- Isabelle Morley, PsyD
Set Your Own Thermostat: How to Be Happy Even When Your Partner Isn't
If you've been in a romantic relationship then you know how easy it is for your partner's mood to impact your mental state. I'm going to convince you that this shouldn't be the case.
Your partner is being, for lack of a better word, a jerk.
They're storming around the apartment. They're slamming doors in the house. They're huffing about the dishes and pointing out every little thing that annoys them.
They're in a bad mood for some reason. Maybe work is stressing them out, maybe they're in a fight with their parents, or maybe they just woke up feeling snippy with no clear reason why.
Regardless of the reason, you find yourself in a very tense household and you're starting to get upset about it.
And I get it, I'm not perfect and I have been known to respond with someone's frustration or stress with my own frustration and stress about their frustration and stress.
Don't Continue the Cycle
Before you walk down that path of meeting irritability with irritability, let me tell you why that's not in your best interest.
Your partner's bad mood might very well be annoying, inconvenient, distracting, or some other negative adjective that feels right, but that doesn't change the fact that they're in a bad mood. You getting upset with them for being upset will certainly not help them to feel less upset.
In fact, it will make them more upset.
You getting upset with them for being upset will certainly not help them to feel less upset.
My Relationship Thermostat Analogy
I have an analogy I frequently share with couples (and individuals too) which I will call my Relationship Thermostat Analogy (which, as you will see, is exactly what it sounds like).
We are all born with our own internal thermostats. During arguments, some of us run hot (yelling), some us run cold (stonewalling), or some of us stay in that sweet spot of 70 degrees.
All too often, couples slowly lose the independent thermostats and they start sharing one relationship thermostat. No longer do separate zones exist in their household. Instead, there is one thermostat that is in charge of the entire space. If one person gets heated, so the does the other. If one person shuts down, their partner does the same. They become thermometers reacting to the climate, instead of setting their own temperature.
In psychological terms (coming from attachment theory), we call this co-dependency. It's when you let your partner's mood, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, etc. have too much of an influence on your own. There isn't enough of a separation between their experience and your own. Their mood determines yours, and vice versa.
We call this co-dependency... There isn't enough of a separation between their experience and your own. Their mood determines yours, and vice versa.
You're in Charge of Your Own Thermostat
So now you understand why it's important to maintain your own thermostat in a relationship. The ability to hear and tolerate your partner's bad feelings without letting it determine your emotional experience is called co-regulation, and that's what we're aiming for.
The next step is actually doing it.
If your partner wakes up at 30 degrees, or 95 degrees, then take a deep breath and remind yourself that they are in charge of their own thermostat, too. Don't let their temperature change your setting. If you're getting upset, here are some ways to self-soothe and get back to your emotional baseline.
The ability to hear and tolerate your partner's bad feelings without letting it determine your emotional experience is called co-regulation, and that's what we're aiming for.
Some things to remind yourself:
I can have a great day even if my partner is having a bad day.
Their mood does not (and should not!) determine my mood.
It doesn't help anyone if I let their negative feelings win by also getting upset and angry.
I can help my partner by not letting their feelings overwhelm me.
The most I can do is offer love and support, and besides that, to focus on my own thermostat.
When You're the One Running Hot or Cold
As much as we may hate to admit it, sometimes it's not our partners who are in a rotten mood. Sometimes, it's us. And when that happens, your job is the get your own temperature back to a good place. Don't take out your negative feelings on your partner, don't expect them to change how you feel, and don't try to change their thermostat either.
When you wake up each day, do a quick check-in with yourself. How are you feeling today? Energized? Stressed? Decide on what your temperature is that morning, then pick a temperature you want to get to during the day. If you're tired and cranky (let's say, a 52) then try to get to a more content place (perhaps a 68). Start a positive morning routine that will help you get into a good headspace each day.
Do your best to take care of yourself and move that temperature to your ideal thermostat setting.
But, of Course, There Are Limits
All of this said, there are absolutely limits with how much you can (or should) tolerate when it comes to a cranky partner. If their bad mood is chronic or worsening, if they engage in abusive behaviors, or if they have no interest in figuring out how to get into a better headspace, then it's time to set some limits.
We aren't able to maintain our thermostat forever, and you might be in the situation where your partner's irritability, anger, depression, or stress is negatively impacting your own mood. If that happens, it's time to talk to your partner or seek outside help.