5 Ways NOT to Help Your Stressed Partner...

5 Ways NOT to Help Your Stressed Partner...

The do's and don'ts of supporting your stressed partner (while continuing to care for yourself!)

And 5 ways to lend support 

When someone you love is stressed out, it is really hard to watch him or her struggle. You may be surprised by the complexities of your feelings. Of course, part of you cares deeply and wants to “fix” it—and we all know how well that goes when someone tries to “fix” it for us!

On the flip side you may also feel some resentment or anger that they somehow put themselves in this position, that they are making a mountain out of a molehill, stuck in victim mentality, or even suffering a basic personality defect (glass half empty, stubborn curmudgeon syndrome or a true anxiety/depression disorder?). And you may feel a little threatened or lonely because they are too worried to be really present and connected to you. After all stress is a major cause of divorce! You may even be worried that something more is wrong.

1,  Do NOT catch it! You are hardwired with mirror neurons to have your stress physiology ramped up by the stress of others—protective against becoming lunchmeat to a hungry bear in the caveman, but toxic in many relationship circumstances.

DO get grounded yourself: Practice Resilient Brilliance© or 5 C’s and a G. You need your best brainpower at work.

  • CLEAR- get clear about the data, what stresses you, and how it affects you
  • CALM- use your physical body and you mental/emotional anchors to calm your mind- breathwork works! Remind yourself of what really matters.
  • CURIOUS- ask questions of yourself and your partner, gently, help him or her shift to curiosity—it ramps up the smarter than stress part of the brain.
  • COURAGEOUS- speak your truth from your heart to stay out of your swirling head
  • COMPASSIONATE- Love you; love him or her. Gentle loving empathy with healthy boundaries to soften the fear
  • GRATEFUL- focusing on appreciation actually calms your body and mind. (Grateful you have someone to care about?)

2.  Do NOT stir it! No need to make drama layer cake! It is too easy when emotions are already triggered to layer on your own stories, mistake assumptions for data, start catastrophizing, or mix in worries or disagreements beyond the current situation. (We’ve all done this, right?)

DO keep the conversations (and your thoughts, as best you can) to the current problem. This does not mean you can’t look under the stress for underlying causes, but be clean and gentle about it. Data is your friend, boundaries keep you safer.  (Love the Non-violent Communication model!)

3.  Do NOT judge it! The vast majority of people are not choosing to feel stress. They may be making choices that contribute to it, blatantly obvious to all but them, but what they feel now is out of control or stuck and that feels awful.

That is part of the nature of the stress reaction—it hijacks your more rational brain.( So, pretty much, starting any sentence with, “You always…,” is a set up for trouble here ;).) Besides one of the silly things humans are really good at is feeling guilty about feeling bad—don’t make it worse. 

DO try to understand with gentle curiosity what your partner really feels and why it is throwing her. Make it emotionally safe for him to open up because that has to happen before creative solutions are unleashed or new perspectives and healing occur. And if that means your special person needs some time in the cave—let it be!

4.  Do NOT try to fix it!  This is a human default mode, but so often the good intentions just make the person feel less empowered or worse. It may discount the pain she is feeling or make him less capable. It turns out that one of the most important parts of stress resilience is “coping confidence,” feeling like you do have the power to figure this out and deal with it.

DO listen, reflect, and ask questions to draw out your partner’s creativity, courage and confidence with specific references. Relate it to other challenges he has conquered. Help her think outside the box, literally—like, “What you tell me to do if I were in this situation?”

Brainstorm 20 possibilities to reduce the stress- get silly, and show your faith in their power. Help your partner find her Resilient Brilliance©.

If you need to get support… GET IT!

5.  Do NOT forget what is working and right in your world. In our problem-focused world, it’s easy to spend too much attention on the negative or too much time worrying about measuring up to some “should.” Your stress system narrows and darkens your perspective. 

Do go back to your values of what matters. (“I’d still love you if we were living under the bridge.”) Focus on values and strengths to reset perspectives—this can do a lot to put a stressor in its place. Figure out what helps your partner and you feel OK in the big picture of life, then get creative to solve the problems at hand from that perspective. 

Stress can be no fun in a relationship. It is a call for real partnership, for finding the version of communicating, behaving, touching, and loving that makes you both stronger. Truly supporting your partner is an art that takes experimentation (complete with mistakes), on-going dialogue, and lots of personal accountability. But the pay-off is amazing: knowing you are not alone facing the challenges of real living!

Please share your thoughts and if you would like to learn more about stress resilience and building your coping confidence, just ask!