When you’ve had a bad day, it can be a mixed blessing to have a built-in audience at home in the form of a spouse or partner. In an ideal world, you would always be aware of what is bothering you and feel comfortable sharing it with a partner who is ready and willing to listen and commiserate.
But we all know that’s not how it always works. What if you don’t feel like talking about what’s really bothering you and instead turn your partner into a scapegoat? Conversely, what if he or she is under a lot of stress too, and not in the best position that day to offer comfort?
Here are a three common ways that stress can place a strain on marriage, along with a few dos and don’ts as to how to handle it:
Scenario #1: Misdirected Stress.
Sometimes it’s tempting to misdirect what’s really bothering you into frustration with your partner. After all, you’re so on edge that everything is a potential stressor, and you’re primed to snap over any number of unrelated issues, whether it’s the kids’ toys strewn all over the living room or weekend social plans made without your knowledge. As a result, your partner might begin to feel they have to walk on pins and needles around you, never knowing what might set you off.
If that sounds like you, DO take your emotional pulse at the end of the day: If you are feeling particularly stressed, don’t be afraid to say so and ask for a few minutes to unwind by yourself. Use that time to decide if what you are experiencing is just run-of-the-mill stress and fatigue, or something you want to discuss with your partner. DON’T try to keep it bottled in to prove how tough and capable you are only to jump on family members over things that don’t really matter.
Scenario #2: Venting stress but never doing anything about it.
For other people, the problem is nearly the opposite: they come home dying to talk about the stress they’re experiencing. However, if the stress is constant and prolonged, it can become difficult for their partner to hear about over and over again. Your partner may begin to take on the stress as their own, or tune it out, making you feel they don’t care.
If that sounds like you, DO tell your partner what’s bothering you, but if you find yourself always complaining about the same thing, DON’T rely on them as your only means of support—especially if it’s truly outside the realm of anything with which they can help. DO seek resolution by addressing whatever is bothering you as directly as possible, or talking with a counselor about different ways of coping. Most partners want to provide a shoulder to cry on—but many also grow worried when your stress goes unresolved.
Scenario #3: Sharing stress—then taking it back.
Have you ever come home and talked with your partner about something that made you angry that day but then withdrew as soon as your partner started offering advice? “Never mind,” you might snap. “It’s not that big a deal.”
It may be that the stressed or angry partner has either already handled the situation or decided to let it go, and therefore doesn’t want any advice—just a chance to vent or feel validated. The other partner might assume they’re being asked for advice and grow annoyed by what appears to be the other’s refusal to listen.
If this sounds like you, DON’T assume your partner is a mind reader. DO explain what you really want. You might say: “Something made me really angry today. I think I have it under control, but it would make me feel better to tell you about it.” It might not come naturally to your partner to listen without giving advice—some people tend to feel helpless if they aren’t able to “solve” your problem—but if you’re clear enough what you need, they should understand.
Finally, always remember that no matter how difficult your day might have been, your partner might be going through a lot of stress of their own. Always be attentive to their needs as well, and make sure that communicating about difficult situations in your lives is a two-way street. The bottom line is that stress is an undeniable part of everyone’s life, and being able to share it in a healthy way with your partner is a good way to put it in perspective as well as build intimacy.
If you find that stress is more often undermining your relationship than building it up, please give us a call at 949-393-8662 or schedule an appointment via our online calendar. We at the OC Relationship Center are here to help you.