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Happiness, you confuse me
September 26, 2012 1:19 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with happiness during the bad times when I find it confusing?

Dearest hive mind, help me clear something up (a little).

I'm currently in counselling, which I started attending after my marriage started to break down (we're in couples' counselling too, and are now reasonably stable from day to day, and can at least get by without screaming rows). In counselling I'm dealing with a lot of painful realisations about my marriage and how it's been working - or at least how it's been going along whilst appearing from the outside to be working - over the last few years.

At the moment, every time I have counselling, something painful and intense will come up, sometimes relating to my marriage, sometimes relating to my childhood (which in turn informs my thinking about some of my marital problems). It often leaves me drained after a session. That's easy enough to cope with, given a decent support network (which I have).

What I'm finding hard to cope with are the good times. There are so many things happening pretty much daily at the moment that range from bad to really-fucking-terrible that I'm used to them, and I have coping strategies. However, the good days, the ones where my spouse and I are truly, uninhibitedly happy together, really throw me for a loop, because they seem so alien to me. They happen maybe once a week or less, but when they do occur I find myself questioning all my motives for receiving counselling: am I making everything up? Are things really that bad? Am I just being heartless, trying to use counselling as a way to get out of my marriage? Shouldn't I just quit my whining and get on with things? Why do I need counselling anyway?

When the bad times return, which they invariably do, I feel more stable, as though I know the path that I need to tread, but when the good times happen I feel rudderless. Are there any coping strategies that you can suggest for this (I've spoken to my therapist about it and his advice was pretty much to try and enjoy the good times without questioning them, which is fair enough but doesn't seem to have helped much).

(My therapist has also suggested that it might be a good idea for me to try antidepressants of some sort, but I need to be referred for that).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
am I making everything up? Are things really that bad? Am I just being heartless, trying to use counselling as a way to get out of my marriage? Shouldn't I just quit my whining and get on with things? Why do I need counselling anyway?

These thoughts and feelings are quite common to people who seek counseling for all sorts of reasons. You don't need to be suffering all the time, or even most of it, to deserve counseling. Even if your bad days were only once a month, if the experiences you have on those days trouble you while you're having them, you could still benefit from being there.

On the flip side, that doesn't render the happiness you experience less genuine or meaningful; indeed, that's the very thing that will increase as you make progress in your work.
posted by beryllium at 1:34 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think people go through this in myriad ways. I do it with my job. Some days, it's a miserable slog, others, I'm jazzed with excitement about new developments. Certainly, live in the moment, but life is made up of all of those moments, and it's the cumination of everything that counts.

If the good times are so few and far between, that you believe that miserable slog is your normal, then I think that you might want to think about an exit strategy for your relationship.

You want the good times to outweigh the bad ones. As you progress with counselling, you want to have more good times. If what you're discovering is that the happy times are in such sharp relief that they stand out, then what that really says is that you're settling, and when you're happy, you're realizing that there's so much more to life than working on a relationship.

I feel like I'm muddling my point, but if being happy is so rare and unusual that it throws you for a loop, your current existance needs a serious change.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Our brains get really easily locked into habits and it's hard to deviate from them. We have basic understandings that parents/partners = love and, therefore, over time, certain behaviours from those people become equated with love (whether they're positive or negative behaviours).

If you've experienced a significant amount of bad times in your relationship, it stands to reason that anything else will seem a bit weird until your brain learns new patterns.

So, to answer your question - How do I deal with happiness during the bad times when I find it confusing?

You exist in that moment of happiness and take it for what it is - happiness. You don't analyse it or deconstruct it then - nothing else really matters except that moment. The moment isn't necessarily a sign of anything (good or bad), it just is that moment of happiness. Bring all of your concentration to that moment.

Later you look at it in context. When all of these questions come up:

I find myself questioning all my motives for receiving counselling: am I making everything up? Are things really that bad? Am I just being heartless, trying to use counselling as a way to get out of my marriage? Shouldn't I just quit my whining and get on with things? Why do I need counselling anyway?

You tell your brain what the reality of the situation is and counter it with evidence of specific situations and feelings that got you to where you are.

Eventually your brain will want more of those times of happiness and will find them less weird. The weird moments will become the ones that are hurtful. That may be quite confronting when it does happen, but it may also feel like a huge release.
posted by heyjude at 2:49 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with the way you're currently doing things is that feeling Awful is your definition of normal, while feeling happy is discombobulating.

Maybe you can reframe your reaction: instead of questioning why you're in therapy/counselling because you've been happy for a small fraction of the week, tell yourself that happiness is what all that hard work of therapy is For. Therapy is for finding more happy moments, creating others and enjoying them all. If you keep doing it right, feeling awful will stop being the norm.
posted by ldthomps at 2:52 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, by the way, it's often a pretty long haul to do really good therapy and counselling, so you're likely to have the time to reframe your reaction to happiness. Also, know that your reactions are common, valid, and normal for your situation - keep talking to your therapist about it as you keep struggling with it.
posted by ldthomps at 2:54 PM on September 26, 2012


You've gotten so used to it being bad that good has become strange. Is there any chance you would sabotage the good to avoid dealing with those uncomfortable feelings? That's something to speak to your therapist about next time you bring this up, even if you don't believe you would.

Sometimes when I feel strong joy, I'll get depressed and tired after. It's like my brain decides to use up all my serotonin and dopamine in one burst instead of pacing itself. Do you worry that the happy times mean worse bad times?

You might want to read this article about extinction bursts, it has helped me avoid sabotaging myself in the past.

To deal with your second guessing why you are in therapy, give yourself a concrete rule about when you are allowed to stop. Maybe three straight weeks with no really bad days, or three sessions where you don't have anything that needs to be uncovered and you sit there with your husband chatting amicably. Then, when your brain starts asking why are you even in therapy you can answer it with "We have not yet met the criteria I laid out for myself to stop."
posted by Dynex at 3:01 PM on September 26, 2012


Two short things to add to the good advice here:

- Don't let moments of happiness fool you into thinking you don't need the tools and work that you're doing now. Consider that all the effort and counselling is why you're having good times. I used to fall into the same trap.

Things are good -> No need for all this bullshit anymore! -> Things are now bad -> How did this happen?!


- Also, happiness, and unhappiness, are unsustainable. Not in a negative way, but it's natural you will move between the two, even if the external circumstances don't change. If you were generally happy you wouldn't question feeling crap now and again for no reason. Don't stress if it goes the other way around.

Best of luck!!! =)
posted by bemetta at 5:51 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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