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March 20, 2020

Does External Stress Cause You And Your Partner To Fight?

Do external stressors (e.g., finances, family issues, workload, etc.) negatively impact your life and often lead to fights between you and your partner? If so, this post will give you some ideas on how to better cope with stress in order to prevent fights.

Many couples deal with external stress. While some stress is unavoidable, how we cope with it is often what leads to more problems in our relationships. Here are a few cycles that develop around this problem area: “This stress is killing me and my partner doesn’t get it” and “We are up to our ears in stress”

THIS STRESS IS KILLING ME AND MY PARTNER DOESN’T GET IT

One of you is experiencing external stress and may not know how to handle it. As a result, the stressed partner may pull away from the relationship or take it out on the other partner. The other partner may feel hurt that the partner is pulling away or feel like he/she needs to walk on eggshells to avoid more fights.

I’m Buried in Stress

Stress can turn your partner from your biggest support system to your enemy. Instead of letting your stress drive a wedge in your relationship, consider the following tips.Tips to change these situations:

1. STOP, DROP, …

Your partner only wants what is best for you. Try to notice when your stress is higher and STOP for a few moments before you accidentally take it out on your partner by snapping, yelling, or pulling away. Tell your partner you need 5 minutes, and use that time to yourself to de-stress and DROP your old habits.

2. …and ENROLL

Instead, you can use your partner as an ally against the stress. You may consider sharing with your partner what’s causing the stress (remember your DEEP Understanding and Speaker/Listener tips). If talking about it is too hard, tell your partner you are feeling stressed but that you want to spend time with him/her, even if you do not talk about the stressor. Consider taking a walk, watching your favorite TV show, playing a game, or something else that will allow you to spend time together.

3. TELL YOUR PARTNER

Sometimes it’s not possible to get your partner’s help in solving the stressor or to help you relax. If so, at least TELL your partner you’re feeling really stressed right now. When your partner knows that you’re stressed, he/she is less likely to take your behavior personally. You partner might even help out in extra ways if he/she knows you’re stressed.

Can’t My Partner Check their Stress at the Door?

The more your partner is stressed, the more he/she may take it out on you. While it may be hard to see your partner so stressed, you likely feel frustrated that it leads to him/her withdrawing from you or lashing out. You probably want to support your partner, but maybe you don’t know how to do it, or maybe your attempts at helping only seem to make things work. So what do you do when you feel so stuck? Tips to change these situations:

1. STAY UNITED

Your best defense against your partner’s stress is handling the situation as a team. If this is your core issue, use the Respond conversation to decide with your partner what the expectations are for how you can stay united, despite the stressor. Once the two of you are on the same page, do your part to make the changes you agreed upon. When talking about your stress, continue to remind each other that regardless of what is going on, your relationship is a priority and that you can work through the stressful times together.

2. PROVIDE SUPPORT

You may not know the best way to provide support to your partner. Therefore, use the Respond conversation to ask your partner what is the best way to support him/her without making things worse. If your partner doesn’t know, consider using a Problem-Solving conversation activity in the 4th phase of the program to work together to identify the best method. Sometimes, talking about the problem is not helpful in the moment, so consider how else you may provide support like washing the dishes or something else off the to-do list (so you’re partner has less to worry about).

WE ARE UP TO OUR EARS IN STRESS

In this cycle, both partners are under great amounts of stress and it negatively impacts the relationship. You both may pull away from each other in response to the stress or it may cause you to take your frustrations out on each other.

Stress Buries us Both

As you saw in the External Stress activity, when we’re stressed, we tend to communicate less effectively and assume the worst about our partners. Needless to say, that’s not good for relationships! You both may be so overwhelmed by stress that it is easier in the moment to take it out on each other or pull away – but this probably leaves both of you feeling hopeless and unsupported. Tips to change these situations:

1. STAY UNITED

Your best defense against stress is handling the situation as a team. Once the two of you are on the same page, do your part to make the changes you agreed upon.

2. TELL YOUR PARTNER

Sometimes it’s not possible to get your partner’s help in solving the stressor or to help you relax. Sometimes, you just need to get away from it all – and that includes your partner. If so, at least TELL your partner you’re feeling really stressed right now. When your partner knows that you’re stressed, he/she is less likely to take your behavior personally. You partner might even help out in extra ways if he/she knows you’re stressed.

3. MAKE A PLAN AHEAD OF TIME

When you’re feeling really stressed isn’t the best time to figure out how to deal with that stress. Instead, make a plan with your partner that you can put into action when you’re stressed. The plan should include: a) How will you let your partner know that you’re stressed?; b) What are you going to do in those situations (and for how long)?; and c) What should your partner do? And don’t forget to also make a plan for when your partner is stressed – you might be surprised at the differences!

4. STAY ACTIVE OR DO SOMETHING FUN

When the weight of stress becomes the focus of a relationship, other things often fall to the back burner. Even if you have no control over a stressor, you do have a control over your relationship and how you can stay connected. Try to prioritize some fun activities you can do together or doing something active like going on a walk at a local park. The stressor will not go away, but you will feel united and closer as a couple, which will make handling the stressor the next time much easier since you will feel more like a team.

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Grant Funding

Funding for these programs was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Grant Number 90FM0063

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