Working Through Stress As A Couple

By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

“Stress impacts our love relationships more than we are aware of or acknowledge,” according to Judy Ford, a licensed clinical social worker and author of Every Day Love: The Delicate Art of Caring for Each Other. Part of the problem is that stress is entrenched in our everyday. “Stress has become such a normal part of daily life that partners become immune to the symptoms and warning signs,” she said.

Ignoring stress only ignites it. “Even when a couple tries to ignore stress, like static in the air, it is felt and absorbed.” If partners do talk about being stressed, they may not know what to do about it, Ford added.

Also, “stress is contagious.” Ford compared stress to a game of ping-pong, where the tension “bounces back and forth between partners.” Partners become both unable to relax and enjoy each other, she said. Stress “shows up in our actions, our behavior, and in both verbal and non-verbal communications,” so it’s bound to not only affect both partners but also their relationship. “Stressed-out couples quarrel and fight more often, withdraw from each other, feel disconnected, sad, frustrated, angry.” Ongoing unchecked stress can create bigger problems. “Long-term stress can turn to depression and isolation resulting in a frozen and distant relationship.”

Below, Ford shares her advice on spotting stress, comforting your partner and overcoming stress as a couple.

1. Recognize stress symptoms.

According to Ford, “Couples often become so accustomed to unchecked stress that they barely recognize and often overlook the destructive ramifications.” So how do you know when your partner (or you) is stressed? Ford listed these straightforward signs of stress:

  • “one or both partners are snappy, cranky, withdrawn, moody, pouty, teary, ornery, angry, restless, hyper, agitated, overly excited.
  • one or both partners are self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, food, etc.”

2. Approach your partner.

If you see signs of stress, ask your partner what’s going on in a kind and compassionate way. It could be as simple as: ““Are you having a difficult day, honey? Come sit by me and tell me all about it,” Ford said.

3. Listen.

“We want our partner to understand and when we are listened, we feel cared for,” Ford said. Keep in mind that listening is a skill, and one that few people actually do well. It’s the same with communicating with your partner. To learn more, read this piece on how partners can become active listeners and better speakers.

4. Comfort first.

Many partners forget to console their significant other and instead try to problem solve. But, as Ford said, “Comfort each other first, problem solve second.” That’s because your partner might be looking for stress relief rather than a nitty-gritty brainstorming session. Just hugging and gently touching your partner can provide that relief.

5. Get active together.

Participating in physical activities is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Plus, if you’re engaging in new activities, it can reignite your relationship. (Here’s more on boosting the passion in your relationship.)

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