How Stress Can Negatively Affect a Relationship – and How to Fight It.

What is stress?

Stress is your body’s physiological reaction to outside factors. There are many causes of stress in our everyday lives. Stress is a normal function in the life of every person, but some people handle it differently than others. There will most likely never be a time in our lives where we have no stress, so we must learn how to deal with the mercurial levels of stress that we experience.

Sometimes stress can be a positive thing. For example, Joe might be more productive when he knows he has a set deadline and has a certain amount of tasks to finish before the deadline arrives. He creates a plan detailing how much work he must complete each day to turn in his project on time and uses the knowledge of what’s expected of him and the stress to motivate him to keep working until he is done.

Other times it can have a negative effect on a person. Adeline may have the same deadline and tasks to complete as Joe, but she may feel overloaded. She worries about getting her work done, procrastinates until the day before her deadline, and then stays up all night working. The next morning when Joe asks Adeline how her project turned out, she is so frazzled that she becomes upset. She yells at him and starts to cry.

What kind of stress is there?

According to Medline Plus, there are two types of stress:

Acute stress. This is short-term stress that goes away quickly. You feel it when you slam on the brakes, have a fight with your partner, or ski down a steep slope. It helps you manage dangerous situations. It also occurs when you do something new or exciting. All people have acute stress at one time or another.

Chronic stress. This is stress that lasts for a longer period of time. You may have chronic stress if you have money problems, an unhappy marriage, or trouble at work. Any type of stress that goes on for weeks or months is chronic stress. You can become so used to chronic stress that you don’t realize it is a problem. If you don’t find ways to manage stress, it may lead to health problems.

Source: Medline Plus – National Institue of Health

Stress affects the body in different ways. Some of the most common symptoms are:

Physical – muscle tension, headaches, fatigue, indigestion, diarrhea, overeating or lack of appetite, trouble sleeping, can lower your immune system

Mental – increased irritability, anger, or anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, general lack of interest, burn out

I’m not going to lie, I have been feeling incredibly overloaded recently, for a variety of reasons.

My husband and I have had to share a car due to one of our two cars breaking down. This really isn’t a bother during the week because we normally ride to and from work together, but the knowledge that we need to replace our car and knowing how much a replacement vehicle will cost is an added stressor.

My kids have entered a new phase where they are constantly fighting- this morning it was because they both wanted to sit in the Elmo chair and they both wanted to be the one to hold the bowl of Cheerios they were snacking on. When the kids are not listening and constantly at each other, my anxiety heightens and I am more prone to getting upset and yelling, although I try not to. It has been very hot outside so in the evenings and on the weekends we can’t go out and play in the heat and if my husband has the car the kids and I can’t go anywhere to break up the boredom.

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Work has been tense and stressful for the last few months because we know that we are on the precipice of a large change, but we don’t have any details. Being uncertain of your future and how it will affect your life and family is unsettling, to say the least.

I also found out this week that the art show that I had been planning to display several pieces of my work in did not, in fact, reserve my space even though I had completed all the paperwork and had been assured in November that my spot was reserved. I was very disappointed, as this is something I have been looking forward to and working on for a long time.

Stress can affect interpersonal relationships in many ways

There are so many ways that stress can cause friction and strain even the best of relationships.

Mood and feelings – Depression, anxiety, anger, and other feelings can make a person no fun to be around.

Moodswings can quickly change the tone of a date, a conversation, or time spent together. When too stressed out, I can be irritable and can easily snap at someone, say something that I don’t really mean, or say something in a tone that I don’t realize I am using. I also tend to get my feelings hurt easily.

When overtaxed it is easy to make a mountain out of a molehill and find problems in a relationship that really aren’t there or which aren’t really a big deal.

Being overly preoccupied with a stressful situation makes it not as easy to give your other half positive and supportive emotion and displays of affection; it also makes reading other people’s body language and emotions harder to interpret because you are too focused on yourself and your problems rather than someone else.

It can also be easier to hole up inside yourself and not show your feelings or affection for another person, which can lead to distance and alienation between loved ones. When one partner becomes more introverted because of stress factors and does not share their feelings or talk about their life with the other, it can be a double-edged sword, as the stressed partner can feel unsupported and the other partner can feel left out, alone, and unappreciated.

Lack of physical touch and/or lack of libido – Often when feeling very stressed, I don’t like to be touched and want to be left alone- I don’t know why other than to assume that for me it is a type of protectiveness where I try to build a shell around myself because I am feeling vulnerable. Likewise, stress can have a negative effect on one’s libido. This can cause hurt feelings and dissatisfaction when a couple is not on the same page and their normal sexual relationship has been disturbed.

Lack of motivation – Stress can cause depression, insomnia, fatigue, and other problems which can lead to a lack of motivation. Not wanting to do certain activities, feeling the need to sleep more, or just wanting to sit and be lazy can interrupt plans or cause one partner to feel like the other doesn’t care or that they don’t have similar interests anymore.

Not wanting to talk – As I mentioned earlier, sometimes when I am stressed I just want to be alone, find a quiet spot, and just do nothing. When one partner doesn’t want to talk the other partner can feel left out or be out of the loop on important events. Communication is vital to a healthy relationship and directly impacts your sense of closeness and intimacy.

The mirror effect – When one partner is moody, easily upset, or says things they don’t mean, it is easy for the other partner to reciprocate those same feelings or actions. If one makes a sarcastic remark or uses a certain tone, the other tends to do the same back.

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What can you do

There are many ways to diffuse the situation and to keep stress and its effects from chipping away at your relationships. I have listed a few below, but keep in mind that there are many other ways.

Be honest – When you are feeling burned out and overwhelmed don’t automatically assume that your loved one will notice. A lot of people aren’t good at reading others, picking up on verbal cues, or body language so you may have to spell out what is wrong to make them understand. Don’t clam up and keep an open line of communication.

Recognize the signs of stress – If you can recognize the signs of stress in your partner, you can begin to try to help right away. Everyone reacts differently but chances are you already are familiar with their normal self and their stressed self. When you are conscious of a change in yourself or your friend, family member, coworker, or partner you can try to help them by being more sensitive to their situation and feelings, try to take something off of their plate, or anything else that could better their circumstances.

Discuss ways to turn around the situation – Have a conversation about what the stressors are and ways to avoid them, like changing job situations, asking for more help with responsibilities at home, etc.

Put away the stress factor – In my office, they are always encouraging us to “leave your bad day at the door” so that we give our customers our best selves. I would extend this principle to home and “leave work at work.” It is easier said than done but setting specific boundaries can help keep the stressor at bay, at least for a while.

Give your support – Give your support: be their biggest cheerleader, sympathize and empathize with them, encourage them, remind them that the situation will not last forever.

Be thoughtful – Surprise your loved one with a note in their lunch bag, send an encouraging text message in the middle of the day, cook their favorite meal, or do something that would help them without being asked. There are many small ways to show them that you care.

Be patient – It can be difficult, but sometimes you just have wait for it to blow over. A certain work project that has them up late at night or a meeting they are dreading will eventually happen and then be over.

Give comfort – Whether it be a shoulder to lean on, a big bear hug, or a cup of hot tea and a foot rub, there are many little but meaningful ways to make a big difference.

Provide a distraction – Take a spur of the moment stay at a bed and breakfast, drive out to the country and have a picnic, go on a vacation. Sometimes all that is necessary to chill out a little is placing some distance between you and what’s stressing you out.

Take a break (from the stressor) – If social media makes your mental health plummet, if your mom always finds something to nag you about every day, if you constantly have e-mails to attend to on a weekend- turn off the smartphone, block incoming calls and text messages, don’t look at e-mail. It is amazing how much taking a break can help you feel better.

Ask for help when needed – I’ll admit, this is probably the one that is the most difficult for me. I don’t like to ask for help. I never have; I’ve always been Ms. Independent. I try to juggle too many balls all at once and then get overwhelmed and drop them all. If you need help, ask for it. You are no less of a person, no less of a provider, no less of a partner, or no less of a friend by doing so. Everyone needs a little help sometimes and when it is most needed is usually the hardest to ask for it.

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Don’t take your stress out on each other – It is easy to argue, to give each other the silent treatment, to get angry and leave, but really this accomplishes nothing except upping the stress factor and causes more friction in your relationship.

Regularly do some sort of stress-relieving activity together – Go on a morning jog together each day, take long hikes in the hills on the weekend, meditate, or join a yoga class. You will have valuable time together and bust stress at the same time, a win-win.

Tell them they are appreciated – Often we get so caught up in ourselves, work, the many chores needing to be completed on the weekend, and so much more, that we forget to do one of the easiest things we can do for someone. Tell them how much you appreciate them and all that they do.

Laugh together Joking around, watching a comedy special on Netflix, or just finding some way to laugh can do wonders to relieve stress and increase your feelings of togetherness and being connected.

Make time for self-care – Self-care is vital to your physical and mental health. It helps to foster positive feelings, ups your self-esteem, and your increases your overall wellbeing. Take a break. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Get a massage. Schedule daily exercise. Taking care of yourself enables you to better take care of others.

Don’t throw in the towel too soon – Keep in mind that some stressful issues aren’t solvable right away. In our throwaway society, it is easy to give up and not devote enough time, attention, and effort to what is important.

The takeaway

To recap, stress is something that everyone has to deal with at one time or another. Most people will never have a life without stress, so we must learn to manage our level of stress, which fluctuates over time. It can have a positive or negative effect on us and in turn, on our interpersonal relationships. How we deal with our stress and what we do to help our loved ones deal with their stress is very important. There is a multitude of approaches to treat, fight, cope with, and control stress, so find ways that work for you.

What do you do when you feel stressed? How do you help your partner, friends, or family when they are overly stressed? I would love to hear from you in the comments section!


8 thoughts on “How Stress Can Negatively Affect a Relationship – and How to Fight It.

  1. Naomi (Inching Forwards) says:

    This is a fantastic, detailed piece about stress and it’s impact on relationships – and I love it. I also love that you provide so many ways to potentially combat the negative impact it might have – from looking after yourself better to talking about it, to distractions. I do think the core of it (which you articulated really well) is communication – whether that’s you saying ‘hey, I’m super stressed, please cut me some slack’, or your partner picking up on the signs and asking what you need. Thank you for sharing this. I am definitely the stressy one in my relationship, so I am sure I will be returning to this post.

  2. Leslie says:

    Excellent, well written, and very relatable post! I’ve been pretty stressed out lately at work, and it also causes me to shut down at times. Thank you for the reminders of how stress can be harmful to our health and relationships.

  3. Nyxinked says:

    Excellent post. Stress can have such an awful impact on our relationships, and I find it can even easily rub off on my partner making him stressed. It’s just not a nice way to be.

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