10 signs you and your partner are 'fake happy' in your relationship. – Mamamia
Your relationship. Are you… happy in it? Don't give us that look, we're only asking!
Cause y'see, when you've been with someone for a while, it's normal that the mere thought of breaking it off makes you feel sick/scared/confused.
And while that's a really beautiful thing in itself, it can also be dangerous.
Because becoming so attached to someone can 100 per cent cloud your judgement, making it tricky to notice parts of your relationship that are honestly really quite s**t.
Watch: Phoebe Burgess opens up about life behind Instagram. Post continues below.
Maybe it's the fact your partner still can't get along with your friends, but you feel too nervous about confronting the issue (again). Or perhaps it's their lack of drive that's making you feel uneasy – but you don't quite know how to bring it up.
So then it's just… left by the wayside.
The reality is that many couples stick together even though they're unhappy. They've got kids. It's convenient. You don't want anyone to get hurt. There's all kinds of reasons people in long-term relationships hang in there.
The problem is, though, staying in an unhappy relationship can take its toll on your physical and mental health. It also prevents you and your partner from moving forward into a happier life.
With that in mind, we asked couples counsellor Lissy Abrahams to share the top signs couples are faking happiness in their relationship. Here’s what she had to say.
Apparently when we are ‘fake happy’, we use denial as an avoidance strategy. (AKA pretending everything is fine).
Why pretend to be happy when you’re not? Well, sometimes it all comes down to what we want other people to see – whether it be on social media or in real life.
"We unconsciously refuse to accept the reality of our situation – in this case how unhappy we feel in our couple relationship. Our mind can block what we don’t want to accept so we can feel protected from the emotional impact," explains Abrahams.
As you can probably guess, denial just makes everything a whole lot worse, becoming an even bigger problem when it lingers.
"We create bigger problems, as it can warp our sense of reality. We need to face the distressing reality as it doesn’t allow us to seek help or work through the cause of our unhappiness," said Abrahams.
"Using denial as a strategy and being ‘fake happy’ can prevent our development or the development of our relationship. We will remain unhappy, or even distressed."
According to Abrahams, projection is something that is often used when we want to get away from difficult feelings that overwhelm us, so we remain ‘fake happy’.
"We may unconsciously focus on unhappiness in others instead of looking inside of ourselves," she said. "Projection allows us to locate what we perceive as ‘real unhappy’ onto other people or couples."
Switching your focus onto someone else's troubles and woes (whether it be your BFF's break-up or a fight your sister had with her partner) means you're able to "keep your unhappy emotions at arm’s length, so we feel they’re no longer a problem for us. This is the basis of judgment," adds Abrahams.
"We can use rationalisation, justifications or external excuses to continue being ‘fake happy’ and to unconsciously avoid our unhappy feelings in our relationship," said Abrahams. "These strategies help us minimise our emotions."
"Perhaps we feel humiliated, ashamed, or guilty about the state of our relationship, or our role in creating this state."
However, when we look for external reasons, to rationalise or justify our situation, we end up bypassing the real problem – "our experience of unhappiness in our relationship".
Abraham said these strategies are used to “save face”, however they prevent us from taking personal responsibility or solving the difficulties in the relationship.
Another common behaviour of unhappy couples is to suppress feelings and expressions and replace them with intellectualisation.
"We use intellectualisation unconsciously to remove all emotions regarding our unhappiness, and instead focus on quantitative facts. This keeps us in the emotionally safe and happier zone," explains Abrahams.
"Men tend to use this ego defence more than women, especially if they were raised to not express their feelings. Behind it though is someone completely unable to process distressing emotions."
Meaning? You're usually not on the same wavelength as each other.
"Partners often feel irritated and lonely when their partner shifts gear into the intellectual realm. They feel unheard, ignored, or dismissed when purely intellectual facts are presented. It can feel condescending, and their intellectualising partner is perceived as cold, uncaring, lacking empathy, or hard to reach."
When we are faking happiness, Abrahams said we may unconsciously use something called sublimation.
"This can be seen as a constructive form of escapism or avoidance. It occurs when we transform our unhappiness or distress into a productive or creative outlet that feels safer and more appropriate," she explains.
"Common outlets include painting, music, sport, writing, crafts, organising, cleaning, construction, an area of excellence, going to the gym, gardening, working, and so on."
"These activities are not a problem in their own right, however when we use them to mask our state of unhappiness, we are not addressing the root cause to solve our problem."
Used as a defence mechanism to unconsciously (or even consciously) separate our life into categories, compartmentalisation can be used to protect ourselves from our unhappy or conflicting emotions – some may never be retrieved.
"Men tend to do this more often, especially if they were raised to not show distressed emotion. They lock their emotions away in what I call “the vault” so they can move on with everyday life."
As you've probably guessed – it's not a great strategy for dealing with unhappiness.
"Compartmentalisation can only hold the unhappy states at bay for so long, and may lead us to other forms of expressing distress: affairs, substance misuse, physical symptoms of anxiety or declining mental health."
"We’ll have no awareness that the compartmentalised emotions or experiences are contributing to those expressions."
"When we use reaction formation, we are unconsciously behaving in the opposite way to how we really feel," explains Abrahams.
"For example, we make obvious statements of happiness to mask our unhappiness."
"Without our awareness we defend against our unhappiness and can create a moment of fantasy happiness."
With this in mind, social media becomes a powerful tool for pretending to be happy when you're… not.
"We see this when people put out happy couple photos on social media of my ‘special husband’ or ‘celebrating another spectacular year with my soul mate’ when we are struggling to face the difficult and upsetting reality about the relationship being in trouble."
Dissociation can cause a lot of stress in relationships because it disconnects people from their true thoughts and feelings, wreaking havoc on relationships over time.
"We use dissociation to move away from our upsetting or distressing feelings as we just can’t deal with them in that moment. It unconsciously allows us to remain feeling ‘fake happy’ as we escape or distance ourselves from the overwhelming feelings, such as shame, self-hatred, and humiliation," said Abrahams.
"For those who are ‘fake happy’ they can struggle to be attentive or present in themselves or with others, they can seem cut off. Or they can engage in numbing behaviours such as alcohol, binge eating, gaming or self-harm as a form of escape from the unhappiness."
Any of this sound familiar? Yes?
According to Abrahams, these are all unconscious strategies to avoid what we need to emotionally bypass – our deep unhappiness. However, it can end up making the situation feel very painful, lonely, and confusing to both partners.
"We believe this originates in our relationship. It is important to address the unhappiness directly as often we bring our own unprocessed feelings into the relationship, as well as expectations of our partner – which we react to when they are not met. This causes us great unhappiness."
Has the whole flirting and touching thing become a thing of the past?
When we’re putting on our ‘fake happy’ couple act, Abrahams said you may create distance with your partner at home by:
Creating physical ailments so they don’t come too close or make a bid for physical intimacy.
"It’s the old joke of “Not tonight, I’ve got a headache” – but we can’t have a headache every night, so we then focus on our neck, back, or foot. We struggle to be close to someone we believe is making us unhappy."
Investing heavily in the children or family unit to avoid being alone with our partner.
"This could be seen by not going away alone together as we “don’t want to leave the children”."
"Avoiding date nights alone and making sure other friends or family are there."
Initiating fights to create distance.
"Partners reduce the chance of intimacy by making the atmosphere more disconnecting."
Frequently expressing resentment, blame or being critical of our partner.
"We all know these are particularly unattractive behaviours, but they work if we want to keep our partner from wanting intimacy or closeness with us. They also show our partner some of our unhappiness but don’t address the real cause or allow development."
According to Abrahams, people who are ‘fake happy’ may seek validation from others that they are okay, as they don’t feel okay in themselves.
"This could be with friends or even strangers, to answer some of our fears of whether we are attractive, intelligent, or interesting enough anymore to others as we may not feel this in ourselves."
"The ultimate fantasy of validation is having an emotional or sexual affair."
If you're looking for more relationship advice, Abrahams has a free e-book available here.
Did you tick off any of the above? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.
Feature and inset images: Getty
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