When Panic Hits in a Relationship

We are addicted to happiness.

That seems pretty sensible. Like a pretty good addiction, if there ever was one. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with that.

But the “happiness” we are addicted to isn’t quite the happiness that lasts. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

See, when it comes to romance and relationships, happiness is largely defined in many cultures as immediate feelings of comfort and satisfaction.

And when you define happiness as feeling-perfectright-now, and then pursue it like an addiction, momentary imperfection becomes disaster. Molehills become mountains. And the tiniest bump in the road of an otherwise loving relationship becomes a reason to panic and break up.

blog image 17Now to be clear, a generally unhappy relationship certainly is not a healthy one. It’s silly to suggest being “okay” with an unappreciative and unfriendly relationship.

But you’re in for a rough road (and a lot of breakups) if you panic whenever things don’t “feel” right.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Something’s off, I just don’t feel the same way when we’re together lately.” Understandable. But then the next day, “Oh yeah, we’re fine now! I don’t know what I was thinking!”

Too many relationships go in dramatic cycles you should only expect to see in a sorority or in a high school cafeteria.

So here’s the big deal I think bi-polar couples aren’t getting: “Happiness” does not mean immediate satisfaction or perfection-right-now.

We are far too fickle and moody for that. Feelings and emotions come and go with the weather, with grades, with lack of sleep, and every other insignificant circumstance you can imagine.

But when you’re addicted to feeling “sure” or “perfect” right this moment, because you think that’s “happiness,” those feelings become your “reality,” and your reality becomes harsh and unstable. The beauty is replaced by insecure introspection.

One of the most helpful things in my relationship is my girl’s level-headed outlook. She takes everything in stride. Whether it’s excitement or heartbreak, she takes it with a grain of salt. When emotions are involved, she has a healthy dose of skepticism. She realizes that an extreme feeling today might be a little quieter tomorrow, and will probably be forgotten in a week.

Here’s the bottom line: Most struggles, disappointments, and frustrations in a serious relationship are going to be temporary. Most things we worry and panic over are really just passing phases.

Again, that doesn’t mean for a second that an unhappy relationship is just fine. It just means that “happiness” isn’t nearly as stable, as dreamishly “ever-after,” as we wish. A happy relationship probably won’t “feel right” every single day.

On the other hand, though, I’ve seen a lot of pious people justify their often cold and lifeless relationships, defined by unkindness and selfishness, by saying, “Oh, love isn’t a feeling! It’s not about the butterflies in your stomach. It’s about commitment and sacrifice, bla bla bla.”

Well if romance isn’t about feelings, then I certainly want no part of it.

Love is absolutely about feeling happy and fulfilled. But it’s also about patience, self-control, understanding, forgiving, and everything else that turns patience-now into happiness-ever-after.

But again, here’s the bottom line: In every relationship, the going will get tough, on occasion. There will be a time for everything–for laughing and for crying, for doubting and for trusting, for encouragement and discouragement. It’s all going to happen.

But the strong relationships that end up happy after years and years (and not just piously pretending to be happy out of some showy commitment to “goodness”), are the ones where two people can say, “We know something feels off–really off–and we’re scared and hurt. But we know it will probably feel better later, so let’s not get crazy.”

The strong partner sees that life is full of passing phases, and that there’s nothing wrong with that.

Author: Peter Elbridge

I am a lifelong learner and avid reader, which translates into doing smart work for myself, my team, and my clients. I have a passion for effective leadership and an even bigger passion for helping others do and feel better. I have a lot of experience in communication, public speaking, and writing. Above all, I have a deep and genuine care for every life I touch. That's why I write. (My opinions and endorsements are my own and do not represent my employer.)

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