Does External Stress Cause You and Your Partner to Fight?

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.

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, keep on reading to learn about the different cycles couples can fall into and get ideas on how to better cope with stress in order to prevent fights.

Cycle 1: 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.

Cycle 2: 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.

You can read more about these cycles below.

 

Cycle 1: This stress is killing me and my partner doesn’t get it

Tips for the Partner who is Buried in Stress           

“Stress is taking over my life and my partner doesn’t get it!”

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.

  1. Identify Stressful Times. 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. Rely on Your Partner. Instead, you can use your partner as an ally against the stress. You may consider sharing with your partner what’s causing the stress. 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. Talk to 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.
  4. Up the Fun. Stress can take over and make it hard to prioritize important aspects of a relationship, like fun and friendship. If stress is impacting your emotional connection, try instead to do something fun with your partner that will leave you feeling connected, even if stress is knocking at the door. Some examples of fun activities are doing something active outside, cooking a meal together, playing a game, or even something in the bedroom. In general, the more physical the activity, the better!

Tips for the Partner dealing with a Stressed-out Partner

“It’s not my fault that my partner is stressed… so why does it get taken out on me?”

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?

  1. Stay United. Your best defense against your partner’s stress is handling the situation as a team. Talk with your partner and decide 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, ask your partner what is the best way to support him/her without making things worse. If your partner doesn’t know, consider working 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 your partner has less to worry about).
  3. Be Active Together. Participating in physical activities is one of the best ways to reduce stress for you and your partner. Plus, if you’re engaging in new activities, it can reignite your relationship. Consider discussing with your partner whether and in what ways engaging in physical activity would be helpful to him/her.

 

Cycle 2: We are up to our ears in stress

Tips for When Both Partners Are Stressed

“No matter what we do, we can’t figure out how to help each other. If anything, we only make it worse!”

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.

  1. Stay United. Your best defense against stress is handling the situation as a team. Talk with your partner and decide what the expectations are for the best way to help when you are each feel stressed. 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. Plan Ahead. When you’re feeling really stressed, it isn’t the best time to figure out how to deal with that stress. Instead, work with your partner to make a plan 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. Be Active Together. 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.

 

Recommended Resources

The suggestions presented here may help you break the cycle of behaviors you and your partner are struggling with around stress, but since some stressors don’t away, it is important that no matter what you try to be understanding with one another, and above all else, try to stay united.

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Books dealing with Stress and Relationships:

DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF

100 CHEAP THINGS TO DO WITH YOUR PARTNER