How Couples Can Help Each Other Deal With Stress (Before It Hurts Your Relationship)

how to help someone who is stressed out

You can help each other break out of unhealthy stress habits.

Often in life, the people closest to us know how stressed out we are before we do — like our partners. The ironic part about stress is that often, our own reaction to stress causes more stress than the original stressor.

Let’s start with some common reactions to being stressed:

  • Withdrawing from others — emotionally, socially, physically.
  • Becoming hyper-focused and driven.
  • Becoming more verbal and chatty.
  • Looking to be rescued and feeling personally paralyzed and overwhelmed.
  • Embracing aggression as a way to feel more powerful.
  • Forgetfulness and inability to focus.
  • Turning to comfort eating or any other addiction that brings comfort.
  • Becoming controlling of one’s environment and/or nearby people.

RELATED: The Scary Truth About What Happens To Your Body When You're Stressed

All of these and more can bring some short-term relief and some make way for healthy changes and access to resources to help with the original stress. However, all too often, how we choose to deal with our stress leads to further complications.

Now, let’s really complicate it by putting two people together in a close relationship. Yikes. This can get tricky — and quickly!

How we have experienced others in our family when they were stressed growing up really factors in here in big ways. Let me share an example from my own life to illustrate.

My Dad, in his extreme dysfunction, passive-aggressively used ‘the silent treatment’ when he was mad about something. This went way beyond needing space to process something. As a result, I used to interpret the need for space and silence by the introverts in my life as anger.

Now, let’s look at responses to stress and how to help someone who is stressed.

I’m very extroverted so socializing, talking, and connecting with people are ways that I often react to stress.

RELATED: The Scary Way Stress Is Destroying Your Relationship

For example, Introvert A needs space and quiet. Extrovert B (i.e. me) spikes in stress level because her brain is interpreting the quiet and withdrawal as a personal statement and that said Introvert A is angry with her.

Without even necessarily being conscious of this dynamic, I cope with stress by trying to engage Introvert A in conversation, making the mood lighter. Now, Introvert A, who may not have even been stressed before is most definitely stressed now. They begin to engage their favorite stress response, which is likely to include withdrawal.

You can easily see how these stress responses can so quickly spiral and impact both people. We haven’t even had to have an initial stress for the cycle to start.

So then, how do we break these unproductive cycles and help each other through stresses instead of making it worse?

What I had to learn the hard way was to notice when I might be making assumptions and ask questions instead of charging full speed ahead.

Here are some great questions to ask when you notice yourself or your partner exhibiting stress symptoms:

  • What would help you the most right now?
  • How can I support you best?
  • Who besides me can help you?
  • What is one thing you would like me to do more of in the next few days?
  • What is one thing you would like me to do less of?
  • I’m reacting to you like you are stressed, are you?
  • I’m feeling stressed but don’t know what I need: can you help me talk this through?

Owning our own stress and our response to it goes a long long way. Know what you need, know what you don’t need, and practice telling your partner and others close to you what would be most helpful.

RELATED: Why Good Things Are Sometimes As Stressful As Bad Ones

Marilyn Orr, MA, CEC, PCC is a relationship coach with Luv Life Coaching, passionate about equipping couples with the tools for real and lasting intimacy. Is Luv Life Coaching an appropriate next step for you? Take their online questionnaire to find out.

This article was originally published at Luv Life Coaching blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.