My relationship is making me sad

When we start out in a relationship, we might have lots of ideas about what it’s going to be like and how it’s going to make us feel.

We might imagine it’s going to give us a sense of fulfilment and make us feel happy and safe. We might imagine it taking an important place at the centre of our life. The promise of a relationship can be a big part of what makes it such a joyful thing.

Very few of us imagine that our relationship might one day become a source of sadness. Feeling this way can be a truly isolating and upsetting experience. It can feel like your relationship is providing the opposite of what it’s supposed to: becoming a burden instead of a support.

Why do I feel like this?

When we talk about a relationship making us sad, what we’re often describing is a sadness at the loss of this idea. We may be missing what we thought the relationship was going to be - and want to get back to a place where this idea seems possible again.

How do couples get to this point? It often happens over a long period of time and is rarely down to a single cause. You and your partner may have struggled with certain incompatibilities after the honeymoon phase of your relationship. Changes in your life, such as having children, one of you getting a new job or moving house, may have put pressure on you as a couple. Or perhaps you and your partner lost that ‘spark’ somewhere along the way - perhaps, over time, you’ve simply stopped feeling excited to be together.

Sadness is often the last in a long chain of different negative emotions. What often comes first is anger: arguments about the relationship as you struggle to reconcile differences or take out frustrations on one another. Following this may be a growing sense of distance, as the fighting causes you and your partner to drift apart.

As counsellors, if we hear someone describe their relationship as making them ‘sad’, we know they may be in real need of help. Feeling ‘sad’, as opposed to ‘angry’, ‘resentful’ or even just ‘unsure’, suggests they may be at the tail end of a long period of conflict, and may even be near the point where they simply feel like giving up.

How do we get back from here?

The simplest answer is: by addressing the 'elephant in the room' and admitting to one another that your relationship is in trouble.

That may sound scary, but being honest with one another will be crucial if you’re to understand the issues you’re facing and how you might be able to address these together.

One thing to remember is: if you feel sad about your relationship, there’s a good chance that your partner does too. They may find it a relief to begin to talk about things, even if taking these first steps feels uncertain, scary or strange. It can also be worth casting your mind into the future: how would you feel if you and your partner continued as you are for another year? Or another two?

For couples who have been in conflict for a long period of time, we would usually recommend trying some form of counselling. If you’ve been distant for a long time, counselling can be an essential tool if you’re going to find a way to get the conversation fired up again. It can be like getting a jump start - a way to break through the inertia and finally start moving again.

If you’d prefer to try this without counselling, you may like to think about how you’re going to have this conversation. One useful technique is to try to create an environment where talking is going to be easier. You may like to go out for dinner or a drink. Putting yourselves in neutral territory can help you to leave behind the energy of the home, where you may be in regular conflict, or simply not talking at all.

What next?

Addressing the problem is the first step in what may be a long journey back towards working as a couple. The problems that caused you to drift apart in the first place will vary depending on your relationship, but learning to communicate openly and get back to working together as a team is going to be crucial regardless of how you got to this point.

The emotions you face along the way may be challenging - often, couples who finally begin talking again may find that feeling ‘sad’ is soon replaced by feeling angry or confused, but this is sometimes a necessary part of embracing change. And rebuilding a relationship that hasn’t been working for some time takes serious work - one conversation is very rarely enough. But the benefits of doing so may very well make that journey worthwhile.

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