Stress caused by issues at work, worries about money, concerns about family members or health problems, can have a big impact on relationships. It can create a disconnection between a couple leading to communication issues; all at a time when a partner needs more support, not less, from their other half.
All of this can be prevented if you are aware of the subtle changes when your partner is stressed. Being vigilant about each other’s mental health as well as physical health is important, but often it can be difficult to address because symptoms of stress are misdiagnosed, or hidden by the person suffering.
Being proactive about supporting your partner when they get stressed can bring you closer to each other and develop a new level of intimacy.
Stress: Supporting Your Partner
What help can you provide to support your partner if they are suffering from stress?
- Become aware of the signs and symptoms of stress: everyday life is busy and hectic and it’s easy to get wrapped in your own world. If your partner is stressed and not communicating enough about his/her feelings you will miss the signs. So make an effort to recognise these signs early when you see your partner struggling. How are they coping, are they eating healthily, are they sleeping well, what are their mood and energy levels like?
- Be vigilant: women tend to get more stressed than men but hide their anxiety really well and don’t talk about their feelings. By staying vigilant, talking to your partner, providing love and support so when they are struggling you are present and this will strengthen your partnership.
- Being compassionate: when you see that your partner is stressed and they withdraw and are agitated, help by showing them kindness. Show them that you care, even if they are difficult to empathise with. Don’t get cross because they feel stressed give them some space, and show compassion for yourself and for them too. In these circumstances, self-care is an important too as you need to be strong to support your partner and anchor your relationship.
- Get your partner to talk to you: Communicate with your partner by asking them what is wrong. Say “You seem to find things difficult, are you OK? How can I help?” Let your partner know that you are there to talk and listen. They will feel supported when they are stressed, be present without judgements or irritation. This will require you to be patient with them and listen to their worries and concerns.
Understanding Our Differences
If you’re in a heterosexual relationship it is important to understand that your partner’s response to stress will be different to yours. Women and men have distinct reactions when they are stressed.
When a person is stressed the body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which bind together. This causes raised blood pressure and higher levels of blood sugar. Then there is a release of oxytocin from the brain opposing the release of adrenalin and cortisol by relaxing the persons’ body.
When men get stressed less oxytocin is released than in women and therefore they react to adrenaline and cortisol more strongly. This results in a ‘flight or fight response’ that may cause them to be angry, or to repress their feelings and become withdrawn. Typically men care more about competing and their performance in the tasks they are involved in. They like being appreciated, are open to new ideas, like to push themselves to the limit and will accept assistance if they need to.
Women on the other hand, because of higher oxytocin levels, handle stress by nurturing their loved ones; this creates a desire to protect their family, particularly young children. Women’s feelings of competency in relationships are closely linked to their self-esteem and individuality. They like to feel wanted, cared for and like their partner to appreciate them and voice these expressions openly so that they feel good.
Getting Help For Stress
So how do you deal with stress that your partner is experiencing?
Every day as a part of daily life we deal with stress. When you are in a relationship, even if both you and your partner are connecting effectively, there will be some situations when one or the other is continuing to work but has no energy left. The love and support are all you both need to keep going. Keep your positive frame of mind even if you find it difficult and produce resources mentally and emotionally to assist your partner.
This will generate a healthy foundation and solid base for your relationship and build on the good feeling and connection between both of you. Create stress reducing habits and set up a system that both of you have to check in if there is anything you need support with. Do an activity together like a new gym class or Pilates to renew your relationship.
As the person closest to them, you’re also the person who might suggest that they need help from an outside source. This could be something you do together, such as taking a course in meditation and deep breathing, or you might want your partner to see a therapist to get one-on-one support.
It can be difficult to broach the subject of ‘needing help’, but it’s a conversation that you must have if you feel your partner is not able to manage their stress. Research suitable options that your partner is most likely to be receptive to, like cognitive behaviour therapy, and explain why you think they should seek help. Remember to be supportive, loving and share your concerns for their health. Sometimes a ‘do it for me’ approach will allow those people who are trying to hide stress or keep a stiff upper lip, open up and accept help.
Finally, remember to get support for yourself too. It can be very hard living with someone who is suffering from stress or depression, especially when you need to be the ‘strong one’. It may help to talk to trusted friends or just to get some time to yourself by going to the gym or other activities. It may also help to talk to a therapist who can help you look after your mental health, and support your partner at the same time.
If you would like to discuss any of the above with me please get in touch. Contact me on +44 (0)796 715 1790 or email firstname.lastname@example.org