Over the holidays, you’ve probably had a few stressful moments. It’s inevitable. Or maybe you’ve noticed your partner feeling and acting stressed out. In a relationship, people often have different sensitivity levels to stress, and find different situations stressful. You may wish your partner would relax when you’re relaxed. You may think they take things too seriously or personally, or respond poorly in stressful situations you wish they’d handle better.
The things that stress you out may not stress out your partner, and vice versa. This can sometimes lead one person to react to their partner’s stress dismissively. It’s hard to understand another person’s stress when you don’t share it, and because stress can come from both internal and external triggers, we can’t always see the layers of thoughts, feelings, memories, associations and fears that contribute to someone’s stress level.
Reacting to your partner’s stress the wrong way, however, can make them even more anxious. Here are some common unhelpful ways partner’s react to one another’s stress.
- Making assumptions about what your partner feels, or bluntly and critically calling them out on their stress. (“What’s wrong? Why are you so stressed out?”)
- Being oversolicitous with suggestions and advice that are really more about your own need to feel good. (“Maybe you should just relax? Why don’t you take a walk? Jeez, don’t take it all so seriously.”)
- Subtly undermining your partner’s sense of competence by inserting yourself into the situation and “taking over” in a way that suggests they’re not able to manage things when they’re experiencing stress. (“Here, you do something else, I better do that.”)
- Layering judgment and blame onto whatever your partner is already feeling. (“I can’t believe you’re stressed out. I just wanted us to have a good time but I can’t have a good time when you’re stressed out like this.”)
- Subtly abandoning or punishing your partner under the guise of “taking care of the situation.” (“Why don’t you just go home. I’d rather do this alone if you’re going to be like this. Just forget the whole thing, I’ll manage without you.”)
More helpful responses to your stressed-out partner begin with focusing on yourself and your reactions first. Don’t try to fix them. Notice how your partners stress affects you. This can help you self-soothe rather than trying to control your partner’s experience. Once you notice the impact on you of your partner’s (perceived) stress, try soothing yourself by closing your eyes, picturing a relaxing scene (eg. your “happy place”), counting or focusing on your breaths, or repeating a relaxing mantra such as, “I’m at peace,” or “I trust this moment.”
Then, when you feel more centered, you’ll have a better chance of figuring out how to actually help your partner rather than offering pseudo-help. This may mean staying out of your partners way until they resolve whatever is creating stress for them, or asking, “Can I help?” Or it may mean allowing a little time to pass and letting the stressful moment go without doing anything at all.
You may also like by Alicia Muñoz
What’s Next at The Good Men Project? Talk with others. Improve your relationships. Join our Love, Sex, Etc. Social Interest Group
Join the Sex, Love Etc. FACEBOOK GROUP here.
We are proud of our SOCIAL INTEREST GROUPS—WEEKLY PHONE CALLS to discuss, gain insights, build communities— and help solve some of the most difficult challenges the world has today. Calls are for Members Only (although you can join the first call for free). Not yet a member of The Good Men Project? Join now!
Join The Good Men Project Community
All levels get to view The Good Men Project site AD-FREE. The $50 Platinum Level is an ALL-ACCESS PASS—join as many groups and classes as you want for the entire year. The $25 Gold Level gives you access to any ONE Social Interest Group and ONE Class–and other benefits listed below the form. Or…for $12, join as a Bronze Member and support our mission, and have a great ad-free viewing experience.
Register New Account
Please note: If you are already a writer/contributor at The Good Men Project, log in here before registering. (Request new password if needed).
ANNUAL PLATINUM membership ($50 per year) includes:
1. AN ALL ACCESS PASS — Join ANY and ALL of our weekly calls, Social Interest Groups, classes, workshops and private Facebook groups. We have at least one group phone call or online class every day of the week.
2. See the website with no ads when logged in!
3. MEMBER commenting badge.
ANNUAL GOLD membership ($25 per year) includes all the benefits above — but only ONE Weekly Social Interest Group and ONE class.
ANNUAL BRONZE membership ($12 per year) is great if you are not ready to join the full conversation but want to support our mission anyway. You’ll still get a BRONZE commenting badge, and you can pop into any of our weekly Friday Calls with the Publisher when you have time (Friday calls only). This is for people who believe—like we do—that this conversation about men and changing roles and goodness in the 21st century is one of the most important conversations you can have today.
We have pioneered the largest worldwide conversation about the changing roles of men in the 21st century. Your support of our work is inspiring and invaluable.
Photo by Rawpixel from Unsplash.