My boyfriend’s moodiness is effecting me negatively

Dear Lisa,

When my partner is happy and well, I am over the moon with joy. When my partner is sad or depressed or in pain, I am sick with emotional knots in my stomach and grumpiness. Is this unhealthy to let the person I love affect me so much? I would love to just continue on being happy when he isn’t, but it is something I find extremely challenging. I want to hold space for my partner to feel whatever he needs to go through, and be there to support him- but I seem to just ache with whatever he is going through as if i’m feeling it too. Help.

–Cow Who Tripped Over The Moon ( )


Dear Cow Who Tripped Over The Moon,

What you are feeling for your partner is in part empathy, which is a very natural (and healthy) response when witnessing another living being in pain. I think that to a certain point, the closer and more invested in another person you become, the more you feel what they feel. In this sense, what is happening for you makes sense. I would say that the intensity of what you’re feeling though, combined with the physicality, are a sign that it’s time to dig deeper.

There are a few places you might start. The first that occurs to me is your physical sensations. Knots and other feelings in the pit of your stomach are usually related to fear. So, I’m curious if there are any conscious fears that come to mind when he becomes depressed or unhappy? Maybe about the security of your relationship? The grumpiness makes me think of anger more than anything, possibly resentment, maybe toward him for not keeping his negativity to himself, or toward yourself for not being able to deal with it more effectively? Feelings are meant to be felt, maybe your body is giving you signs of feelings that you aren’t feeling as well as whatever he’s feeling (or not feeling as the case may be).

Secondly, I would take a look at whether other peoples happiness effects your state of mind in general. If it does, you probably get the same sort of feelings when other people are upset – consider interactions with your children, the rest of your family and people at work. Notice your mood when you are by yourself, and then whether it changes to match (or attempts to elevate) that of those around you when you aren’t alone.

Depending on others for your happiness brings me to my last though, that you might question whether you question your own worth or helpfulness as a person when the world around you isn’t running smoothly. Is there a chance that you are attributing others moods or ability to cope as a gauge of your effectiveness as a partner/mother/daughter/employee? Do you immediately question what you’ve done or haven’t done to cause whatever change seems to be taking place around you?

The way I see it, as humans we have simultaneous needs for self expression, including our emotions and feelings, and other equally valid needs for harmony and consideration. In other words, both you and your partner have the right to express what you are feeling, as well as live in an environment that is harmonious and not constantly under the influence of negativity. Sometimes one of you is going to feel negative, and the other will be desiring peace and harmony, at which point you may both benefit from a pre-decided plan.

If you resonate with what I’ve said above, and it does appear to be at least partially to do with what you feel about yourself and your own self worth, I suggest that you (at a moment that seems harmonious) let him know what you’ve been taking on his moods, and sometimes taking it personally (you might even be the type to try and be extra positive and helpful to make up for his negativity?) and that you aren’t sure what the best thing for you to do would be. He may have some suggestions as to what he or you could do in that moment, and he may not. Let him think about it, and if he still comes up with nothing, ask him if it would bother him if you checked in during those hard periods. Then, when you start to feel the knots or the grumpiness, you might say ‘I get the sense that things are going the way you planned today. Is there anything I can do to help?’ or ‘I can sense that you are feeling upset right now, and I just want to reassure myself that I haven’t done something to cause it.’ And, if he says there is nothing you can do, nothing you’ve done or didn’t do, it will be a matter of repeating that over and over until you believe it.

Eventually, by recognizing your habit of taking on his stuff, and by giving him the opportunity to open up (whether he takes it or not), I think you will feel that you are supporting him to have his experience in a way you hadn’t felt before, at which point you might be able to let go of any responsibility you feel over changing the situation.

Let me know if you need any clarification on my comments. I’d love to know what you come up with,

– Lisa



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