As with most things in life, romantic relationships are, for many of us, a double-edged sword: while most find it wonderful to love and be loved, developing intimate emotional ties to someone makes us emotionally vulnerable—vulnerable not only to being hurt by our partner's opinions of and feelings toward us, but also vulnerable to being affected by our partner's bad moods. If a colleague or a friend gets depressed, we're often able to offer a comforting word or two without ourselves being drawn into his or her emotional maelstrom. When our partner becomes depressed or sad or angry or jealous or anxious, however, our own emotions are often triggered in unpleasant ways. Just what can we do to manage our own bad moods that arise as a result of our partner's?
These strategies work for me, I should note, because my partner's bad moods are rare. Though I imagine they would also work for someone with a partner whose bad moods are frequent, over time continuously having to manage one's own bad mood in response to a partner's will become exhausting. Knowing just when to call for professional help can be tricky, however. You don't want to overreact, but at the same time you don't want your own happiness continually contaminated by someone else's consistent unhappiness. In my view, just as people often attempt to care for a loved one with dementia far longer than they should (often out of a sense of loyalty, love, and desire to avoid putting them in a nursing home), so too do people allow their own reactive unhappiness to continue too long, often deciding to do something drastic (like leaving the relationship) after reaching a dramatic breaking point. A better approach, however, would entail consciously recognizing that things are going badly early, before such a breaking point occurs. So perhaps a simple rule of thumb might be this: if you ever find yourself realizing that you're no longer yourself—that is, you're unhappier in a relationship than you were when single—specifically as a result of being in the orbit of a partner whose bad moods are too contagious for you to resist, that's when it's time to call for help—for both of you.
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