if we put no energy or effort into a relationship.

Brave a date night
Rekindling your relationship does not mean flying off for a weekend together on the slopes. It is not about blowing cash. It can help to get away from a home that swills with bad feeling — but you will have to return to it. I advise a date night, excruciating as that sounds, which it will if for the past few years you have been that couple who sit in silence, checking their phones, or don’t go out as a pair. So eschew the stuffy restaurant. I suggest each partner takes turns to organise a surprise. You are trying to recreate a sense of how it was when you first got together. (I say that not to add pressure, but to convey what you are trying to achieve. It has to be well thought-out and considerate of both parties.) It is not an easy undertaking, but do not underestimate the value of your willingness to make an effort.

Describe what you think would make a satisfying relationship
Rekindling the spark requires each partner to consider the role that they played in allowing distance to grow to the point where you realise: “There’s nothing here.” What did you do, or not do? Where did you drop the ball? I ask couples: “If I could wave a magic wand and you could wake up to a more satisfying relationship, what would it look like?” Once you can visualise the life you want together you can identify the changes required.

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