I've been with my boyfriend for a year and a half, and things aren't going too great. The pandemic makes things hard, but I feel like he doesn't even try to make things interesting. We live together, so he sees I'm unhappy, and I'm unhappy a lot these days. I hoped that would motivate him. I tell him I'll be happy when he turns this around, but mostly he doesn't do anything. I feel like he doesn't care enough about me to make this work. What else can I do, can you help?
Here’s what’s happening: Your guy knows that when you say, “I’ll be happy when…” it’s a trap. He knows it’s not true. I mean, you’ll likely be happy right up until you see another thing that needs to be accomplished or changed, then another and another, and soon you’ll be right back to feeling unhappy again. He’s conserving his energy by not attempting futile things.
Happiness is an Inside Job
Happiness is something that we all look for, hope for, or are envious of in others. But a lucky few of us understand that happiness is an inside job. It’s a constant choice, not a circumstantial or static state of being. Happiness is a place to come from, not a destination to be reached.
I’m not sharing this to shame you or to motivate you. It’s meant to shine light on why what you’re doing isn’t working. It’s a common strategy and the downfall of many good relationships.
A Happy Relationship Requires Two People Being Happy on Purpose
If you’re uncertain where to start, here are a few hacks:
If it’s as simple as you want more excitement in your relationship, might I suggest you come up with exciting things you’ll both enjoy? Maybe you being the change you want to see could kick things off for him as well.
And when you can’t see how to get to happy when your circumstances are, well, fucked (like living through a global pandemic), your first step is to ask yourself, “What do I need next?” and sort that out. Second step? Ask, “What do I need next?” again and sort that out. Rinse and repeat until you get yourself to “decent working order”— not perfection — and that’s your first steady step towards happy.
Even at Fucked, You Can Decide to Be Happy
This is where outside influences help. Pause to watch the butterfly gliding through your backyard. Pet a cat. Eat a chocolate-covered apricot (that would make me happy). Put a mask on and go out into the world and see something beautiful simply because you’re looking for it.
How to Get Happy
In this life you get what you focus on, so if you want to kick-start some happiness (even when your credit card’s maxed out or you’re still fruitlessly looking for your next gig because the pandemic ate your job, take a moment each morning to write down three things you’re grateful for, and instead of just writing each thing down, start by writing the words “I am grateful for” first. Gratitude is one of the central pathways to happiness, and intention and clarity will pave that pathway, making it an easy trail for you to walk on a regular basis instead of a bumpy road.
Who’s Responsible for Your Happiness?
The responsibility of being happy falls squarely on you. You can be happy right now if you’re willing to be the owner of your own feelings and to take this on as you would a spiritual practice.
Five Good to One Bad
I’ve heard that it takes five positive experiences to override one crappy one in relationships. This may be why parents feel doomed no matter what they do when their kids remember the time you wouldn’t get them an ice cream cone directly after a Slurpee but forget about all the wonderful presents they got for Christmas over the past three years.
Flip the Default Narrative
Decide it takes five negative things to override one positive one—or better yet, let’s not override the good stuff at all.
Don’t you think that’s a better choice than wishing for five pleasant things to come along before you can feel good again?
Change Your Mood, Not His Behavior
So. you exist in a state of unhappiness because you believe that you can change him if he just tries hard enough to change your unhappiness. To date, I have never, not even once, seen that strategy work out.
You might focus on your joys and your gratitude instead of on what’s lacking in your life and relationship right now. If he’s attuned to you even a little bit, he’ll catch on and want to join in on a piece of that light, too.
Happiness is a Gift
Happiness is the biggest gift you can give to the people who love you. It’s the gift that gives back a thousand-fold because exuding happiness and energy and curiosity out into the universe encourages those around you to exude the same back. If you’re not there yet, don’t sweat—all you need to do is decide to be, and stick with that decision.
Wendy Newman is the author of 121 First Dates. She’s a dating, sex, and relationship expert who’s led hundreds of workshops and revolutionized the lives of over 70,000+ women internationally.
Need one-on-one coaching from Wendy? You can hire her by the hour.
Want to uplevel your relationship? Take her 5-Day Relationship Breakthrough Course (for free — you’re welcome!)
You can send a question to the column via email: [email protected]