Articles by Alex Ryder, Couple's counselling, Mental Health

The Damaging Effects of Stress on Your Relationship – 11 Antidotes

Stress is one of the most common ingredients in a relationship when couples come to see me for couples counselling.


If you missed the article I wrote on recognising stress in your relationship and the damage it can do, you can read it here first.

So what do you do if you or your partner is stressed, and it is affecting your relationship?

If you recognise stress in your relationship, here are some antidotes to help improve both your health and the health of your relationship.

  1. Learn to recognise stress – noticing stress in your relationship is the crucial first step. Stress is so common in our lives today we barely notice it, and even tend to notice it more when it’s absent. It is important to recognise stress because once you notice it, you now have choices. It no longer has the same level of control over you or your relationship. If you don’t know how to recognise stress in your relationship learn about how to do that here.
  1. Practice self-soothing – Self-soothing means managing your stress to relieve the feeling of anxiety. Find out what works for you. Could it be:
    1. Exercise
    2. Music
    3. Breathing
    4. Progressive muscle relaxation
    5. Mediation or mindfulness
    6. Define your fears – write down the worst thing that could happen. What can you do to mitigate that? What’s outside your control? Are you willing to accept that possibility in order to feel better?
    7. Question your perspective – Stress is correlated with having a more meaningful life (1) . So it is not stress itself, but how we deal with stress that is important. Could the stressful situation actually be a great opportunity when viewed from a long-term lens over the course of your life?
  1. Communicate – sharing a stressful problem with your partner does not burden them, it helps them understand why you are acting the way you are, and can enlist their support if you are brave enough to ask for it. This builds a feeling of we-ness.
  1. Accept your partner’s methods – allow your partner to deal with the stressful problem they are facing in their way. The best help you can give your intimate partner is not to solve the problem for them but rather join their team and support them in solving it the way they would like to.
  1. Eat well, sleep well and get exercise – you know this is important. What small amount of exercise could you do today to start the momentum?
  1. Exercise together – Sex may decrease when there is stress in the relationship. Releasing endorphins together in other ways will make you feel closer again. For the same reason, exciting dates work well too. Try a rock climbing lesson or trapeze, for example.
  1. Sooth your partner – find out how your partner likes to deal with stress and support them. If they like to exercise for example, support them to prioritise that into their schedule. If they don’t know what works for them, help them practice some of the ways that work for you.
  1. Protect your relationship – one of the key tells that stress is affecting your relationship is a decline in the quality of your communication. A good indicator of this is if you are noticing any of the following communication behaviours: Criticism (attacking character), Defensiveness (avoiding responsibility and blaming your partner), Contempt (feeling superior) or Stonewalling (cutting off or shutting down). These behaviours, if left unchecked, predict divorce with 83% accuracy (2) . If you notice any of those damaging behaviours showing up in your relationship then take active steps to evict them. Relationship counselling can assist here. It is crucial these behaviours aren’t allowed to continue.
  1. Schedule Us time – allocate a window of 90mins at least once a week that is time for the two of you to spend together without distractions. It could be a date. It could be a walk. It just needs to be time for the two of you, to the exclusion of other people, devices and stressors. More great ideas on prioritising your relationship is in this article from earlier this year.
  1. Clarify your work boundaries – When things are really busy at work it is important to clarify time during the day that work will not be part of. Be careful not to make the mistake of thinking that you can ignore your health or your relationship, in favour of your work, and think they will be recoverable later. They will generally take more work to recover than your career if you let them slip.
  1. Ask for help – Your primary relationship will not necessarily be able to meet all the demands you make of it. The support of a relationship therapist can help you both deal with the problem at hand and work out ways to reduce stress in the relationship.

Stress in a relationship is a very common cause of conflict and distancing between partners. It causes us to be reactive and defensive rather than showing empathy and building connection with our partner. Try out some of the techniques in this article to reduce stress and minimise the damage it might be doing to your relationship.

If poor communication, conflict or distance has become common in your relationship, a relationship counsellor can help you and your partner get back on track. Call Sydney Couple and Family Specialists today on 02 8968 9397.

[1]Baumeister, R., Vohs, K., Aaker, J. & Garbinsky, E. (2013) Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life. Journal of Positive Psychology, 8, 505-516

[2] Gottman, J.,Coan, J., Carrere, S. & Swanson, C. (1998) Preducting Marital Happiness and Stability fro Newlywed Interactions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 60, 5-22

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