“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- “one or both partners are snappy, cranky, withdrawn, moody, pouty, teary, ornery, angry, restless, hyper, agitated, overly excited.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.
“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.)
6. Create a list of stress-reducing rituals.
Ford suggested that each partner write up a list of their “comforting rituals.” This can be anything from taking a bath to reading a book to working in the garage, she explained.
7. Check your stress temperature.
When both partners are stressed, comforting each other can get tricky. But Ford’s solution actually encourages couples to cope on their own. That’s because “You can’t comfort your partner until you have comforted yourself first. Calm yourself first then reach out in support of your partner.”
Ford suggested that each partner take what she calls a “stress temperature.” This simply means checking in with yourself to see where you fall on a 10-point scale (10 being “high stress” and 1 being “relaxed”). Share your temperature with each other. If it’s higher than a 4, each partner can engage in their comforting ritual, Ford said.
She added: “Support each other in recognizing and taking stress temps. When the temp is high, just like when a person is sick, he or she will need to do whatever it takes to feel better. Encourage your sweetheart to take care.”
8. 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.
9. Keep posted on your partner’s days.
Knowing your partner’s daily agenda helps you spot potential stressors and be prepared to help. Do they have a big presentation or client interview coming up? Are they taking a test in their toughest class? Is their friend going through a difficult time? Is it time for their quarterly evaluation?
“Find out at least one thing that your partner will be doing and dealing with during the day.” Ford suggested asking your partner directly what’s on their plate: “Honey, what’s going on for you today?”
10. Consider if there’s anything else you can do.
Of course you can’t ease your partner’s stress completely. But you can pay attention to whether they’re happy and see how you can help. Ford suggested asking yourself: “Am I doing everything within my power to aid in my partner’s happiness?”
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.
You can learn more about Judy Ford at her website.