5 Toxic Ways Stress Eats Away At Good Relationships

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unhappy couple back to back

Stress is sensory overload. Love, at its best, is sensory openness.

Our senses — touch, smell, taste, seeing, hearing, and intuition — are how we experience ourselves and others.

Under stress, we lose access to our senses, and therefore, lose our ability to connect intimately in love relationships. In turn, this may affect our relationships and cause our partners to give up in frustration.

Here are 5 toxic ways stress affects your love life and how to stop it from ruining your relationship:

1. We lose "touch"

When we are stressed, we lose access to our senses that is our weakest link. If it is touch, we are no longer able to differentiate whether a physical connection will be demanding or healing. We encase ourselves in an invisible bubble, shutting the world out to cope. If our partner relies on touch to feel loved, we inadvertently send the message that we no longer care.



RELATED: 8 Tragic Reasons People Lose Their Ability To Stay In Love

2. We lose emotional availability

Under stress, behaviors that would normally be slightly irritating feel like major disruptions. The more protective part of your brain is in fight-flight mode, ready to react or disconnect at a moment's notice. You're tired, and wired, and any emotional request from your partner is overwhelming. And trying not to stress is making you feel more stressed.

An innocent question like, "How are you, sweetheart?" brings out irritated reactions, such as, "How do you think I feel? I'm overloaded. Isn't that obvious?" Anger is easy, and patience is in short supply. You're aware that reacting poorly, so you promise yourself you'll be better as soon as "things let up."

3. Our thoughts are scrambled

When our frontal lobes have been uncharacteristically scrambling to sort ideas and resolve problems, we are unable to share our thoughts with our partners. Our partners, who are used to solving problems together, offer suggestions, hints, and support.

But, because our thinking is off-kilter, we can't trust outside interference, as it further confuses us. We invalidate the offers and make our partners feel stupid or inappropriate, saying, "Can't you see I'm trying to figure something out? If I need help, I'll ask you." Your partner is justifiably hurt, rejected, or offended. 

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4. Our five senses suffer

Some of us lose access to enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of life. A partner who hasn't showered smells nice when you're balanced, but offensive when you're stressed. A restaurant is not enjoyed because food just ends hunger, it doesn't awaken the taste buds. Our vision and hearing are narrow and we can only focus on solving the immediate problem ahead. We can't listen to stories or details or day's events, nor see beyond what's stressing us out.



For example, when we come home stressed and sleepless, and our partner has prepared our favorite dinner, we can't see it. We stare directly ahead and focus on something mundane: "Where's that folder I left on the counter? It was right here. Did you throw it out for God's sake?" Our partner will either try to anticipate our every move to avoid being stung or will write us off as impossible to satisfy.

RELATED: The Secret To Handling Stress That Only The Happiest Couples Know

5. Our intuition loses insight

Intuition is one of our most crucial capabilities to loving and being loved. The special glances, warm affectionate sounds, and open arms easily fall prey when preoccupation with prolonged worry about something else trumps the importance of what is going on presently. We can only pick up subtle facial expressions, voice intonations, and body language when we're tuned in.

Prolonged stress depletes a relationship of its most important components — present-time deep attentiveness and the ability to live in one another's hearts. Stressed-out people cannot maintain those gifts. They forget how to love or allow love to penetrate their preoccupied and pressured world. That disconnect from their own inner experiences transfers into becoming separate from the one they love.

How to reconnect and stop letting stress ruin your love life:

The fastest way to de-stress is to get back in touch with your senses. It will bring you back to the present.

  • Take time to breathe and deeply reflect.
  • Remember how sweet it is to touch and be touched.
  • Look at life with your lens wide open, taking in the beauty of all you can see, as would a blind person newly restored to sight.
  • Listen to the sounds that regenerate you — music, laughter, humor, and the sweetness of your lover's voice.
  • Pick things up around you and press them to your face.
  • Take a deep breath and breathe in the memories that emit from their scent.
  • Let yourself taste things you love again.
  • Let your imagination open up to possibilities again, thinking beyond the concrete into all that is possible, and live in the mind and heart of your partner.

Love will return.

RELATED: 7 Tragic Reasons People Stay In Bad Relationships, According To Experts

Dr. Randi Gunther is a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor, who helps singles and couples. She is the author of the newsletter Heroic Love.