How stress affects relationships |Tips | Next steps |
A solid romantic relationship can offer intimacy, support, and stability — especially during stressful times.
Frustrating relationships can be a source of stress, but research Source that positive relationships can uplift your mental and physical health.
Everyone argues, so having an argument once in a while isn’t a sign that you’re in a “bad” relationship. In fact, when couples are able to disagree in productive ways, it can actually improve their communication skills.
Research in 2018 Source supports that folks who are able to openly communicate with their partner about what stresses them out can help them actively manage relationship stress during tense discussions.
Feeling stressed out in your relationship is typical from time to time. Problems arise if the relationship stress doesn’t go away between arguments, or if negative situations persist for a long time.
How does stress affect my relationship?
“Every relationship is going to have arguments. And at worst, arguments can result in hurt feelings, loss of respect for the other person, or loss of a close relationship,” says Debbie Opoku, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in couples and marriage counseling in Barrie, Canada.
“If we speak and react in the heat of the moment, our words will come out as accusations — or worse as a personal attack against your partner,” Opoku says.
Words carry a lot of weight in an argument, and saying something in anger (even if it feels justified at the time) can still have lasting effects long after the argument has concluded — and these impacts can contribute to even more stress down the road.
And at-home stress doesn’t only involve your partner.
Tips for dealing with relationship stress
It’s easy to let financial stress broil, parenting pressures mount, or fall into old argument patterns — especially if the two of you are locked together in close quarters.
Making time to go outside your house will help break you out of patterns and allow both of you to feel like you’ve escaped the usual.
Change the scenery and take a break
“I would recommend couples walk around outside and discuss their issues,” says Nicholas Hardy, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist out of Houston, Texas. “In addition to being outside and enjoying the weather (if it is nice), you are not forced to look directly at each other.”
“It takes the pressure off of the conversation, which sometimes allows people to be more open,” Hardy adds.
Staying in one place during an argument can make you feel like you aren’t moving toward an endpoint. Try to put the heat of the argument on pause, take a break, and revisit things after you’ve cleared your head.
When “you” causes trouble, try to use “I” instead
It may seem like a simple word choice, but using “you” and superlative statements too often in an argument can lead to longer fights and more stress for your partner if you aren’t careful.
“Using ‘I’ language is often better received than ‘you’ language, which comes off as accusatory and can lead to defensiveness,” explains Jennifer Henry, licensed professional counselor and director of the Counseling Center at Maryville University in Missouri.
“For example ‘I feel really disappointed and unimportant when I’m planning on a date night and you end up canceling it’ taps into the way the situation makes you feel versus ‘Every time we make plans for a date you end up bailing at the last minute,’” Henry says.
Ask for help or ask how you can help
One of the hardest things to do when you’re stressed out is to ask for help.
Sometimes you may feel too overwhelmed to ask for help, or be in such a high-stress situation that you don’t even know what kind of help you need. If you’ve ever felt this way, your partner has definitely felt it, too.
That’s why the best thing you can do is take a breath and ask them what kind of help they need. For example, a pile of dirty dishes may not normally be a big deal to your partner, but if they feel stretched to the limit already, that pile of dishes is going to look impossibly large.
“You can respond to your partner’s stress by simply ‘asking’ them about it and how you can support them. We are more likely to miss the mark when we assume,” Hardy says. “I would recommend taking something off their plate… When you give them less to worry about in other areas, you are supporting them inadvertently.”
Hear them out instead of planning your defense
An argument can sometimes feel like a competition where the goal is to score the most points over your opponent. While it may feel good to win the argument, it doesn’t do anything to de-stress your partner or the situation.
If they’re expressing their anxiety to you — even if it’s not in a calm or productive way — try to hear them out. Even if you don’t agree with them, stopping to take the time to actually hear what they’re saying will help validate their point of view.
You can learn how to be a more effective active listener here.
“Listen to each other,” says Opoku. “If we listen to the other person and give them an opportunity to explain their point of view, chances are they’ll be more open to hearing us out. When someone is making a statement that we disagree with, our common response is to start thinking of a rebuttal while the person is talking.”
Consider the root of their stress
If you’re in an argument with your partner, it would make sense to assume that the source of the problem was you (or something you did) that upset them. However, even if the argument is being had with you, it might not really be about you.
External factors in your partner’s life may be contributing to their increased stress.
Try to think about what may actually be causing the tension in your relationship and work to address the real reason they’re feeling stressed.
“When we are stressed about work, family, etcetera, we carry this into our relationships,” says Hardy. “Our patience is reduced, and we don’t always have the emotional capacity to handle issues appropriately. Therefore, I recommend that couples take time to rejuvenate, take care of themselves, and evaluate if they are taking other issues out on their partner.”
If you can help your partner reduce the external stressors in their life, it might help diffuse similar arguments in the future and show your partner that you’re being supportive and sympathetic.
Couples counselors are always available to help
Even after you’ve committed significant effort to de-stress your relationship, it may still be too difficult to entirely handle it on your own.
Especially if there’s a deep hurt or there’s been prolonged periods of stress, you could consider couples counseling to help improve your relationship, communication, and manage stress in your lives.
“Having an objective party sit with you and help you talk through your challenges can be tremendously eye-opening and can lead to so much growth and healing,” says Henry.
“A counselor can give you and your partner new approaches for working through your concerns and can help you both to really express your feelings and feel heard,” Henry adds.
Need a place to start? You can check out our list of the best online relationship therapy services.
When you take steps toward improving your relationship and de-stressing, you’re proving to yourself and your partner that you believe there’s something special worth working at.
When you and your partner commit to supporting one another, you’ll be surprised by the progress the two of you can make.
“If both partners truly want to save their, have the humility to work on themselves, and have the commitment to work hard on growing their relationship, many [relationships] can be healed and recover from prolonged stress,” Henry says.