“It’s probably how it is for everyone; relationships aren’t rainbows and butterflies all the time, right?”, you might say, while trying to convince yourself that what you’re going through is just a rough patch. But when your partner calls and the thought of picking up incites dread, yours just might be an emotionally exhausting relationship.
Of course, that isn’t the only indicator that your dynamic may be leading you towards burnout, but if you’re waiting for your partner’s business trip to another continent more than s/he is, something’s probably up.
Since you don’t want to be overanalyzing such questions by yourself, we brought along counseling psychologist Shambhavi Agrawal (MSc. in counseling psychology) who specializes in anxiety, work-life balance, depression, grief, and life transitions issues, to talk about everything to do with emotionally exhausting relationships.
What Is Emotional Exhaustion & What Causes Emotionally Exhausting Relationships?
Before we get into how to fix an emotionally draining relationship, let’s first make sure we’re on the same page about what emotional exhaustion is. It is essentially a state of feeling physically and mentally “drained”, unmotivated and hopeless about the future.
A sense of de-personalization sets in where things may not feel all too real. Since hopelessness, decreased motivation, and a difficulty concentrating on tasks are all symptoms, making your way out of emotional exhaustion can be extremely difficult.
Everyone is susceptible. The causes range from prolonged periods of stress/anxiety, depression, financial struggles, and, of course, a relationship that causes long-term stress.
An emotionally exhausting relationship can be the leading cause of emotional exhaustion in a person. When you’re with someone who sucks the life out of you, it’s bound to affect your mental as well as physical state. Shambhavi lists out the following reasons behind an emotionally draining relationship:
1. Unrealistic expectations
“When a partner has expectations that you are not able to fulfill, or vice versa, there’s a very obvious misalignment in your dynamic,” says Shambhavi. “When there isn’t a good match between both partners about what’s expected and what can be delivered, there can be a lot of emotional exhaustion,” she adds.
Managing expectations in relationships is not the easiest thing to do in the world, owing to how someone might expect their partner to read their mind. If your partner has ever asked you to “figure out” why they’re angry, all the while giving you the silent treatment, it’s not the healthiest dynamic in the world, is it?
2. Gaslighting or a toxic scenario
If a healthy dynamic feels like a nice massage on your tired muscles, a toxic relationship feels like hard pressure on a bruise. Shambhavi tells us how experiencing gaslighting may be the reason behind an emotionally exhausting relationship. “When a person has some narcissistic traits, gaslighting will end up causing a lot of mental harm to you.”
“Perhaps they’re overly dependent on you and it’s taking a negative toll on your mental health. This type of a dynamic is bound to turn into an emotionally draining relationship.”
Related Reading: Are You A Toxic Couple? Take This Test To Find Out
3. Intrapersonal relationships
Read that again; we said intrapersonal, not interpersonal. As Shambhavi points out, the type of relationship you have with yourself will ultimately define the relationship you have with those around you. “When a person is unhappy in their own skin, when there’s less self-love or self-care, the relationships around that person also turn out to be emotionally exhausting.”
“For example, a person may be grieving, or they may not have a good financial structure, or they might be going through prolonged stress. If such a person is in a relationship, they’ll tend to resort to their partner for support and functionality.”
“But if their partner is equally involved in their own engagements or struggling with their own issues, it’s bound to result in an emotionally exhausting relationship.”
Signs Of An Emotionally Draining Relationship
If reading through the causes has got you drawing parallels, the signs will definitely make you sit up and exclaim, “My relationship is draining me.” But just like Icarus was unable to identify the reason for his downfall till it was too late, those in precarious situations can seldom see the most obvious red flags.
So, is yours an emotionally draining relationship, eating away at your mental peace? And are you blind to the culprit, perhaps even masking it as the cure? To make sure you don’t fly too close to the sun while idolizing it the whole time, take a look at the following signs to see if your relationship might be leading you towards a state of emotional exhaustion.
1. A fight is always on the horizon in an emotionally draining relationship
Does every conversation turn into a fight? Does it feel like you have to think twice before you say something to your partner? Does it feel like you’re constantly treading on thin ice while wearing boots made of metal?
If yours is an emotionally exhausting relationship, your answer to those questions probably weren’t too uplifting or comforting. Though every couple fights, such a couple will probably always be fighting.
2. You may start experiencing self-esteem issues
“When you’re constantly trying to prove your love to somebody and they haven’t been approving of it, your self-esteem is going to decline. It may leave you feeling unmotivated and riddled with insecurities,” says Shambhavi.
A happy relationship leaves you more confident and helps you become the best version of you. When your partner’s disapproval makes you reject yourself, your doubts about your capabilities become reality.
3. You want a little too much alone time
That weekend you spent with your partner seemed like a good enough idea, until, of course, the first fight rolled around somewhere around the thirty-minute mark. Personal space in a relationship is great, but when you’d rather wait for a Monday to come around than be with your partner on a weekend, it’s definitely a cause for concern.
Related Reading: 6 Types Of Emotional Manipulation And Expert Tips To Recognize Them
4. You feel neglected
An emotionally exhausting relationship doesn’t really sound like one that features the best communication practices, does it? Chances are, since you might have to constantly take care of your partner in such a dynamic, your needs may well have been overlooked.
If your needs and wants are given zero consideration because your partner’s issues “rank higher” and “need more care,” it’s a sign as clear as day that you need to get out.
5. Health issues
Of course, when stress begins to take a hold of your body, it’s destined to cause some physical harm over a long time. “You may have trouble sleeping due to high stress, accompanied by a headache or other symptoms of anxiety,” says Shambhavi.
Effects Of Emotional Exhaustion On Relationships
When you can confidently say something like, “My relationship is exhausting me,” owing to all the signs being in accordance with what you’ve got going on, it takes a heavy toll on your relationship.
“When it comes to the relationship, the major problem is that you lose that intimacy and you do not want to be affectionate towards your partner,” says Shambhavi, talking about the possible effects of emotional exhaustion on relationships.
“There’s constant insecurity towards that relationship. You don’t want to put in the effort, you lose trust in your dynamic and the whole thing may seem like more work than it’s worth, ” she adds.
The signs of emotional exhaustion usually accompany symptoms of mental health issues like – depression, stress, and anxiety. When one half of the relationship goes through an emotional exhaustion episode, it’s destined to spell doom for your dynamic.
When you can’t wait to get alone time, some time down the line, you’re probably not going to want to meet your partner at all. Your dynamic will never feel safe; instead, the sword of Damocles looming over your head will kill you from stress before it kills you by decapitation.
But does that mean there’s no hope left for an emotionally exhausting relationship? Is there anything you can do to help salvage the situation? Shambhavi tells us all we need to know about how to fix an emotionally draining relationship.
How To Fix An Emotionally Draining Relationship
Unless your relationship features any type of abuse or is inherently bad for you physically or mentally, the only thing stopping you from salvaging it is the know-how.
That’s where we come in. Did you really think we were going to leave you on your own, after you’ve just admitted to yourself, “My relationship is exhausting me, what do I do now?” Shambhavi lays out 5 means that help us figure out how to fix an emotionally draining relationship, or any bond, for that matter.
1. Take a step back and put your detective hat on
Yes, we’re implying that taking some time off the relationship and spending it on deliberating upon what went wrong will do you good. Before you even get to the couples’ activities, it’s important to figure yourself out first.
“Take time out for your own self. Figure out what you’re looking for and what’s draining you in the first place. What are the emotions that you’re really drained of? Sometimes it’s a lack of happiness in your relationship, sometimes it’s intimacy, or sometimes just a general feeling of being loved. Getting to the crux of it is very important,” says Shambhavi
2. Emotionally exhausting relationships will benefit from some couples’ activities
“An emotionally drained relationship happens when you cannot get some feelings you may need or want. For example, if the resultant sentiment of your emotionally exhausting relationship is a feeling of loneliness, try to do couple’s activities that fight that loneliness. Spend time with each other, plan some activities that both of you enjoy,” says Shambavi.
Granted, a game of lawn tennis together won’t fix all your problems (especially if you lose), but at least it’ll get you two out of the house doing something together.
3. Learn a new language: your partner’s love language
In his book The Five Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman listed the five love languages that a person may subconsciously adopt. The love languages being: words of affirmation, physical touch, spending quality time together, gift-giving, and acts of service.
Shambhavi tells us how understanding the love language your partner adopts can literally change your entire dynamic. “The language in which your partner requires love might not be the language in which you’re giving love. Analyze each other’s love language and eradicate the miscommunication.”
“For example, I like words of affirmation, but my partner expresses love by spending quality time together. So when I express my love through words, my partner may not even appreciate it because, to them, love means spending time together,” she says.
4. Get rid of the elephant in the room
You can’t expect to sweep fights under the rug or “pause” them forever and assume that everything’s going to be okay. Talk about the fights that never get sorted out and work on conflict resolution strategies. Unfortunately, storming out of the house and blocking your partner on social media isn’t a viable method of conflict resolution.
5. Couples therapy can help you heal your emotionally exhausting relationship
Trying to fix something as debilitating as emotional exhaustion with your partner might leave you in a loop of fights, disagreements, and confusion.
That’s where individual or couple therapy can help. By introducing an unbiased and professional perspective into your dynamic, you’ll quickly get to the bottom of what’s bothering your relationship and why.
If you’re considering seeking the help of a counselor to figure out how to fix an emotionally draining relationship, Bonobology has a multitude of experienced counselors who would love to help you during this trying time, including Shambhavi Agrawal herself.
If emotional exhaustion has affected you personally, you can choose to work on yourself by seeking therapy and developing healthy habits like exercise and self-care. If it has affected your relationship, communicating with each other, spending quality time, and understanding the other’s love language will help.
Yes, burnouts in relationships are normal and can be caused by going through a prolonged period of stress/anxiety. The cause of the stress can often be the toxic dynamic relationship itself, or other causes such as a mismatch of expectations. These may cause burnout in a relationship.
According to Healthline, a feeling of hopelessness, a prolonged period of stress or anxiety, depression, financial struggles, having children, being grief-stricken, are all reasons why a person can feel emotionally drained.
There are no set qualities of an emotionally draining person, only those who you find to be emotionally draining. Even so, most people find confrontational and narcissistic people emotionally draining. In other words, someone who constantly seeks drama and has no regard for your needs/wants.