This article first appeared on SHE'SAID' and has been republished with permission.
Given the choice, I’d rather be down in the dumps myself than have my partner be blue — and it’s not because I’m so altruistic that I want to spare him from emotional pain.
It’s because hanging out with someone who’s in a bad mood is a serious bummer. At least when you’re in a bad mood, you can wallow. When you’re at the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up, so you’ve got nothing to lose.
Not so, when you’re feeling great. If you’ve ever been excited to see your boyfriend, only to meet up and find that he’s in a funk, you know what I mean. His grouchy face is like a pin, ready to burst the balloon of your happiness. It’s easy for this situation to spiral quickly into a fight, pulling you right down with him into the depths of his misery.
It’s a sad truth that it’s much easier for an unhappy person to drag someone down than it is for a happy person to pull someone up. But, even though it might be more work, it’s not impossible. Here are nine ways to deal with your partner’s terrible mood — without succumbing to it yourself.
1. Shore up your boundaries
Maintaining strong boundaries with the people we’re most intimate with can be difficult. We’re our most vulnerable selves in romantic relationships, and that can make it hard to draw a line and protect ourselves when it becomes necessary — or to even know when it’s necessary. But there are times when it’s critical to keep those boundaries strong. Your partner being in a bad mood is no excuse for being mean. If your SO lashes out when he’s down, back away and take care of yourself. When the bad mood has passed, bring it up and discuss how he can keep it from happening again.
2. Don’t try to fix it
There’s nothing more annoying, or less helpful, than someone trying to talk you out of a bad mood. Sure, you can listen to him vent, suggest an activity that might make him feel better, and do all the other things on this list. But don’t take on responsibility for trying to “fix” your partner’s bad mood. If you’re a people-pleaser or struggle with codependent behavior, you’ll be tempted to try and make it all better. Don’t.
3. Give him space
Sometimes, when you’re in a bad mood, what you really need is some time alone to recalibrate. Guys tend to need their space, anyway — so if your partner seems to be backing away and closing off when he’s grumpy, take the hint and let him have some time to himself. Try not to be offended. Wanting to be alone doesn’t equal not loving someone. Sometimes, the most loving thing someone can do is take some alone time and spare you being in the company of their moodiness.
4. Practice good listening skills
Let’s face it: most of us aren’t so great at listening. Often, we tune out because we think we already know what someone is going to say, and we’re thinking of what we’re going to say next. When someone’s in a bad mood, it can be even harder to really listen to them. But make the effort. Tune in, get curious, keep your mouth shut, and listen to your partner without guessing what they’re going to say, or having an agenda for how they can feel better.
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5. Offer empathy
While you don’t want to try to leap to the rescue and fix your person’s bad mood, you can be empathetic and offer commiseration. Empathy is different than sympathy: when you’re empathetic, you put yourself in someone’s shoes. When you’re sympathetic, you feel sorry for them. If they’re willing to talk about what’s wrong, try to see things from your partner’s point of view.
6. Don’t take it personally
Unless you actually know that you did something to directly cause your partner’s bad mood — lied to him, cheated on him, or let him down in some way, just for example —don’t assume it has anything to do with you. Most of the time, a bad mood isn’t anyone else’s fault. If you’re offended or hurt by your partner’s negative feelings, to the point where you can’t cope, or you make it all about you and how much his mood is affecting you, then you might be the one who needs to take some space and work out your issues.
7. Take notes for next time
If you really can’t control your impulse to do something about your partner’s bad mood, here’s an idea: quietly take notes on the circumstances of this particular funk. Is he under pressure at work? Has he been sick? Is he having trouble sleeping? Are his parents in town? There’s a fine line between being codependent and looking out for your person. If you know what sets him off, you can gently suggest ways to avoid these situations — or at least know when to back off and give him space.
8. Make a new plan
So you had a dinner reservation at the place where you had your first date and you’d been looking forward to a perfect, romantic evening all week long. Bummer. Sometimes life throws a wrench into our plans, and we’ve got to be willing to roll with it. Isn’t it better to cancel the reservation and take yourself to a movie while your SO stays home to recuperate, rather than forcing things and risking a blowup?
9. Wait it out
My best friend used to say that moods are like waves in the ocean — they roll in and they get pulled out to sea again. You’ve got to learn how to surf, and not get knocked down by your own emotions. In the case of a partner, sometimes you just need to stand on the shore and watch the tide go in and out, knowing that this, too, shall pass.