SGR 009 | Why Happy is Overrated
One of the hardest things to go through in a relationship is having to see our partner sad, anxious, or depressed. Our first instincts are often to:
Cheer them up.
Make them happy.
Show them the glass is half full.
Although you have the best intentions, trying to make your partner happy in those moments can work against you. It may make them feel dismissed, disregarded, not attuned to, and that their feelings are not acknowledged.
Maybe you’ve even heard your partner say this in response to your attempts to brighten their mood.
It’s normal to feel defensive.
“Hey, I’m trying to help here! Don’t lash out at me just because you’re upset with ________.”
Managing tough emotions in this way leads to more distance, reduced emotional intimacy, and not viewing each other as sources of support in times of challenge.
It’s not always easy to give your partner the space to talk about their hard feelings and validate what they’re going through - because it brings up those same hard feelings in us.
You may feel helpless, hopeless, or unloved.
This week we’re talking about:
- What makes it hard to see your partner upset
- Your role when your partner is experiencing difficult emotions
- The value of allowing your partner to go through their emotional process
- Practical tips for being supportive when your partner is going through hard emotions
- We’ve also got a very helpful bonus - The Guided Journal Entry to Manage My Own Hard Emotions - to help you move from well-intentioned, yet ineffective, to supportive and connected.
Short on time? Here’s a list of today’s topics and when to listen:
- Why we want to help our partner - 1:29
- What message we are sending to our partner - 4:17
- Let your partner feel their feelings - 8:43
- Be lovingly curious - 9:37
- Making it an authentic environment - 13:17
- Practical Tips - 15:09
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable - 15:31
- Managing your own triggering emotions - 17:01
- Journal about your feelings - 18:20
- Communication - 20:31
- Meredith + Marina’s Takeaways - 26:33
Marina: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode number nine of the Simply Great Relationships podcast. We’re so glad that you could join us today. I’m Marina Voron, this is Meredith Silversmith, and we are very excited to bring you this episode on why “Happy is overrated.”
Marina: Make sure to stay until the very end because we’ve got a really great bonus for you and we’ll tell how to get it at the end.
Meredith: Yup. So, have you ever seen your partner be sad or angry and felt responsible for getting them out of that place and into happy?
Marina: Oh yeah, for sure!
Marina: For sure!
Meredith: I see this a lot with a lot of couples and certainly in our own relationships too, but we’re here to tell you today that that is not your job.
Marina: Not your job. Not what you signed up for.
Meredith: No, no. Don’t do it. So, obviously, there is reasons that we try to do that, and there is reasons that we feel the way we feel in those moments, and we’ll talk about all that but we want you to know, starting from the beginning, not your job to move your partner out of negative feelings into positive feelings.
Marina: Yeah. This is something we see all the time, and I think it comes from a good place, but I always ask people “What makes it hard to see your partner go through tough emotions for you?”. And there’s always the same kind of stuff that comes up, right? It’s our own feelings of helplessness. We don’t like sitting with this feeling of like, “Our partner’s crying. that’s hard for me. So for me, what’s best for me is if you’re just happy, then I’d be happy, and everything would be great”. And it’s our own feeling of helplessness because if you’re crying and I feel like I can’t do anything to immediately turn that around, that’s pretty triggering to me.
Meredith: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Feeling helpless, like you said, powerless in a way like you don’t have influence even though it’s in the area that, you know, we can’t control. It also comes up, I think, when our partner is having an emotion that we’re not comfortable having. So if I’m someone who is uncomfortable with my own anger or with my own sadness or with my own frustration, if I see that emotion coming out of my partner, I’m gonna wanna really quickly make that switch to something I am comfortable with.
Marina: Mhmm. We’re all comfortable with happy so…
Meredith: Yeah, pretty much!
Marina: That makes happy a really easy one to go to. And I also think another one here is, our own feelings whether they are appropriate or inappropriate of guilt because we made our partner feel that way. So if our partner is upset or sad or frustrated or anxious and we feel like we had something to do with that, brings up feelings of guilt and shame for us and those are really hard feelings for us to reconcile with ourselves.
Meredith: Yeah, and as you’ve said, it maybe “appropriate guilt” where we really did take an action that directly caused this feeling in our partner, but sometimes it might be almost, I think of it as like a magical thinking of childhood like “If my partner’s upset, it must be because of something I did” like not necessarily a tangible moment, but you just feel that responsibility and like I said, that’s super uncomfortable and can drive us to try to change it.
Marina: Yeah, exactly! So I think the overline theme here is seeing our partner feels some sort of way that isn’t happy, triggers stuff in us and a lot of times, we’re not even aware of that . All we’re aware of is like, “Nope; I don’t like this. Let me shift them to happy”.
Meredith: Yeah. And you have to think about what message is that sending your partner, right? So if your partner’s really sad and you’re trying to get them to a place of being happy, what are you communicating with them between the lines, right?
Marina: Yeah. And I think this is a really important thing to distinguish here is, not “What is your intention?”. Your intention here is good, right? Your intention is like, “They’re probably going through something hard, I wanna take them into a happy, fun, pleasant, easy emotion.” That is your intention, and your intention is noble. It’s not what you’re sending. It’s what are they receiving? So, have you ever been really upset and somebody’s just like, “Snap out of it. Everything’s gonna be fine”.
Meredith: I just got flooded when you said that. I immediately was like, “Why would you say that to me?”.
Marina: Exactly! What kind of feelings came up for you?
Meredith: Oh, it was like a snap. I felt it. Like, if I literally gasped and felt angry and frustrated and dismissed and like you were somehow above me.
Marina: Like a little condescending, right? And that’s, I think, a lot of people’s experience is, the message it sends is, “You’re feeling that you’re experiencing in the moment doesn’t really matter. What matters is how I want you to feel”.
Meredith: Yeah. Yeah.
Marina: And it dismisses your reality in the moment because instead of acknowledging what you’re going through, I’m saying, “No, no. I don’t like this, so please switch it”.
Meredith: That reminds me of this Brene Brown video that I really love on empathy. We’ll put a link in the show notes. It is, I just am obsessed with it. I think it really depicts it quite well. She shows, it’s a cartoon with animals, so it’s a little easier to take in. I think it passes the defenses, but it shows both sides. It shows what you just did, and it shows the right way to be empathic, but there’s like a giraffe or something that sticks their head part into the hole where the sad person is, and it’s just like, “Ugh, that’s bad. I’m glad I’m up here!”.
Meredith: It’s just this very dismissive thing. So definitely check that out.
Marina: Yeah. That’s a great video and Brene Brown; she’s the foremost expert on empathy. Really great work to check out of hers. So, another message that it sends when you’re not acknowledging your partner’s emotion when you’re “Just get happy. Just turn that frown upside down!”, right? What you’re doing is, it kind of communicates, “You’re broken, I have the fix. Let’s fix you. You’re broken, let’s fix you”.
Marina: Is that a message you wanna send in your relationship?
Meredith: Nah, I don’t think anyone feels good being told or getting a message that they’re broken, or there’s something wrong with them. So that’s definitely one to be mindful of.
Meredith: And also, sometimes, it’s just as simple as someone’s having a bad day, you know? And, I mean, we all have a bad day for whatever reason.
Marina: I think we’re allowed to have them.
Meredith: Yeah, I think so too. And do you want your partner to get the message that you feel it’s not okay for them to have a bad day? You know, because that’s kind of dismissive as well, pushing your feelings aside.
Marina: Yeah. So, here, it’s like, even you’re entering it thinking your intention is good, there’s a misalignment because what you’re really doing is making your partner feel dismissed, like, their feelings don’t matter, and they’re not allowed to have the feeling they’re having in the moment. And again, ask yourself, “Is this the atmosphere, tone, mode that I want to convey to my partner and set as a precedent in our relationship?”.
Marina: Versus doing some of your homework and saying, “I can be there for my partner and show empathy as opposed to telling them to do this :).”
Meredith: Yeah, definitely. And, you know, yes, we’re therapists, so we do like emotions and feeling the feels, but there is value in letting your partner go through their emotional process, right? So if they’re sad or if they’re upset or they’re frustrated, there’s a reason, and that reason has value, and that reason is important, and the best thing you can do is give them the space to go through that emotion while being supportive and validating.
Marina: Yeah, exactly. And when you’re able to acknowledge their emotion and validate it and be supportive as opposed to just dismissing it and saying “Well, just feel better,” it makes them feel like they’re not crazy. It makes them feel like they’re going through an emotionally appropriate process in that moment.
Meredith: Yeah, definitely. And one of the best place to make your partner feel supportive and validated is, you know, again, going back to episode one on communication, be lovingly curious. “Hey, I see you’re really upset right now. What’s going on for you? I wanna understand better. Can you help me understand better? Do you understand what’s going on right now?” and if the answer is no, or they’re not in a place to explain that to you, just say, “Well. I’m really sorry that you’re having all these feelings. I’m here”.
Marina: Yeah and I think people don’t always realize the extremely powerful value of “I am here.”
Marina: That sometimes empathy and validation don’t need to be loud and verbose, that sometimes they can be really quiet and really subtle and it’s just sitting quietly with your partner and letting them go through their emotion. Maybe holding their hand or rubbing their back without necessarily trying to problem-solve or zap every bit of detail out of them because sometimes when people are in a really low place, it’s hard to verbalize all these things, but it’s, it feels so extremely supportive to just have someone there.
Marina: So I think you can’t underestimate the value of that and I think a lot of people do.
Marina: Another apprehension that I see in terms of being able to offer your partner support is, and tell me if you’d seen this one. When people are like “Well, I’m afraid if I ask my partner about what they’re feeling and they’re feeling really sad or they’re feeling really anxious, it’s only gonna exacerbate it. It’s only gonna make it worse”.
Meredith: Yeah. Definitely. The reality is, it’s not. It might look worse in the moment, so if somebody’s sad and they’re sort of wrestling with that, and you say “Hey, you look really sad”... I actually do this in therapy all the time. As I’m saying this, I’m like “Oh yeah.” So, that happens. So someone’s sitting, and they look like they’re really struggling to hold back sadness. I’ll say, “Wow, you look like something just hit you. You look really sad to me right now”, and often just identifying it for them will kind of open the flood gates, and they’ll let it out, that doesn’t mean you’re making it worse. That means that this person is feeling the feeling and processing what’s going on and releasing it. You know, it’s a positive thing.
Marina: You’re giving them the platform to emotionally… How I always explain it, you’re allowing somebody to take it from inside and put it on the outside and organize it. And once it’s on the outside and organized, it’s a lot easier to manage. And when you’re saying like “You look really sad, can you tell me a little bit of what’s going on for you?”, you’re giving them the platform, and again, that has so much value, and you’re not making it worse. You’re making it better. You’re really giving them a gift of being able to take it out of their body and outside themselves.
Meredith: Yeah. And I think some people, you know, let’s say you take that step and you open that door, I think some people are afraid that if their partner starts getting really, really sad and crying that they might start getting sad and crying and they’re worried that that’s gonna make it worse, you know? And again, I would say that’s not going to make it worse. That’s attunement!
Marina: I think that’s like emotional attunement at its most kind of authentic level!
Meredith: Yeah, absolutely! If anything, that’s showing your partner like, “I really, really get how you feel. I feel what you feel, and I care that you’re upset”. So those things, you know, I would try to not fear and not worry about. Trust that, not that it’s going to be easy to go through those type of moments but that it’s not gonna be harmful either.
Marina: Yeah and think about the fact that what you’re doing by taking these kinds of actions of steering towards the emotion, not away from it, is you’re building an environment of emotional authenticity in your relationship. You’re allowing your partner to turn towards you. You’re allowing each other to go through emotional processes that really bond you. There’s something really vulnerable and really bonding about being able to cry in front of your partner and your partner say like, “What’s going on for you? I’m sorry this is going on for you. Let me hold you right now” as opposed to them saying “Do you want me to take you for ice cream? Will that make you feel better?”.
Meredith: Yeah, yeah. “What can I do to make this stop?”.
Marina: Yeah. And it also sets this tone of “Your emotions are not burdensome to me, and my emotions are not burdensome to you. We can be emotionally authentic with each other and I know that me coming to with emotion is not gonna overwhelm you or be a burden” because that’s when I hear all the time like, “Oh, well, I didn’t want to tell her when I was upset because I didn’t wanna burden her with my emotions”.
Meredith: Yeah, definitely. That’s a common one. So that’s really important. Again, what message do you wanna send your partner? Do you want them to feel like a burden or do you want them to feel like it’s equal footing here and you’re there for each other? That’s an important one. So I think that it would be helpful if we get into some practical tips for how to navigate these situations when they arise.
Marina: Mhmm. There’s a Jillian Michaels quote. I love Jillian Michaels.
Meredith: I’m a fan. I like Jillian.
Marina: And she has this quote in one of her videos that I love. She says, “Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.” And I think if you can kind of mentally digest that and just realize that a big part of being in a relationship is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable with uncomfortable feelings being uncomfortable but that’s okay that you’re uncomfortable with your partner’s feelings, you’re 80% there.
Meredith: Yeah! Absolutely! And what you can do in that moment, right? So you notice the uncomfortable feeling rather than running from it or of waiting the situation or trying to change the situation, just notice it and say to yourself, “Why is this triggering to me? What’s going on? What is this feeling reminiscing of? Where is this coming from? Where have I felt this before?”. So trying to understand your own discomfort rather than change what’s going on outside of yourself.
Marina: Yeah. It’s a process that really starts within and the more we try to focus on what is going on inside as opposed to what’s going on outside, I think, the better the outcomes are.
Meredith: Yeah, definitely, because you know what you can control? What’s going on in here? And you know, you can’t control? All that.
Marina: Everything else.
Meredith: It’s a big lesson.
Marina: Mhmm. Following through that is do what you need to do individually to manage your triggered emotions.
Marina: Right? If you know that seeing your partner cry is really emotionally triggering and uncomfortable for you, what do you need to manage that emotion within yourself?
Meredith: That’s a good one, and I mean this kind of goes back to flooding, right? So you can jump back to episode four on the Four Horsemen where we talked about flooding and how to manage it. You know, just a few things, take a walk, take a shower, do a mindfulness meditation. There’s a great app that I use, and I recommend to all of my clients. It’s called Meditation Studio. They have great options because you can select based on what you’re trying to work on, they have courses, we can do them in a certain order so I really strongly, strongly suggest that and I mean it’s five minutes of your time. How easy is it to pop your headphones in and then listen to someone talk about breathing? Not too bad.
Marina: Yeah. I love that app! I think it’s great. We should probably put a link up to it so that you guys can also embrace it because I know we use it for far more than just this and it’s quick and easy. Another thing is journal about your own feelings, and I think, a lot of times when I say journal about your own feelings to my clients, they’re like, “Ugh. Does that mean I need to get a journal and pen? And what if my kids find it and…”. No. You can do it in your notes section of your phone; you can put a password on it. It’s just about, again, what you wanna do for your partner is allow them to take the feeling from in here to out here. It’s taking your own feeling from in here to out here and if out here is typing it on your phone, that is good enough. You don’t need a quill and paper and start it with a “Dear Diary” and write a novella.
Meredith: Unless you wanna do that, and then you can do that.
Meredith: You know what? I think, why I love the journaling exercise is in the same way that we’re kind of telling you today, it’s not your job to make your partner feel happy when they don’t, it’s also not your partner’s job to make you feel comfortable with their negative emotions, right? So I’ve been talking a lot lately about the 50% each partner holds in a relationship. Yes, 100% you influence each other, you affect each other, you can hurt each other, you can make each other feel good, but at the end of the day, there are a lot of things that really come down to like “Look, this is your 50% responsibility to handle. It’s your responsibility to manage your emotions and to self-soothe when you need to and to understand where you’re coming from”. Just as that your partner’s 50% responsibility to do that for themselves. And then you come together, and you merge the two. So I think the journal exercise really helps you own that as an individual.
Marina: Yeah and it really helps prepare you, prime you to be available to your partner.
Meredith: Oh yeah.
Marina: So another big thing here is to, again, we come back to this frequently, episode one, communication. It’s about using the really effective communication tips that we’ve talked about, to be able to give your partner the platform to emotionally explore with your partner, to also then be able to talk a little bit about your own emotional process in a way that feels safe, supportive, empathic and validating.
Marina: It’s learning what your partner’s experiences. “What is going on for you,” not “why are you feeling this way.”
Meredith: Right. Right. “What is happening for you, can you help me understand what you’re experiencing?”. How are they feeling, right? It might look like anger, but if you ask them, they might say “Oh, I’m really upset right now,” “Oh okay, I would have misread that one,” you know? “What’s making you feel this way? What’s contributing to your experience?”. And then, of course, it’s validating. Validating everything they share, validating their feelings, validating they see things even if you see it differently. Again, validation does not equal agreement. It means “I understand what you’re saying. I get where you’re coming from. Given your experience, I could understand why you would feel that way” and just offering support. Just being there.
Marina: And with offering support, a really important distinction here is offering support is not solving their problem.
Meredith: Mhmm. Yeah.
Marina: A lot of times, offering support is “How can I help you right now?”. It’s giving it back to your partner or just being present for them, sitting with them, maybe showing them some physical soothing like holding their hand or rubbing their back. It’s not “Okay, well, you’re really depressed because this and this and this happened at work and you hate your boss and to getting all too overwhelming. Okay, let’s get you a new resume, let’s go on indeed and start looking for jobs. Let’s figure out…”, you know? That is not support. That is overwhelm. Remember, you’re dealing with a vulnerable state. Support is, “Okay, now I really understand where you’re coming from. I understand that this has been an extremely hard month and it totally makes sense that you feel so overwhelmed and so flooded and you just dread going to work. How can I be present for you right now? What do you think I could do to help you?”.
Meredith: Mhmm. Yeah. It’s a good distinction. I could imagine a real person going through that process. I know I’ve seen it. I’ve heard, I’ve probably been a little bit guilty sometimes of that.
Marina: I’ll admit. Yeah, I feel like it’s really hard. I think kind of how culture works is we’re really problem-solving oriented. So you’re like “Okay, well empathized and validated so now, let’s solve the problem.”
Meredith: Yeah. “Now, let’s just eliminate that from your experience.”
Meredith: That’s funny.
Marina: Which is, you know, and it doesn’t mean down the line, that’s not what you should too, but I always say “Let your partner invite you and if you’re the person that’s going through a hard emotion, invite your partner to collaborate with you when you need that really practical problem-solving”. Like, say “You know, I’m in a good place, I feel like I wanna tackle this on a really rational level.” From your experience, tell me what you’d do. But this is usually not the same event.
Meredith: Mhmm. What I’d do when I’m doing it wrong or when I’m doing it right?
Marina: What do you do when you’re doing it wrong and then tell us what you do when you’re doing it right.
Meredith: Okay. When I’m doing it wrong, I probably do it a lot like how you described. Like, “Okay, that’s the problem. Great! Here’s how we solve it. You do this; you do that....” And when I’m doing it right, I try to… For me, my struggle is just being quiet. Because as a therapist, we like to do a lot of talking, we like to explain and help and support, so my personal practice is to just zip it and listen and know that just because I feel an urge to speak doesn’t mean that I have to.
Marina: Yeah. I definitely have to mirror that. That is, for me, a really big struggle and I think that’s a really big struggle for a lot of people. Like, when George is going through a hard time, to just really zip it and listen and really be present and listening and put my agenda to the side and not offer any tips or solutions. And you know, because I’m a therapist. I’m like, “Well, you could journal, you could…” Know to just really listen and to know and trust that when he’s ready to talk about solutions to be present for him but know that as great as my solutions or ideas in that moment may be, this is not the appropriate moment to bring them up.
Meredith: Mhmm. Definitely.
Marina: So, yeah. We don’t want you to just listen to this. We want to listen and to integrate this into your own relationships. Learn from our mistakes.
Marina: So, we’ve created a guided journal page for you to use when this situation arises for you, and you can get it at…
Meredith: That would be at www.simplygreatrelationships.com/009download.
Marina: Utilize it to help you process through your own emotions because a lot of this is about you.
Meredith: Mhmm. Absolutely. And it’s important to take on that work as an individual. It’s a really big step. What about takeaways from today, Marina? What’s your takeaway?
Marina: My big takeaway is that support is not problem-solving and support can be quiet, and support is first and foremost presence.
Meredith: Mhmm. Yeah. I would say mine is probably that; I don’t know how to put it. When… Keeping in your mind that when you open up the space for your partner to share their hurt feelings, it may look worse in the moment, but it’s better in the long run.
Marina: Mhmm. Yeah. I think that’s a super valuable one that you’re not gonna exacerbate their hurt feelings; you’re actually gonna help them manage and organize them by allowing them to talk about it even though they may, in the moment, appear more sad or more anxious. You’re actually doing something really valuable for them.
Meredith: Yeah, definitely. This was a big one! And really, this was an emotional episode!
Meredith: Curious what everyone thinks about it. So, that’s all for today, and we hope you take these tips as always and start using them, be sure to get that download of the guided journal page. It could be really helpful when you’re in that zone because you might even be a bit flooded so it can help channel that energy into a constructive way. We’d love for you to continue the conversation with us in our Facebook group. You’ll find private tips, tricks. We’re gonna do exclusive live streams for our members. You can join us over at www.facebook.com/groups/simplygreatrelationships, or you can click the link from our website at www.simplygreatrelationships.com. Definitely pop on over there. You can ask us questions, give us feedback and, you know, we’d love to hear how you’re applying these tools in your relationship so…
Marina: Let us know what you replace turn that frown upside down with.
Meredith: Yeah, that’s a good question. I like that one. We wanna know. So, that’s it for today! We’ll see you next week with another episode, alright?
Marina & Meredith: Bye!