7 Tips for Dealing with a Sweetheart Who Is Constantly Crabby.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 7 tips for dealing with a sweetheart who is crabby all the time.

If you’re in a relationship, your sweetheart’s happiness matters a lot to you. Not only because you care about that person’s happiness, but also because — due to a phenomenon called emotional contagion — you’re very likely to “catch” that mood. Unfortunately, bad moods are more catching than good moods.

What do you do if the love of your life is driving you crazy by being crabby all the time? Try thinking about these factors:

1.Does your sweetheart seem grouchy and overwhelmed? Maybe he or she isn’t getting enough sleep. Sleep is hugely important to mood and energy. If your sweetheart’s sleep is being interrupted or curtailed, figure out ways to help if you can. Turn out the light earlier, let your sweetheart sleep later at least some days of the week, work out a schedule so you two take turns getting a decent night’s sleep. Or if insomnia is the problem, help your sweetheart work on building good sleep habits: getting a little exercise, making the room very dark, spending the time before bed in a soothing activity, etc. (For more tips on getting good sleep, look here.)

2. Does your sweetheart nag a lot? Just for a week or two, try to accommodate that nagging. If you’re being nagged to do a task that you plan to do, go ahead and do it at the first opportunity. Sure, maybe you’re right that it doesn’t have to be done today, but just do it today anyway. If you’re being nagged to do a task that you have no intention of doing, tell your sweetheart. Don’t keep procrastinating in the hopes that the chore will be forgotten.

3. Is your sweetheart crabby about being nagged? Try these tips to stop yourself from nagging. (This is hard, true, but worth the effort.)

4. Does your sweetheart seem unable to make time for fun? Try making some fun plans. Just saying, “Hey, let’s go to a movie,” isn’t sufficient. Pick an activity your sweetheart would enjoy, arrange for a babysitter if necessary, make reservations or buy tickets if necessary, take care of any tasks that need to be cleared out of the way before your sweetheart can relax.

If your sweetheart seems unable to be able to have fun on vacation, take a look at how he or she is spending the day. Reading on the beach, or chasing after little kids with a bottle of sunscreen? Rock climbing, or taking the kids to see a movie starring chipmunks? I think it was Jerry Seinfeld who said, “There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family,” but try to arrange a vacation so that all family members can have fun, according to their own idea of fun, at least some of the time.

6. Is your sweetheart crabby due to chronic pain? Chronic pain, even if at a relatively low level, can really tax people’s moods. Encourage your sweetheart to take pain reliever, see a doctor, keep up with physical therapy, try acupuncture, start meditating, or whatever you think might work – and don’t just talk about it, take steps to help your sweetheart get help. Get recommendations, do research, make phone calls, pick up prescriptions, accompany your sweetheart to an appointment, give reminders, track symptoms…whatever is appropriate.

When I’ve had chronic pain, I often denied it. I kept telling myself I was getting better, even when I wasn’t. Then, after I finally sought help, relief came fast. I endured several months of nagging eye pain that was cured by a quick trip to the eye doctor and a bottle of drops. I had excruciating back pain that was substantially relieved after I saw the physical therapist that my father-in-law had been recommending for months. Of course, sadly, chronic pain often doesn’t have an easy solution. But whatever the problem is, it’s worth trying to address it. Sometimes we need a little push to seek help.

7. Does your sweetheart’s crabbiness seem to go beyond the normal range of crabbiness? Persistent low energy or insomnia, feeling paralyzed, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite or overeating, persistent sad or empty feelings, feeling guilty or worthless, pains that don’t go away…these kinds of symptoms can indicate depression, and depression can be very serious. Figure out a way to get help!

Now, as you look at this list, you might think, “Wait, my sweetheart, while not depressed, is quite crabby, and the crabby one is the one who needs to change. But all these tips are things that I’m supposed to do.” True! The fact is, with a happiness project, the only person you can change is yourself. But if you change, a relationship changes, and if you behave differently, you may find your sweetheart’s crabbiness lifting.

What am I missing? Have you found other good ways to cope with crabbiness? I have a strong tendency toward the crabby, so I spend a lot of time thinking about it.

* I always find a lot of interesting material on Motherlode, Lisa Belkin’s New York Times blog about “adventures in parenting.”

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
Buy the book! In fact, if you’re inclined to buy the book, I would very much appreciate it if you would buy it this week (for reasons related to the publishing cycle). Thanks!
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 46,000 people get it)
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

  • totalmotion6@gmail.com

    you have a great blog!!~! I really enjoy your insight and your ‘findings’, I’m going to have to follow so I don’t miss another moment of your fun. you can get more from online physical therapy seminarsthanks for sharing with us.

  • Isn’t it funny how often being happy is a matter of changing yourself rather than trying to change someone else/the world?

    That’s a lesson I keep having to learn!

    Thanks for sharing these tips, Gretchen. 🙂

  • Ms G

    Fantastic post! I’m extremely irritable and get crabby far too easily. This is an area I really have to keep working on. Positive mental attitude…

  • Pain as a source of crabbiness is a big one. My husband has a chronic problem with his lower back involving nerve damage. Pretty much every time he gets bad tempered and sulky his back is bad (but quite often he won’t tell me he’s in pain because that means acknowledging the problem).

  • delialloyd

    good advice by @gretchenrubin on how to deal with a crabby partner

  • Lynnel

    I agree totally with the “make sure they are getting enough sleep” one. After I read an article on sleep apnea and realized my husbands un-snoring breaks of quiet he was actually NOT BREATHING and that is a major problem (obviously) and insisted he get a sleep study done, our marriage is transformed! (When he wears his sleep CPAP mask) And his diagnosis freed me up to realize if his snoring and not breathing is keeping me awake with worry, I am just going to sleep in another room, and my getting enough sleep will ensure that at least one of us is rested and thinking clearly!

    • gretchenrubin

      Sleep apnea is a BIG issue! Really worth checking it out.

  • LivewithFlair

    Great tips! As the crabby sweetheart in my marriage, I’m here to announce that my husband always makes sure I have time for exercise, writing, prayer, and time with friends. The exercise time is so important for the moods! http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com/

  • Anne

    My husband’s been on a long businesstrip and will be back later this week, and this has given me a lot of time to think. I know he completely zaps my energy – fi this week has been the first time in decades I’ve slept whole nights. And yes, he fits every point on your list, and then some. In fact, I’ve tried everything you suggest and I have quite a few extras: I give him little treats to keep him moving along – encouragement, mints, little chocolates, kisses, much like you’d train a dog. I always cook his favorite food, I never deny him sex, I never discuss anything remotely difficult with him, I never ask him to do anything, and I must say I avoid him as much as I can, as he has become my biggest chore and responsibility.
    So the post is entirely correct in that it’s quite possible to handle a crabby spouse and the suggestions really work, but if it is worth it and you should really do it is another question entirely.

    • gretchenrubin

      You’ve raised a very big happiness question. I’ve been thinking about this a
      lot lately. How do we handle it when someone close to us just doesn’t seem
      to want to be happy?

      • Oh_My_Gosh can I go on about this one! But not with my husband…with 2 ‘friends.’ It’s difficult, in my opinion, to maintain any semblance of a healthy relationship where one person is determined to be miserable. This was actually a step I’ve taken in my “Happiness Project” because I realized I was sapped of good energy every time I had to deal with either of them. This has not been easy for sure, since people like that often are drawn to your positive energy, whether consciously or not, not sure there…
        Bottom line is we can never “make” people happy. We all know happiness is a choice that must be made for oneself.
        I’ll hush now…I tend to ramble! hahaha!

        • gretchenrubin

          I call such folks “happiness leeches” because while they’re drawn to
          happiness, they suck it away. How to deal with a person like this is a VERY
          BIG question. Thoughts, anyone? Good ideas, good strategies?

          • jenny_o

            If the person is someone you care about keeping in your life, I think you would need to delve deeper into what the underlying problems are. Otherwise, the only strategy I can think of is avoidance, or minimizing contact.

      • A lot of times I think couples get crabby because they aren’t being loved the way they want to be loved. I think only very few people don’t want to be actually happy in their life. I think the trouble is that because they’ve had so many years of disappointment, expectations by others, and stresses in their life, that that becomes their lifestyle.

        I’ve always believed that when my girlfriend gets crabby, or if something isn’t right…I have to shower her with love. I shower in a way that makes her feel cared for. The tricky part is finding his or her love language. Which is why Gary Chapman’s book 5 love Languages is a great book.

        It’s like the gold stars. Giving gold stars is such a pleasant way of showing love because it’s relevant to who you are.

        I wrote a quick article on what the love languages were that Gary shares.

    • echo

      Amen Anne. I’m in the same boat. Which is why I went into therapy, and now a year and a half later I know what I need, and I am filing for divorce. Life is too short.

      This article is co-dependent nonsense, imo.

      • jenny_o

        Hi echo, would you be willing to explain what you mean by your comment, “This article is co-dependent nonsense, imo”? I’m not understanding how it shows co-dependence. Thanks.

    • jenny_o

      Anne, you say your husband fits every point on the list. So are you saying that your husband has insomnia or other causes of sleep loss, has chronic pain, too many responsibilities, possible depression, nags you and is nagged by you? I’d be crabby too!

  • My husband and I read this together last night, each of us thinking it was meant for the other, LOL. My husband knows that he’s got a big sleep deficit, but he’s just GOT to stay up to watch the game, surf the web, etc. And yes, I am probably a nag!

    • This sounds like my husband. Also, with both of us being self-employed, spending too much time working with not enough respite makes both of us (I mean, him…just him) crabby.

  • Ejranville

    This is the crabby time of year for my husband–his work load is at it’s peak during July and August. My tactic is to try and keep everything else running smoothly, make some special meals (breakfast on the weekend, nice dinner), listen without trying to solve his problems and just remember that it will all be over in a month or two.

  • Beverlyjo1013

    My problem is that my partner just refuses to talk about matters, to figure out the source, and working together to fix the situation, whether it be his crabbiness or mine. No matter how I broach a subject with him, he does not want to talk about it and in fact says, “don’t use your psycho babble on me.”

    I say the top two sources or zappers of happiness are work and relationships. You can choose another career and yes, you can choose a different partner, but where is the line for deciding that, especially when you’re in a committed relationship?

  • chem

    When your sweetheart is crabby and you are getting crabby too, try to imagine your sweetheart has past away, and what you would miss about him/her. Could be little things, like making coffee, setting the table, taking out the trash, cuddling at night, etc. Talk about those things with him and tell him you appreciate that. Most often it will lit the mood of both of you

  • Mary

    I just love that you admit to a “strong tendency toward the crabby.” It makes me more able to admit the same without feeling like I’m a failure of a human!

  • jenny_o

    I really like the way you examine a subject in detail. This is the flip side of your post about how to stop nagging, and it brings out that whole other side of the picture.

    After many years of trying other techniques which didn’t work, I find now that the best thing I can do is to ask myself what I would want my sweetheart to do for me if I was the crabby one (which I often am!).

    I want my sweetheart to care about me enough to find out what I might not be saying, and if I can’t or won’t talk about it, I want him to trust that I am just having a bad day, and it isn’t his fault, and treat me with kindness until I am feeling myself again. So that is what I try to do for him, and – maybe not surprisingly – it helps.

    I realize this only works if your relationship is one that at its heart is caring and respectful. If you or your sweetheart is doing all the giving (or taking), and see nothing wrong with that, you aren’t sweethearts, in my opinion.

  • Crabby I am and crabby is she….but we get the day in the end.

  • You are so right to encourage us to look at our own behavior. For years in my marriage I blamed my husband for being moody and angry and I made my happiness dependent upon him. Now that I have realized that happiness comes from inside of me, I am so much more content. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Jennywennywilliams

    This is something I remember asking about a long time ago and its great to discuss it. This set of strategies doesnt seem to quite hit the mark for my situation. My husband is totally wonderful, but sometimes is just in a real funk, and really the only way that he comes out of it is by himself.

    I find that my strategies are to try and keep out of his way, if either of us are in a bad mood that we do our very best not to be reactionary to snarky comments (I guess the nagging) and just be civilised and thoughtful to each others needs even if we both feel angry.

    That way we come out of the funk and there are no bad feelings.

    Easier said than done because I’m constantly asking ‘are you ok’ every 5 mins! I have to try and just leave him be….

  • NoGluten

    It isn’t painful, but my spouse’s tinnitus can cause fatigue and then crankiness. Gluten aggravates the tinnitus, so a diet change helped a lot.

  • Edra

    Loving gestures are empty if they’re just a ‘to do’ list. Love him enough to tell him the truth about how you feel and what you need, and trust him to care. Even on rough terrain, knowing where we stand makes us feel safer. You had reasons you chose to marry this man. Remind both of you what those were–and see what you can do to revive them.

  • Spatialrelationsconsultants

    These tips are so helpful!

  • jslou67

    It’s so ironic that I’m reading this today (7/13/10). Just the past couple of days I have been wracking my brain and Googling nonstop to find ways to help my boyfriend sleep better. He is not a morning person, so at that time of day I do best to just leave him be. The biggest problem though is he just isn’t able to adapt his sleep cycle to his 7:30a-4:30p job. And everything I find out or suggest for him he dismisses because he’s “tried all of them and none of them work.” I think a lot of it is more psychological, in that he’s convinced himself that as long as he is forced to work those hours he’ll never get any sleep. I really worry about his health from sleep deprivation, and I feel so helpless. He does appreciate my help, and knows I care, but he’s just so stuck in this rut that I don’t know if it’s possible to get him out. 🙁

    • mom2luke

      he’s being a jerk. he should try the well known steps to better sleep. lots of exercise (but not late in the day) turn technology off several hrs b/f bedtime, complete darkness, read boring material, and SLEEP ALONE! so you don’t bother him w/ your tossing turning/snoring etc…take melatonin , no alcohol, etc
      but don’t feel helpless, it is HIS problem, not yours…don’t get in HIS rut, you’ve got plenty of your own to worry about!

    • Val

      Any options for him to work pm shift?

  • Amy

    This was an interesting article! I came here from galadarling.com because my sweetheart is often a crabby bunny and really, I just want to make him happy. I’m not sure that any of these exactly apply to him, though, but it was nice to discover your project which is really fabulous. Thanks!

  • SassyPants

    Or, maybe your sweetheart is crabby all the time because he’s got an overly critical nature. Because it’s a habit. Because that was the “culture” in his family. Because he’s emotionally not as mature and well balanced as you’d like.

    That being the case, I deal with it by seeing the crabbiness for what it is — a thinly veiled expression of insecurity, a fear of not being respected, his best effort at coping with a world that doesn’t always give him what he wants. By seeing what lies beneath the behavior instead of focusing on the behavior itself, I am able to love him with compassion and understanding.

    My defense system against pain and upset is eating, his is crabbiness. I try to remember that we’re all doing the best we know how. And, since he doesn’t judge me for the size of my ass, I refuse to judge him for his best effort at coping with the frustrations that life throws his way.

  • Cat

    Good tips, and good comments ! I also like Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages”. And Gretchen’s book 🙂 I agree: when I am happy, it often makes a positive difference in the mood of my sweetheart.

    I have also found that doing yoga in the morning together helps us start the day with that love connection. When we go to work early, it means getting up 15 or 30 minutes early but it is worth it!

    Gretchen, did you have something in mind for tip number 5 ? It seems to have disappeared.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yipes! I do this ALL THE TIME — misnumber a list. I always triple-check,
      but somehow this escaped me. Nope, turns out there are six tips! Or add

  • This may seem obvious–but these are also great tips to apply when WE are feeling crabby. Sometimes it’s easier to notice the bad mood in someone else than to recognize our own!My time coaching clients are shocked when I have them block in sleep on their Schedule Makeover(tm) before putting in other activities. But taking care of ourselves is really such a big key to our overall peace and productivity!

  • Some good tips but I have the problem that my crabby hubby DOES have depression but refuses to try medication anymore and keeps putting off going back to therapy (we can only afford 4 sessions anyways). Any other suggestions he doesn’t want to take because he’s depressed. I suffer too so I know what I’m talking about and what helps and what makes it worse but he just doesn’t try anything.

  • Zip

    I hit the link for the ‘be happier at work’ article and was directed here.

    • Kt

      Me too

  • Autogrrrl1

    i clicked on the link to see how to be happy at work and it took me here, every time i clicked on it.

  • Margaret

    I can’t believe you, Gretchen, have a tendency to the crabby. I read your blog every day and I believe you have a tendency to what used to be called saintliness. For example, when you write “Things you do every day take on a certain beauty . . . Revel in it,” you are channeling Saint Therese.

    Of course, you’re right. There must be “an invisible architecture to daily life” or your life and your home will be a shambles of neglected duty caused by laziness.

  • Noelle

    You have neglected the one suggestion that will unquestionably change your life and open it to more happiness: If your sweetheart’s crabbiness continues to have a negative effect on your life, consider leaving him/her.

  • Kt

    Regarding chronic pain. Perhaps one could offer to help do more for the person in pain. Such as: help more around the house, run errands, DO SOMETHING to make life easier for them, etc. I suffer with chronic pain and just the fact that my husband throws his dirty clothes in the hamper turned inside out means more work=pain for me. With chronic tendinitis in my wrist this really does have an effect on me. Seems nit-picky to most people. Unless you are the sufferer.

    • gretchenrubin

      YES, very important tip! Can’t believe I left that off.

    • mom2luke

      just leave clothes inside out they will still get clean, you can fold them that way too. it’s not nitpicky to leave it that way, but a reminder to him that your hands hurt …he can contemplate that while he right sides out his t-shirt each day… it will remind him that YOU did his laundry, put it in his drawers, not perfectly, but you did this task while in pain. you’re helping him know how to help you. (if you INSIST on right-side outing it yourself, you’re just being unnecessarily OCD.

  • mom2luke

    depression is so contagious you can catch it over the phone… best thing to do is GET AWAY from the depressed person as often as you can and do things with friends/family/coworkers who are joyful. depressed ppl will put you down. it is so impt to be around ppl who build you up or you can just keep spiraling down to the level of the depressed.

  • mom2luke

    wow: ,”don’t use your psycho babble on me.”

    that’s a pretty strong line of disrespect…if he won’t talk to you, do back off, but talk to someone else who cares about him…his mother? sister? brother?
    ask THEM if they’re worried about him…ask them if they know why he’s so depressed..or can find out. you’ve got nothing to lose but a “partner” who refuses to talk, which isn’t much of a partner anyway. i’d rather be alone than w/ someone who won’t talk to me.

  • mom2luke

    yes, exercise is so impt for EVERYthing! w/out it we all just spiral downhill, health wise physically AND mentally…just adding even more stress. even if you have chronic pain, you should NOT stop exercising, gotta keep blood flowing, even if you knees keep you from walking/running you should sit in a chair and “conduct” an orchestra to a CD. exercise is the ONE proven thing to help everything from depression to altzheimers….

  • mom2luke

    tell him to google/read books by Dr. Sarno esp Healing Your Back… bad backs are made worse by babying them/stopping exercise. even if MRI “shows” bulging disks etc many “healthy” backs have same issues on MRI but are pain free. some ppl carry their tension in the head and get migraines , others carry it in their backs…you gotta manage the tension so your back can heal itself. My husband does same thing, snaps at me when he’s in pain (don’t we all) but lying down makes it worse…tell him to go take a walk and see if he doesn’t feel better when he gets back.

  • Val

    This is a serious physical condition with results ranging all over the place, every aspect of life, both physical and emotional.
    It’s like chiropractic: a good place to start. Get straight. Make sure you’re not smothering in your sleep. (Seems so obvious, eh?) Often when you can zero in on the main problem, all the sub-issues evaporate.

  • Sydney

    My sweet heart is crabby because his work is very difficult due to the economy. He works long hours, misses out on our family and still doesn’t make nearly as much money as he once did. It makes him crabby.

  • Emma

    I think our husbands must be brothers! This is exactly how mine is: usually a wonderful happy guy, but every once in awhile gets into a terrible funk. The only thing that helps him is to be left alone. Which is the hardest thing for me to do! I have to bite my tongue not to ask him how he’s doing. When I’m in a bad mood, nothing’s better than curling up with him and talking. It’s hard not to take it personally when he doesn’t want to talk during his bad moods.

  • Good stuff. A great quote by eckhart Tolle is “In a genuine relationship, there is an outward flow of open, alert attention toward the other person in which there is no wanting whatsoever.”

  • Eliana Valero

    where is number 5?

  • Val

    I think, honestly, you go about fixing yourself–finding ways to be happy independent of the other person–not in a mean way, or an excluding way, but you do it.

    Get on with what YOU ought to be doing.

    A lot of times that changes the dynamic in ways that are subtle and powerful, and the bottom line is when you stop feeling other people’s emotions FOR them, then you’re off the merry go round of them, and they find ways to deal with themselves.

    It’s abstract and sounds strange, but that’s the best I can explain it right now.  love, Val

  • Kms

    I second echo’s comments.  Chronic crabbiness is the crab’s problem, not ours.  While that may make you sad, you can’t make them happy, since they choose their mood, same as we choose ours.  CC is also a common excuse for verbal/emotional abuse.  Don’t tolerate it.  Put distance between self & it, and put the CC on notice that it won’t be tolerated.  Get PROFESSIONAL help, or get away…co-dependent is right.

  • Natalie

    I know this post is 2 years old, but I’d like to add something that I think helps: affirm your sweetheart’s stress! In other words, verbally acknowledge that the things that bring him down are real and valid (assuming they are). My husband often feels bad about himself for being stressed out or frustrated by work, which only makes it worse. I think it’s really important to remind him that it is ok to feel that way. There are so many times when I’ve needed someone to validate instead of minimize the things that upset me, and I try to remember that when he can’t seem to get over something.

    In another post, you mention the benefits of distraction to lift your spirits when you’re having a bad day. As you mention in #4, this is also a helpful strategy for your spouse. It can be so relieving to press pause on the worry tape for a little while, and watch something funny.

  • Pingback: Google()

  • Alexandra

    Mine has tended towards the ‘7’ category – it can be so hard to stay positive around this. I have been finding new ways to deal with it and love the use of a ‘zone of refuge’ in your book. It made me more aware of the fact that I do have one, and it isn’t distancing myself from the issue (how I saw it before), but helping me muster my strengths to deal with things.

    Staying happy and positive can be hard work! And it is draining to have negative people/comments around frequently.

  • Pingback: Procrastination, Productivity, Moving and More: Links & Resources()