Putting on a “Happy Face” in Your Relationship

Barbie and KenEvery one in a relationship wants to feel loved by their partner. To feel loved, many individuals will put on a happy face and maintain a persona that everything is fine, even when it isn’t. Often people are so good at acting like they are happy that the partner has no idea anything could be wrong.

Unfortunately, if you are projecting a happy demeanor when communicating with your partner, you may feel stuck in one place and very much alone. That’s because a lot of other feelings; sad, disappointed, mad, irritated, frustrated, fed up, discouraged, disheartened, worried, nervous, unsafe etc. Many feelings never get expressed. You may be an expert at delivering the happy feelings, but mum on anything else. If you always show a good face to your mate, how can you maintain that happy face when expressing sadness?  You can’t. So, no unhappy face ever gets shown to the partner. Nope, just pretend everything is OK, always.

Oh, distressful feelings are felt, but the person experiencing them doesn’t share them, and the partner never hears them. This leads both people feeling disconnected in the relationship. He doesn’t know what’s going on with her; she doesn’t know what’s going on with him. Both feel apart from the other. The one who doesn’t share feelings might begin to think their partner just doesn’t understand them. The partner who is left in the dark might start to feel unimportant to his mate. Usually they can sense that their partner is withholding something, and they might even inquire, and it might sound something like this; “Is everything all right?” “Are you OK?” “Is anything wrong?”

The answer is probably always the same, and it’s likely that it’s a denial that sounds something like, “No, everything is fine.” Oh, there definitely is something wrong, but the person who always shows a sunny disposition hasn’t a clue on how to tell the partner what it is. Part of the reason is because he or she isn’t quite sure how to explain it. All they know is that they feel something like emptiness, or not feeling loved, or not being understood, or longing for something more. It’s usually a mixture of feelings that don’t have words attached to it. But the person feels it. It’s heavy and lives in the pit of the stomach and doesn’t go away.

This partner might even be able to talk about his or her feelings with another person. They might be able to explain these feelings in great detail. “I feel so alone.” “He or she just doesn’t understand me.” And while they come easily pouring out to someone else they can’t fathom how to share them with their partner. No, they don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings. They are sure they are unhappy, but they can’t figure out what to do about it.

As a couples counselor I see this situation often. Both people will eventually feel as if that the relationship is on the brink of breaking and then the couple will make an appointment to see someone like me. Both are stuck in some sort of misery and they are hoping I can figure it out and help get them back on track. That’s the best case scenario. Sometimes though, a couple has been feeling so distant from each other in the relationship for such a long time that one of the partners may have already moved on to another person. Therapy at this stage requires a whole different level of understanding and repair.

This is what I know about couples counseling: if a couple is willing, there’s always room to learn more about yourself and your partner in a relationship. There’s always a way to understand your own behavior and see how it affects your mate. There’s always room to try something new, to risk showing your feelings and not holding them inside. Sometimes couples are able to change how they relate to each other and improve their relationship, making it something better than either ever dreamed.

It’s possible to build something true for each of you. It’s possible to create a safe place for you both to show all your parts, not just the happy ones. This creates true depth between two people, something that all couples are looking for.

© Copyright 2011 by Linda Nusbaum, MA, MFT, therapist in Long Beach, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Amy Harman, LMFT

    Amy Harman, LMFT

    August 25th, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    First of all, I LOVE the pic you chose to enhance your article! Hilarious!

    I agree that expressing your true feelings helps people feel connected. Ideally the relationship is a safe place where you are able to express yourself and show all the pieces of yourself.

    At the same time, expressing every little annoyance or jumping too quickly to anger could cause distance in the relationship as well. I think expressing the “negative” emotions sometimes requires forethought so it doesn’t turn into an unpleasant experience.

  • LRD

    LRD

    August 25th, 2011 at 4:12 PM

    I think we have to find balance. If you become too used to hiding how you feel, it becomes a part of you that kicks in automatically. I did that for many years when I was with my ex who was a secret drinker. I put on that happy face for the world and everything else I buried.

    When I found a new partner, I was dismayed to realize that I hadn’t just being hiding my feelings but I’d forgotten how to express them even when I felt comfortable about doing so, like with him!

    I’d erased that side of me that used to speak up so easily and without fear of reprisal or judgment in my rush to protect myself.

    Took me a long, long time to articulate negative feelings easily and to this day I struggle with that.

  • Lance

    Lance

    August 25th, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    Why would you put in that happy face if this aren’t so happy? How on earth would you expect your partner to know that something is up? Sorry but mind reading is not possible.

  • sapphire

    sapphire

    August 25th, 2011 at 8:27 PM

    I don’t get why any couple does that. Why not be absolutely open with each other about how you feel? If I felt I couldn’t be honest with my husband, I would leave in a flash because I’m not going to devote my life to a superficial relationship. I did that for a year when I was young and dumb and swore I’d never do it again. It’s too stressful. You spend your time analyzing if what’s said is what they really meant or not.

    Honesty, even when it’s not the most positive of things you’re going to say, is always the best policy.

  • GEOFF

    GEOFF

    August 25th, 2011 at 11:48 PM

    Not spewing hate but I think women do this more often..They show you a happy face and then one day you realize something’s gone horribly long for her to suddenly slip into depression. It’s not like you would desert her had she spoken about the problem early on…!

  • Dave

    Dave

    August 26th, 2011 at 4:04 AM

    I’ve been through this phase of not being able to tell my partner about what I’m going through.But something that I did and I’m happy I did was talking to a friend about it.He gave me good feedback after I told him everything and even encouraged me to have a conversation with her.

    I think even if we’re not able to speak to our partner for whatever reason we could just try to speak to a friend,a sibling or a family member.Just talking to another person feels like you’re letting out the heavy load and you feel much better and can proceed to discuss the issue with your partner in a nice and calm manner.

  • Jonathan

    Jonathan

    August 26th, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    A smile can’t hide what is really going on on the inside and a partner who is really in sync with his significant other is going to be able to see right through that so called happy face.

  • Suzanne Neale

    Suzanne Neale

    August 27th, 2011 at 7:02 PM

    “At the same time, expressing every little annoyance or jumping too quickly to anger could cause distance in the relationship as well. I think expressing the “negative” emotions sometimes requires forethought so it doesn’t turn into an unpleasant experience.”

    @Amy: That’s true. If you expressed every little positive thing or jumped too quickly to happiness, wouldn’t that cancel that out though? What I’m saying is if you expressed both positive and negative emotions in equal measure, the negative ones aren’t going to carry that kind of weight and you wouldn’t feel the need to hold back or minimize how you felt.

  • Kerstin

    Kerstin

    June 3rd, 2016 at 9:20 AM

    I been in a relationship for over 5 years and I am trying to to understand my partner and get my emotions out to him , the problem is he does not like confrontation and as soon as I start letting him know about my feelings he don’t want to talk anymore or he feel like I attack him I know he love me but the truth is love is not ever thing when the understanding is missing

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