This week we've got a theme going about the role of our partners in our happiness... and whether or not it's a good idea to rely on them to provide your happiness. If you haven't read the previous post, feel free to catch up here:
3 Reasons to Reconsider Relying on Your Partner for Your Happiness (with link to original Bustle article with my quotes on the subject).
In the Facebook feed, someone had posted a question: "what about when you think your partner relies on YOU too much for their happiness?" What to do then?
Let's address that. Here's how to begin to consider the situation.
What Makes You Think They're Doing This?
First, I'd ask you to take some time to consider tangible examples of how this is playing out in your relationship. What makes you believe that your partner is relying heavily on you for their happiness? Come up with all the ways in which you're getting this message. This will help you identify the concrete behaviors that are behind this concern.
Why Are They Doing It?
Now it's time to put yourself in their shoes. This is called empathy, but the idea of practicing true empathy is a little intimidating/confusing (and why counselors are professionally trained on empathy) -- so for the sake of this exercise, I'm going to ask you to put yourself in your partner's shoes. Imagine all the possible reasons why they are looking to you for their happiness.
Are there reasons stemming from their childhood or personal history?
- Have you been together for so long that you're not sure if they've had the opportunity to evolve in their own sources of happiness?
- Is their external network a bit thin and so they look to you to provide them with the bulk of the emotional support (happiness included)?
- Is their idea of a partnership defined by producing mutual happiness? Where might this notion have come from?
What else is at play? These are the types of questions that a therapist would certainly dive into in order to help work on the situation. Later, we'll tie this into conversation with your partner on it to take the guesswork out.
How Is It Making You Feel?
Ok, this is a really important part. Don't skimp on this. Because this is the reason you're mulling this topic over for yourself in the first place. It's impacting you.
Let's get honest about how it's making you feel. Some of those feelings commonly include:
-Feeling a heavy sense of responsibility for one's partner's emotions.
- Worry that you can't live up to the expectations
- Frustration that your partner doesn't have enough else that makes them happy
- Feeling stuck in the relationship
- Feeling unsatisfied due to partner's inability to meet you equally in this
These are just a few themes I've commonly heard while counseling in my Old Saybrook office and with my remote clients in other states. Do any of them ring true? What are your unique responses?
What Are Your Concerns About It?
This is where we fast forward to the future. As you consider the impact of this dynamic, and your associated feelings, what are your concerns about it for the present as well as down the line? Common themes I've heard include:
- Worry about the future of the relationship
- Concern about the sustainability of the dynamic
- Guilt about wanting a different dynamic but feeling trapped in the current one
- Worry about committing for the long term and it becoming an even bigger issue later
- Perhaps even wanting to end the relationship but not doing so because you know how responsible you are for their happiness
But what are your personal concerns? Those concerns are what's most important. And, I'll tell you that if you're having even the most fleeting concerns about it, listen to those. They're telling you something that's worth paying attention to. And, that likely requires some work in the partnership.
Now that you've got an outline for what you're experiencing, feeling, and thinking, it's time to consider an honest exploration with your partner. If you've got the ability to talk about things openly and genuinely, approaching this subject will feel more comfortable for you. One way to do it is to actually use the outline above to guide your conversation. You can translate each point into:
- "This is what I've been seeing/experiencing.... What do you think?"
- "I've been thinking about why this could be the case, and I have some ideas (share them gently and kindly). But what do you think? What's true for you?"
- "The way it's been making me feel is...."
- "My concerns is that as we continue on it might..."
Does the thought of approaching this with your partner make you panic slightly? Does it seem impossible? Reach out for help from a trusted and experienced professional. Individual and couple's counseling can be an extremely effective way to open the lines of communication in a relationship... for the better, and for the long term.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in
greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all". Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your complimentary initial consultation.