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“I’m STRESSED!”: How Stress Negatively Affects Relationships

*This is a guest post, written by Jorden Gunessever. See her full bio at the end of this article.*

Imagine this scenario: You’ve been at work all day, 9-5. When you get home from work, you realize you have a laundry list of tasks to complete that didn’t get done from the day before. You are also currently taking night classes to finish your doctorate degree, and have a major exam to study for that is at the end of the week. Exhausted doesn’t even begin to describe what you are feeling from the busyness of your life. Dropping your bag off at the door, you walk into your living room to find your boyfriend playing video games. Immediately you feel your face getting hot, tears building up in your eyes as you start attacking him for being so lazy, for always playing video games and for never helping out around the house. He is completely caught off guard and confused as to why you are so upset. 

First I want to tell you that you aren’t alone. And second, to point out something that I didn’t even realize myself until recently for what is causing these random outbursts of distress and strain on our relationships. We are stressed. According to Psychology Today, “When you are stressed you are more likely to notice negative behaviors and less able to stop yourself from reacting badly to them” (Gordon 2017). Like I’ve fallen guilty of time and time again, we’ve let the stress of our busy life get the best of us, ultimately having a negative effect on our relationship. 

The light bulb went off in my life the other day. I was sitting in church when my Pastor started talking about The ‘Busy’ Trap. He began referencing an article that was posted a few years back in the New York Times that called us all out for filling our lives with constant work and activities, to the point that when we aren’t working, we fell guilty. The ‘Busy’ Trap, as the article calls it. The article went on to talk about the stress we feel to achieve that 4.0 in college, to get ahead in work, and to have our calendars so jam-packed with activities that we never have time to just be. The article went on to clarify our need to be busy by saying, “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day” (Kreider 2012). I am here today to tell you that it’s okay to take time for yourself, and your body will thank you for it; “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets” (Kreider 2012). So what does this mean in terms of our relationships? 

Psychology Today points out a few right off the bat that “stress turns nonissues into issues and prevents your ability to deal with the issue constructively,” and “even for healthy, stable relationships, stress can cause people to see problems in their relationships that aren’t actually there” (Gordon 2017). Now that I’ve told you stress is hurting our relationships without us even realizing why, don’t worry, I’m here to give you steps to help!  


An article titled “Could Stress Be Causing Your Relationship Problems?” pointed out that often times, when we are stressed we tend to keep it to ourselves, not wanting to bring our stress home with us. However, it’s not possible to keep our emotions in forever, and the longer we keep it bottled up, the worse the outcome will be when we finally talk to our significant other about it. One way of looking at our stress that we might not realize is that by keeping the stress bottled up we are missing an opportunity to connect with our partner. In a study conducted by the University of California, Las Angeles, “The ones [women] who faced their loved one’s stress head-on, offering comfort instead of focusing on themselves, experienced less neutral activity in the amygdala and more activity in the brain’s caregiving and reward systems—and they felt more connected” (Newman 2016). When you start to feel stress, the weight of your to-do list pulling you down, reach out for help; “Support may entail advice-giving or information provision, or it may involve practical hands-on assistance (e.g., cooking dinner, picking someone up from the airport), or it may include emotional comfort and reassurance” said Shu-Wen Wang (Newman 2016). 

Overall, I hope you take away this one final important point: the next time you are feeling stressed, talk to your significant other. Ask them for help because it will not only make you feel better, but stop an argument from arising in the future. Lastly, “There is a feeling of union or ‘we-ness’ that comes from coping with stress together with one’s partner that also contributes to bonding and closeness between the partners” (Newman 2016).  Together, let’s remove the negativity that may be building up from our busy lives and reach out to our loved ones who want to be there for us.

Gordon, A. M. (2017). Is stress killing your relationship? Why you’re not alone. 
Kreider, T. The ‘Busy’ Trap. The New York Timeshttps://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/
Newman, K. M. (2016). Could stress be causing your relationship problems? Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/could_stress_be_causing_your_relationship_problems


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