“Stress impacts our love relationships more than we are aware of or acknowledge,” according to Judy Ford, a licensed clinical social worker. “Stress has become such a normal part of daily life that partners become immune to the symptoms and warning signs,” she says.
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.
Ford shares the following advice for protecting your relationship from stress.
1. Recognize stress symptoms
Couples often become so accustomed to unchecked stress that they barely recognize it. So how do you know when your partner (or you) is stressed? Look for these signs: one or both partners are snappy, cranky, withdrawn, moody, pouty, teary, ornery, angry, restless, hyper, agitated, overly excited. Or, one or both partners are self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, food, etc.
Learn how to listen. We all want the person we love to listen to understand what we’re going through. Unfortunately, listening is a skill few people actually do well, so make an effort to learn how to become an active listener.
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.
4. Ask your partner what you can do.
An important way of supporting your loved one is to ask them flat-out how you can help. According to Ford, you might say: “Is there anything I can do to make your day go smoother?” If your partner isn’t sure, “notice what might be helpful and do that.” It might be anything from doing a few chores to giving them a relaxing back rub.
Unchecked stress can sabotage a relationship and lead to dissatisfaction and disconnection. But there are many ways you can take action to alleviate your own stress and support your partner.