How To Be Affectionate When You’re Dead Inside

When the going gets tough, the tough do this.

Had a tough week? Or are you simply a sociopath? Either way: sometimes life (or, you know, your partner) requires more affection than you have at hand.

Life comes at you fast and it ain’t always pretty. Sometimes the struggle is painfully real. On a scale of one to dental work, you’re at five fillings and a root canal, and it feels like you’ll never get things back on track. The next sucker who spouts a cliché about lemons is getting a sock in the jaw.

But there’s a lifeline. Your relationship is holding you together while everything else is falling apart. You know it’s essential to maintain if you want to break the chains of feeling like crap, but being a loving partner when you’re dead inside is easier said than done.

Here’s how to brace your relationship for impact until the wave of effedupedness finally rolls past.

RSVP No To The Pity Party

Ditch the downer phrases

Words matter. Ditch phrases like “Just my luck” and “I can’t catch a break” that paint you as the victim. Sorry to burst your cosy bubble of narcissism, but life doesn’t work like that. No cosmic force is out to get you, but the more you work to convince yourself it is, the harder pessimism will take hold. You don’t want to be the guest of honour at the pity party, and your partner sure as hell doesn’t want to be your plus-one.

Don’t Spread The Negativity Bug

Smile sunshine

The flu is contagious, but negativity is an insidious disease – and not only can it spread quickly through your own life, it’s communicable.

First healthy conversation turns into venting, then those occasional rage sessions become a full-time focus on life’s frustrations. There may come a time when you and your partner only connect over what makes you feel sad, mad, and hopeless.

Instead of using the strength of your relationship to build yourself up, you’ve allowed negativity to bring your partner down.

Practice Gratitude

Appreciate life’s achievements

Gently but firmly tell bitterness to piss off with a regular regimen of gratitude. When you’re stressed and depressed, force yourself to stop and say thank you.

For the job that pays your bills, for the car that gets you there, for the partner who welcomes you home with a stiff drink in the evenings – anything. You’re luckier than you think.

Notice the times when you don’t feel like everything is crashing down around you and live in those moments. Appreciate your life’s achievements and your partner’s acts of kindness, both big and small.

Talk The Talk

Make conversation, not conflict

It’s trite-but-right advice time: talk it out. You must communicate with your partner about how you’re feeling. To do so, you must first acknowledge what you’re feeling to yourself. You’re in an uncomfortable place and your natural reaction will be to postpone the experience of it for as long as possible – but by doing so, you give negativity even more time to take root.

Try not to panic or procrastinate. Once you’ve had time to unpack some of the thoughts and fears gripping your mind, invite your partner into your world. Explain what you’re going through, how it’s likely to affect your life and your relationship, and how they can best support you through this time.

Know When To Shut Up

Depression, anxiety, or anger have a habit of making us act out. Our minds make assumptions and draw conclusions that are reflections of our own negative thoughts, not reflections of reality. Self-doubt or low self-esteem can make you question your relationship (“They doesn’t really care about me. I’m disappointing. I don’t deserve them.”).

You may set unrealistic expectations that your partner can’t possibly meet (“If they really loved me, they would…”). You may be hypersensitive to criticism or too quick to criticise others (It’s not a personal attack if they don’t wash the dishes). When you interpret neutral things in a negative way, your partner is constantly walking on eggshells in fear of setting you off. Make yourself pause and evaluate your disparaging thoughts honestly before expressing them.

Take Time For Self-Care

The airline mask analogy is immensely relevant here: you must put on your mask before assisting others. Self-care is a trendy buzzword right now, but that’s no reason to write it off. You are a better partner to your partner when you don’t sacrifice your own needs. Top up your resources – both emotional and physical – with the things you know make you feel good. Eat well, exercise, read, meditate, get regular massages, etc. Know when to remove yourself if you need alone time or are in danger of lashing out unfairly at your partner. If these acts of self-care feel selfish, remember that what makes you stronger and happier as an individual will improve your relationship as well.

Ask For Support (But Not Too Much)

Your partner wants – actively wants – to help you through times of crisis, but they are not a mind reader. It’s up to you to reach out when you know you need it, and to share how you can best be supported. What makes you feel calmer? Happier? More balanced? Loved? Tell your partner. Accept their assistance. But, and this is an important but, don’t make them responsible for your well-being. They cannot fix your problems for you. They should not be your sole source of support. Put your own oxygen mask on first, rely on a network of friends rather than just one person, and seek professional assistance if needed.

Offer Space & Empathy

A relationship is a two-way street, even when your streets have been ravaged by an existential hurricane. It’s essential that you remain considerate of your partner and their experience. Be patient with them as they learn to navigate the new circumstances. Try to view things through your loved one’s eyes and have empathy – you are not the only one feeling confused and hurt by the situation. When they need space, allow them to take it. Understand that they may need boundaries in order to be the strongest support for you. And speaking of support… be sure to give, not just receive. Your partner’s worries don’t disappear just because yours are magnified.

Seek Out Successes

One of the best ways to derail negative thoughts and turn disappointment on its head is to prove them wrong. Do something – anything – that confirms negativity doesn’t have control over your life. Complete a task you’ve be putting off. Cross something off your bucket list. Take stock of your positive qualities. Look for evidence of moments you were successful or overcame adversity. Build your self-esteem so you are not reliant on your partner’s validation. The more you can take action in positive directions, the more empowered you’ll feel to get your life back on track.

Remember To Reconnect

Spend time with your partner that has nothing to do with the shit state of your life. Connect over something positive. Find something fun to do together, even if it’s just a weekly Netflix date. It’s not about how much energy or effort the activity requires – it’s about getting out of your head, living in the moment, taking time for play, and renergising your relationship. Memories of the good days will get you through the bad ones.

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