I want to be happy!
January 28, 2010 6:28 AM   Subscribe

Am I unhappy because of my relationship or am I just unhappy in general and attributing it to my relationship?

Basically, I have been unhappy for a while.

My relationship is really quite fine. My boyfriend is excellent. The only thing I could possibly find to complain about is that he isn't very romantic, and that's not a dealbreaker or anything. We have good communication, he is super sexy, and we are overall compatible.

However, like I said, I am unhappy, maybe even sad. Enjoyable things distract me for a bit then I start feeling down again. I've been thinking about why I'm unhappy and the only thing I can think of is that maybe it's my relationship...

However, like I said, everything with my relationship is good. Maybe I'm the tiniest bit insecure about it. Also, I think I've recently exited the honeymoon phase or whatever and this is my first relationship so that feels really different.

My boyfriend has been less able to make me laugh really since... the onset of winter maybe. He still makes me laugh, but not as much as before. I don't know what's up with that, but I suspect he hasn't changed and I have (into someone super unhappy.)

Also I'm trying to get over that I kinda want to see what's out there, people wise, besides my boyfriend. However logically I know I won't find anyone more compatible with me, more intelligent, who I find more attractive, etc. I think it's just a bit of the grass is greener syndrome, plus that my relationship has recently moved out of the honeymoon stage or whatever.

So I know this sounds a little... rambly and not going anywhere. I just don't know exactly how to convey what I'm thinking and feeling. I'm conflicted. I want to be with my boyfriend, yet I want to flirt with other guys and maybe get to know them (I haven't, this is just a desire I don't plan on acting on), yet I want everything to be like it was when it was the honeymoon phase. I was happier. That's really the only change, he made me happier then.

However I realize I may be mis-attributing my unhappiness to my relationship when really it's all just internal. This is the meat of my question. How can I tell? I mean, I want to be with my boyfriend. Is my unhappiness related? If I start to feel happier myself will I feel happier with my relationship? It seems obvious that if I am happier myself I will be happier with my relationship, but for all I know maybe not. I've never done this before. I don't know how I feel anymore. Like a month ago I could have said I definitely love him, but now it feels... iffy I guess. Is this a side-effect of my unhappiness?

Also I should add that sometimes I think oh, I am so unhappy, I need to break up with my boyfriend. But then later I have a moment of clarity and realize that's pretty dumb. And when I am actually with him everything is fine again.

I don't know if I am depressed. I am just somewhere between mildly discontented to terribly sad the majority of the time and it's worse as the day goes by. I don't feel fatigued, tired, particularly irritable (unless someone is bothering me when I'm sad), like I don't enjoy pursuing once-enjoyable activities (although they do tend to get less enjoyable as time goes on, ie sex.. I used to be able to do it/foreplay for hours but now after a bit I feel like I don't want to anymore, even without orgasm), or any other symptom of clinical depression. I've done a few google searches and falling out of love because of depression isn't common. However I don't know if I've fallen out of love. I still care about him, think he's awesome, it's just it's not the honeymoon phase anymore and that confuses me.

So how do I figure out why I'm unhappy? If it is my relationship, how do I start being happy with it again, especially since there is nothing inherently wrong with it? I don't want to break up with my boyfriend right now, but if our relationship is the cause of my distress... I just want to fix the distress.

email mefirelationshipfilter@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You could have dysthimia---constant low-level depression. It's no fun, trust me. I would say go to a therapist and see what they have to say. Everyone on here swears by cognative behavioral therapy.
posted by stormpooper at 6:31 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of the things a counselor or therapist will do IS help you figure out "is my relationship depressing me, or is it just me?" So therapy could be a very good place to start.

I'd also let your boyfriend know (if you haven't already) that you're doing this, because he may be concerned about your wellbeing overall. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:45 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's possible you just have boring, average, run of the mill depression, or even the seasonal variety. That will definitely take the shine off your relationship, but it's not caused by the relationship. It's just an organic brain chemistry funk.

However, that said, it's normal to be a little depressed and freaked out and unsure during relationship transitions. I went through this both when I moved in with my partner and when we got engaged. I found it very helpful to read (in a book I cannot currently remember the name of, but I'll come back when I remember) that a) this is normal and pretty common, and b) it's OK to actually mourn the passing of a phase in a relationship, even if you're moving to a new and natural phase in a great and happy partnership.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:54 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

this is my first relationship so that feels really different. ... I'm trying to get over that I kinda want to see what's out there, people wise, besides my boyfriend. However logically I know I won't find anyone more compatible with me, more intelligent, who I find more attractive, etc. I think it's just a bit of the grass is greener syndrome...

Might it simply be a bit of the 'I'm in a committed, exclusive relationship but would rather not be' syndrome? Because it sounds to me as if the problem may very well be the relationship. There doesn't need to be anything wrong with the partner or your compatibility if you simply don't want that kind of relationship with anybody right now.
posted by jon1270 at 7:04 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sounds like seasonal anxiety disorder. Less sunshine and nice days lead to this. Try taking a little more vitamin D to offset the lack of sun per day and try some St. John's Wort. Don't go over the recommended dose. If that doesn't work call me an idiot and do the therapy thing. Just make sure to let your therapist know what herbs and such you were taking as well. I hope you have a nice day.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:06 AM on January 28, 2010

Also I'm trying to get over that I kinda want to see what's out there, people wise, besides my boyfriend. However logically I know I won't find anyone more compatible with me, more intelligent, who I find more attractive, etc.

You're going to need to do this -- get out and see what's out there -- sooner or later, or the daydreaming will turn into bitter, irrational resentment after a few years of "lost time."

Doing this sooner is probably kinder to the current boyfriend. If he's as cool as he sounds, maybe he would even understand.
posted by rokusan at 7:25 AM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

Depression/dysthymia/seasonal affective disorder would be my guess as well. It's pretty easy to not realize that's what's going on, too, so your uncertainty is normal - milder depressions often go untreated because they don't feel so obviously wrong, and it's easy to sink down without noticing anything different.

I didn't realize I got sad in the winter until one year when I was talking to my mother about feeling down, and she observed that I got that way every winter. Do you have a close friend or relative who's known you for several years, someone you could feel comfortable asking "hey, do I seem a little off to you? Have you noticed this in me before?" I think it can really help to have a friendly outside perspective.

I also think it's pretty common for depressed people to assume they're just in a rut and that changing or leaving something in their everyday lives would get them out of it.

It wouldn't hurt for you to do an intake with a therapist and see if you think you could benefit.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:50 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't cheat. Break up first. I did it that way and it really was the right thing to do. Don't put yourself in a position where you might even think about breaking the promise you made to your bf not to sleep with other people. I'd avoid flirting with others for the next two months until you figure this out. Right now you might hurt someone and it would be better to not do that, not only because you might hurt him, but in the swirl of emotions you might avoid what is really bothering you--don't try to escape the bad feelings--learn about them!

When I got like this, it turned out I was avoiding some very powerful feelings. I picked a terrible new partner and was manipulated and hurt. It was not good. It was the hardest 4 months of my life. It took my aunt, (a professor of psychology) to give me the low down--I had been obsessing, avoiding feelings I didn't like and putting a relationship in there to make myself feel better. You may be trying to do this.

My advice is to go to therapy, talk this over, figure out where you stand. Give yourself a month or two. Once you have that worked out, you can decide if things are working between you and your bf. If it isn't working out, just go ahead and break up.

I also think that there is a likelihood that these feelings might translate into a huge crush on someone new. Avoid acting on that crush! Every time you have that feeling, think about what you were thinking right before that--it is the clue to making you feel better.

I'm not an expert on polygamy, but it just strikes me that it would work better from the start with someone new, rather than "convincing" someone to go along with it. Usually they are just moving along with a heap of denial going with it.

Therapy is your friend. You can MeMail me if you want, I've totally been there. Totally.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:30 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

If it helps you decide, Valentine's day is the New Year's Eve of committed relationships. Lots of pressure, often expensive, rarely fun. HOWEVER, the bars will be crawling def hotties if you're single and willing to go out and find them. If you don't find them at the first bar, keep crawling.*

Checking out dudes on Valentine's Day is a prescription for breaking a promise you made to your BF. Any plan that involves "pre-cheating" to figure out if you want something else is breaking that promise. Best to get yourself released from that promise first via a break up, even if it is hard to do. Any other way is cowardly. Cheating on him will harm him and make it harder for him to find someone new in the future because of the lack of trust that he will have in people. I know you don't want that.

In short, don't try to have your cake and eat it too. It rarely ends well and the potential to hurt someone you obviously still care about is huge. Remember he has feelings too, and if you must find someone else, you have to let him go first to do it right.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:34 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

How do you feel when the boyfriend is not around? Do you miss him? If you haven't been apart long enough to find out, maybe it's time to give it a shot.
posted by jetsetlag at 8:40 AM on January 28, 2010

Huh. You need to be incredibly single to go out successfully on Valentine's day. I mean, your boyfriend would presumably notice that you're not with him on Valentine's day. The classic cheater move is to work late on a weekday, not work late on the biggest "romantic" event of the year.

Besides, if you get caught, you will always be that asshole who cheated on Valentine's Day. Your boyfriend will have a great story.

I mentioned responsible non-monogamy, but perhaps I should clarify that I mean ETHICAL non-monogamy. Cheating is usually unethical. In this case it would certainly be unethical.

OK, OP, I think I can clarify--if you are single by the time V-day rolls around there will be somebody out there for you. I don't think you're getting advice to cheat.

Absolutely 100%. Although the odds are with the guys on that day generally.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:56 AM on January 28, 2010

There may be a little overanalyzing on the OP's part with regards to the relationship. The sense of "exiting the honeymoon phase" and other statements seem confused. As to "How is this supposed to feel?", when really, relationships go through ebbs and flows and just because it might feel like low tide right now may be for various factors. The whole "honeymoon phase" does have a chemical marker, but it's not like dropping off a cliff. Elements of what brought you together in the first place can and do remain even years later. The "honeymoon phase" can last in some form, in other words.

This is the OP's first relationship. It's worth checking things out and sorting through your own feelings first, OP, because you may be unhappy with your relationship and feeling stifled. But if you are someone that values monogamy and feels like you want things long-term with this guy, it can be a bit scary to some people to come to terms with the possibility of never being with anyone else again. That happens even in some of the really strong committed relationships. It doesn't have to lead to resentment, as rokusan suggests, but it is something that you'd have to work out within yourself and accept (if you want to and poly relationships don't appeal to you).

Being your first relationship, you might feel like you're going down a highway without a map. Wondering how this and that are supposed to feel. Your confidence seems a bit low, you have some signs of mild depression, and you owe it to yourself to take care.

SAD is a possibility, as others have noted, but definitely look into consulting a therapist just to help you sort things out. Also, if you haven't, let your boyfriend know you've been feeling unhappy and low. You don't have to mention questioning the relationship specifically just yet, until after you see the therapist (or clergy member, social worker, etc), but just see how it goes. If you do decide to break up, then it won't come completely out of left field if you keep open lines of communication now.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:58 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how long "a while" is but if it hasn't been more than a few months, give it 3 months and if you are still having these feelings then re-evaluate. Relationships have cycles just like our mood can.
posted by useyourmachinegunarm at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, winter's a real pain when it comes to depression. I can't think of anyone I know who isn't affected by it to some degree. Everything's just duller/drearier.

You can ask your boyfriend to help you do things that cheer you up, too, and let him know you've been feeling down. Letting him know you've been unhappy is ok even if the reasons are beyond his control! He might even have been noticing changes in your behavior and getting worried about it.
posted by Lady Li at 9:29 AM on January 28, 2010

I have been in your shoes, and I am going to suggest that you first try working on yourself before ending the relationship. I have battled depression since my early 20's and during various depressive episodes, I have had phases where I felt unsatisfied with areas of my life (career, boyfriend, friendships, etc) and questioned whether cutting ties with them would make me happier.

My therapist made a good point when I brought up these feelings to her -- she suggested that I not make any major life-changing decisions until my depression was treated and improved. Things loose their interest and joy-inducing properties when you are depressed...even if you don't feel SAD, a major sign of depression is that things you used to be really interested in become burdensome, annoying, or joyless. This applies to people as well as interests. I am glad that I took her advice because once my depression was brought under control, I found that it really wasn't my boyfriend (now husband) that I was unhappy with, or my friends, or my family, or my career. I was just unwell and needed to give myself a chance to get better.

Also, I think it's normal to go through phases in a relationship where you just aren't as super into your SO as other times. Relationships are always changing. That doesn't mean that you should stick out a situation that makes you unhappy indefinitely, but you should be aware that there are times when you're just less into each other than other times. And that's ok sometimes.

So, I guess I just really think you should talk to your doctor or a therapist and see about whether they agree that this is depression or SAD. It sounds like depression / SAD to me, but I am not a qualified professional, just someone who has dealt with depression. What really stuck out to me was how this seems to have started at the onset of winter. The winter is so fucking depressing and miserable, and it really can suck the joy out of everything. Plus, it's so easy to get sick of people or irritable when you are suffering from cabin fever because it's less fun to go out and do things or spend time outside and be active. And ugh, the darkness.

Try some things to improve your mood (medication, supplements, light therapy, tanning bed, exercise, therapy, whatever), and see how the longer spring days affect you. If you still feel like something is missing at that point, then it's probably safe to reevaluate the relationship.
posted by tastybrains at 9:56 AM on January 28, 2010 [7 favorites]

this is my first relationship

So what makes you so sure you'll never find anyone you're more compatible with? After all, you only have a sample size of one. What are the odds you found the best possible match for you in a life partner on the first try?

I think you might have low-level depression. I also think you are somewhat restless with feelings of "is this all there is to a relationship" because you have nothing to compare it to. These two things are not necessarily related, and can/should be worked on simultaneously.
posted by davejay at 10:03 AM on January 28, 2010

There isn't going to be any simple and easy answer here (or anywhere else you can get to through a computer).

First off, depression as a condition (i.e. something going on with you mentally, internally) versus depression as a reaction (i.e. as caused by outward circumstances like your relationship going south) are not mutually exclusive and things like this can certainly interact, reinforce and worsen each other. I'd question whether it is really possible to separate these kinds of influences. That being said, there are some questions you can explore. Maybe some perspective of the old and wise can help, I don't know.

Is this period of unhappiness atypical for you or have you experienced periods like this before? As a person coming from the perspective of lifelong, low-level depression that was actually diagnosed by a professional around about my early 30s and substantially helped (but not by any means eliminated) by long-term counseling (5+ years), I can look back at my past and see that I was unhappy more often than not and always viewing some particular circumstance as being the cause of it. I could argue that looking for situational fixes kept me from dealing with my depression head on for a long time. So it is a worthwhile problem to take a hard look at.

On the other hand, my first serious relationship was pretty much doomed after its first few months and the next year it took to finally fall apart didn't, as far as I can see, do me a hell of a lot of good (you could call it a "learning experience," that misfit catch-all excuse for all the junk life throws at you, I guess). So even if there is a broader issue of mental health it doesn't mean your relationship is going to last.

Looking at the situational side, it is very normal for relationships (especially first relationships) to make people irrationally happy, quite possibly in a degree disproportionate to whether they have much of a future. It is very normal to overestimate the quality of first-time relationships. First-time relationships mostly don't work out in the long term. Your ability to judge the qualities of this relationship are not as good as you think they are. You do not "logically" know you will not find a better match. You have no experience to back this up. You're just guessing. You've read a bunch of crap on the internet and you think you know things about relationships but you don't. You only learn these things by living them. I write this knowing that anything I could say, even if you took it totally to heart and it turned out by sheer chance to be totally relevant, would only comprise the smallest and least significant component of the knowledge of relationships and yourself you develop by your direct experience.

You use the phrase "the honeymoon phase or whatever" twice. By the very way you phrase it you reveal that you don't really even know what that means. It's something you read about somewhere. You are figuring it out now by living it. For most people there is very surely an initial phase of the relationship characterized by, to coin a phrase, "irrational exuberance." Everything's new, it's all discovery, it's frequently riding on a nice wave of newly minted lust, everyone is on their best behavior and it's easy to ignore the negatives. Very easy for this to disguise a relationship that has deep, fundamental, unsolvable problems. Very possible for this to simply be one stage in a relationship that will move on to new levels of connection - perhaps less smack-you-in-the-face than brand new love, but deeper and more lasting. How do you tell which you're dealing with? You got me. If you figure it out, write a book, you'll be a millionaire.

Not much help, I know. You're not going to get much help from the internet so you'd be better off to stop trying. The one last thing I'll say is that gaining insight into your internal mental state can only help you figure out your relationship.
posted by nanojath at 10:37 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am just somewhere between mildly discontented to terribly sad the majority of the time and it's worse as the day goes by.

IANAD, but this sounds like (at least) dysthymia to me. Talk to your doctor or a counselor. Depression is treatable, and things can get much, much better than the way they are right now. Even if you don't have other symptoms, it's not your job to self-diagnose something as life changing and life threatening as depression--that's why we pay medical professionals the "big" bucks.
posted by saveyoursanity at 11:44 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

The exact same thing happened to me a year ago; you sound just like me, it's uncanny. I went on a trip, felt "alive and free," and figured that I felt better because I was away from my boyfriend.
I blamed the relationship, broke up with my boyfriend, and moved. Only then did I realize: "wherever you go, there you are." I.e., my problems were still there, and I was the only one left to point the finger at. (When you travel, you're also getting away from your everyday life, and that's what I was really unhappy with.) The only way I figured this out was by being thousands of miles away and realizing I'd made a mistake.
I think it's easier to point the finger and blame someone instead of working on yourself. What would you change in your life, if you could change anything? What would your ideal life look like? Be honest with him and yourself, and try changing things in your life that would be somewhat repairable: i.e., maybe you could look for a new job, new friends, a new hobby. Maybe you hate where you're living. Personally, given how many times you've said 'he's great,' I just don't think he's making you unhappy. Of course, I'm a tad biased, and IANAD.
posted by blazingunicorn at 1:21 PM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

The book I mentioned upthread is The Concious Bride. Some of the stories are a little woo-woo but I found it very helpful during those first, large transitions in my relationship (and read it well before I was a bride, or even engaged.)
posted by DarlingBri at 8:06 PM on January 28, 2010

Are you on birth control? I felt like you did, wondering if my new-ish relationship was at fault (and lots of people suggesting it was, including my otherwise brilliant gynecologist) - until I got off BC and felt 4,000 times better within a week. I had never had problems with birth control previously, but that definitely was where the sad was coming from.
posted by RingerChopChop at 7:18 AM on February 3, 2010

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