If you’re in a relationship, your sweetheart’s happiness matters a lot to you. Not only because you care about that person’s happiness, but also because — due to a phenomenon called emotional contagion — you’re very likely to “catch” that mood. Unfortunately, bad moods are more catching than good moods.
What do you do if the love of your life is driving you crazy by being crabby all the time? Try thinking about these factors:
1.Does your sweetheart seem grouchy and overwhelmed?
Maybe he or she isn’t getting enough sleep. Sleep is hugely important to mood and energy. If your sweetheart’s sleep is being interrupted or curtailed, figure out ways to help if you can. Turn out the light earlier, let your sweetheart sleep later at least some days of the week, work out a schedule so you two take turns getting a decent night’s sleep. Or if insomnia is the problem, help your sweetheart work on building good sleep habits: getting a little exercise, making the room very dark, spending the time before bed in a soothing activity, etc. (For more tips on getting good sleep, look here.)
2. Does your sweetheart nag a lot?
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Just for a week or two, try to accommodate that nagging. If you’re being nagged to do a task that you plan to do, go ahead and do it at the first opportunity. Sure, maybe you’re right that it doesn’t have to be done today, but just do it today anyway. If you’re being nagged to do a task that you have no intention of doing, tell your sweetheart. Don’t keep procrastinating in the hopes that the chore will be forgotten.
3. Is your sweetheart crabby about being nagged?
Try these tips to stop yourself from nagging. (This is hard, true, but worth the effort.)
4. Does your sweetheart seem unable to make time for fun?
Try making some fun plans. Just saying, “Hey, let’s go to a movie,” isn’t sufficient. Pick an activity your sweetheart would enjoy, arrange for a babysitter if necessary, make reservations or buy tickets if necessary, take care of any tasks that need to be cleared out of the way before your sweetheart can relax.
If your sweetheart seems unable to be able to have fun on vacation, take a look at how he or she is spending the day. Reading on the beach, or chasing after little kids with a bottle of sunscreen? Rock climbing, or taking the kids to see a movie starring chipmunks? I think it was Jerry Seinfeld who said, “There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family,” but try to arrange a vacation so that all family members can have fun, according to their own idea of fun, at least some of the time.
5. Is your sweetheart crabby due to chronic pain?
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Chronic pain, even if at a relatively low level, can really tax people’s moods. Encourage your sweetheart to take pain reliever, see a doctor, keep up with physical therapy, try acupuncture, start meditating, or whatever you think might work – and don’t just talk about it, take steps to help your sweetheart get help. Get recommendations, do research, make phone calls, pick up prescriptions, accompany your sweetheart to an appointment, give reminders, track symptoms…whatever is appropriate.
When I’ve had chronic pain, I often denied it. I kept telling myself I was getting better, even when I wasn’t. Then, after I finally sought help, relief came fast. I endured several months of nagging eye pain that was cured by a quick trip to the eye doctor and a bottle of drops. I had excruciating back pain that was substantially relieved after I saw the physical therapist that my father-in-law had been recommending for months. Of course, sadly, chronic pain often doesn’t have an easy solution. But whatever the problem is, it’s worth trying to address it. Sometimes we need a little push to seek help.
6. Does your sweetheart’s crabbiness seem to go beyond the normal range of crabbiness?
Persistent low energy or insomnia, feeling paralyzed, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite or overeating, persistent sad or empty feelings, feeling guilty or worthless, pains that don’t go away…these kinds of symptoms can indicate depression, and depression can be very serious. Figure out a way to get help!
Now, as you look at this list, you might think, “Wait, my sweetheart, while not depressed, is quite crabby, and the crabby one is the one who needs to change. But all these tips are things that I’m supposed to do.” True! The fact is, with a happiness project, the only person you can change is yourself. But if you change, a relationship changes, and if you behave differently, you may find your sweetheart’s crabbiness lifting.
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A version of this post originally appeared on Gretchen Rubin’s website, where Gretchen writes about her experiments in the pursuit of happiness and good habits.