Some people seek therapy not to improve their own unhappiness, but to deal with their unhappy mate. Living with a sad, disgruntled, complaining and sour partner is a frustrating predicament.
Neuroscientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and economic researchers use the dictionary definition of happiness, “The state or quality of being content”, which is a bi-product of a meaningful, purposeful life. Yet, some people who have productive lives of measurable contributions still have a less than happy disposition.
Part of our proclivity to positive affect is an inborn determinant. Some people have a sunnier disposition from birth and most people are predominantly happy and occasionally unhappy. It is the duration and intensity of emotional malaise that grates on spouses and the family. Most people feel better in the company of contented people.
Recent research by Christakis and Fowler reported in the British Medical Journal found that levels of happiness were impacted by to one’s association with others. A co-resident spouse who is happy increased a mate’s happiness level by 8%, a happy next-door neighbor did even better by improving one’s mood by 34%, happy friends within a mile added 25% and even a happy friend of a friend is credited with 10% elevation in your happiness scale. Happy partners may be concerned when social contagiousness does not increase their mate’s happiness.
Whether or not associating with others can significantly improve your level of happiness, those who cohabite with an unhappy partner can attest to the fact that a sour mood clouds the atmosphere and is most uncomfortable to live with.
Various factors can contribute to one’s unhappiness. Viewing the world as a harsh and unsafe place may be a protective survival attitude, but causes chronic discontent. Unhappiness may be a product of negative self-talk that produces fear, vulnerability and worry. Discontentment may serve to elevate one’s esteem by feeling wronged by others, or be propelled by a need to receive encouragement and reassurance. Some people feel unhappy as a result of being disempowered by life circumstances. Unsatisfactory relationships often do sour one’s mood. These and many other causes are commonly out of the unhappy person’s conscious awareness. None of them are about you.
Caring mates attempt to cheer up their partner. They may try to alter his/her life view, use reassurance, or debate the tenets of the beliefs causing the discontent. Some spouses become more enthusiastic and happier to overshadow their mate’s low mood. Others introduce light-hearted exchanges, use humor and select uplifting movies, books or comedy shows. When these efforts lead to no change, partners often feel defeated and blame themselves for their mate’s grim mood. Ignoring the sad affect, withdrawal or anger are common outcomes of frustrated help attempts. Few are so distressed that they seek professional help in dealing with the grumpy, unchanging mate.
All these and other well-intentioned efforts to alter a loved one’s unhappiness are unlikely succeed because the owner of the difficulty is not the one seeking help.
If your partner is unhappy:
• Abstain from becoming responsible for improving your mate’s unhappiness. It is a personal state and can only be altered by the individual him/herself.
• Explore with your partner whether the unhappiness is intra-psychic (within his/her nature and of long duration), situational, (impacted by life circumstances) or interpersonal, (related to the relationship with you or others).
• If it is an interpersonal cause the involved parties need to seek resolution.
• If the unhappy state is relatively new and longer than three weeks, your partner may be suffering from an acute distress or even depression.
• Inform your mate, without accusation or criticism, of your concern about his/her unhappiness. Detail how it affects you and ask how you may help.
• If your mutual attempts to improve your mate’s mood are unsuccessful, your partner should seek professional help for his/her health and your relationship’s greater well-being.