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Monday, December 22, 2008

What Is The Mood Of Your Relationship?

by Kali Munro, M.Ed., Psychotherapist

If you were to think about the present state of your relationship (or a point in time in a past relationship) as a mood, how would you describe the mood of your relationship?

The mood of your relationship is not how you feel about your relationship, but the unique combination of both people's feelings, reactions, beliefs, perceptions, thoughts about themselves, each other, and their circumstances coming together to form a mood. The mood of a relationship can usually be felt by people close to the couple as well as by the couple themselves. Some relationships have an undercurrent of irritability, and other relationships feel sad. Some relationships are emotional roller coasters, while others are shut down or numb.

Thinking about a relationship in terms of mood is helpful for many reasons. For one, it takes the focus and the tendency to blame off of the individuals -- the mood arises from both people. It also externalizes the problem -- the mood is about the relationship, not the individuals. And it offers direction -- there are ways to address moods.

Thinking about the mood of your relationship encourages you to step back and look at your relationship as a whole rather than getting caught up in the details of arguments and with who said what.

The first step is to identify the mood of your relationship. How does your relationship feel to you, not how do you feel about your relationship but how do the combined interactions between you feel? Do they feel hostile, irritable, hesitant, sad, closed, shut down? Can the two of you agree on how the relationship is feeling right now? Usually couples find that this is one area they can agree on.

Just as we need to find ways to express, comfort, release and shift out of our own moods or feelings, we need to do the same with the moods of our relationship. Different things work at different times and with different couples. You will need to find what works for you.

If your relationship is sad, you may need to acknowledge that to one another and simply hold each other. Being sad together and comforting one another will help prevent that sadness being blamed on one another. Rather than being sad about each other, you are sad together. By acknowledging how the relationship feels and expressing and/or comforting that mood, something will shift.

If your relationship feels shut down or numb, you'll want to bring some emotion into it. As a starting place, you could state your feelings. If your relationship feels irritable, you may want to tune into your love for your partner and approach her/him with love. If your relationship feels sad, you may want to think about all the things you appreciate and enjoy about your partner and let them know those things. If you're hesitant with one another, you'll want to approach your partner with an open mind.

If your relationship is in a funk either or both partners can choose to shift the mood by changing something. You may choose to interact with your partner with a different expectation or belief. You may choose to articulate more of what you are thinking, in a positive way. You may want to suggest an activity that you both enjoy. Any change in your routine of behaviour, attitude, tone and emotional expectations will have an impact on the mood of your relationship.

Just as it's important to look at the whole of your relationship, it's important to look at the whole of your circumstances. Maybe your relationship is irritable or sad because one or both of you aren't being treated well at work. Maybe you are having financial difficulties; or your families are not supportive; or one of you is dealing with abuse memories, or is otherwise going through a hard time, and it's coming out on the relationship. Maybe the relationship isn't the issue but something else is. It's important to acknowledge whatever is affecting the relationship and find ways to comfort each other. When one person in a relationship is having a hard time, both people need comfort because it impacts on both people.

Maybe you feel good about your partner but, for some inexplicable reason, when you get together, you begin to feel sad or angry. While there may be things within the relationship that make you feel sad or angry and you need to have those things addressed, it is also possible that you are used to being sad or angry in each others' company, or have gotten stuck in that mood, and need an alternative way of addressing your issues other than directly talking about them (even though that can be very helpful.) Even when there are issues in a relationship that need to be addressed directly, tuning into the mood of the relationship -- your relationship's pattern of expectations, feelings, beliefs, reactions, etc. -- and looking for ways to address the mood can help shift some of those problem areas. Simply sitting, without judgment, with the mood of your relationship -- and not fighting it -- can be just as important as talking through your problems.

Relationships tap into our deepest feelings and insecurities, and it is no wonder that they often present us with our biggest challenges in life. Taking a different look at your relationship -- assessing its mood -- can help with finding new ways to address problem areas. Just as you have learned to honour and address your feelings, you can honour and address the moods of your relationship as well. Ideally partners will do this together, but change can happen even if only one person makes a change. What can you do to help shift the mood of your relationship? Change is always possible.

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