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Relationship Stress: Causes and Tips for Help


March 18, 2020 | Published by

You come home after a rough day at work to this scene: the house is a mess, the sink is full of dishes, there’s laundry overflowing the hamper, and dinner still needs to be made. Your partner is nowhere in sight. They were supposed to be home 2 hours ago. Where are they and why aren’t they helping clear the chaos?

You don’t know, but your partner is also stressed, stuck at work late and doesn’t know when they’ll be able to make it home. All you know is you’re exhausted, frustrated and just want to throw everything down and collapse on the couch. You think of all the things that need to be done and start fuming. Why does this keep happening?

Relationship stress is not something new, nor is it something experienced by a select few. Most of us in relationships will experience some level of stress and frustration in our relationship. A problem occurs when this stress, along with other sources of stress, becomes heavy or chronic.

So how does stress drive a wedge in the middle of your relationship? One cause is when a partner feels isolated or ignored because they feel they are not getting the support they need. When both partners are stressed and feel similarly the risk is even higher.1

Stress can also create a divide by keep both partners isolated. A 2014 study of 87 paramedics – a profession more inclined to experience stress and burnout – and their spouses reported on their stress levels and how they reacted. Those with high stress levels were more apt to overthink their worries, creating an endless loop of negative thoughts in their mind. When this happened, their partners tended to withdraw, which led to a rise in tension and disconnect. 1

 In essence, you’re both stressed and you don’t know it. Communication tends to drop when stress is up, leading us to become more sullen and withdrawn. We tend to not know how to handle these situations because it can be hard to plan for the effects of stress. Stress isn’t something we anticipate and can come on rather quickly or without us even noticing.2

Moreover, we tend to respond to stress and relationship troubles they way we were raised. If our parents had difficulty communicating or fought often, we’re more apt to react this way as well. For example, if your father became upset when he came home and dinner wasn’t ready, you may respond the same way. 2

 What are the signs that your relationship is breaking down from the effects of stress? It may not always be obvious. Here are 7 signs stress is affecting your relationship3:

  1.  Loss of libido – We don’t tend to feel our most attractive while under heavy stress. Add in lack of quality sleep, irritability and preoccupation with our troubles and you’ve got a recipe for a lack of desire for sex.
  2. You take it out on each other – When we’re overwhelmed we need an outlet to let everything out. Unfortunately, our partner tends to be our release, leading to fights and unnecessary criticism of each other.
  3. You’ve become emotionally distant – Your partner comes home after a rough day. All they want to do is talk to you about it, but it’s the last thing you want to hear about, especially if you’re feeling stressed as well. One or both of you tend to shut down when asked something as simple as “How was your day?”
  4. You and your partner are out of tune – Stress and its related hormones block our ability to read our partner. It may even feel like we don’t know our partner anymore, that they’ve become a stranger. You forget how to express and receive love, leaving you disconnected.
  5. The relationship starts to show cracks – the stress has become constant and you’re bringing it home with you every day. You and your partner are now arguing about something every day and find yourselves being critical of things that weren’t a problem before. You may even find yourselves spending more and more time apart or even sleeping in separate rooms.
  6. Anxiety is on the rise – Your stress has led to constant worry. You wake up with feelings of dread and uncertainty. Panic attacks have become a regular occurrence. Not only does anxiety place strain on your health and your relationship, but it’s also contagious.
  7. Loss of satisfaction – A common side effect of chronic stress is loss of joy in things we previously found satisfying. This includes our relationships. When under heavy stress we tend to project the bad onto everything, including our partner. This leads us to believe that one of the causes of our stress and dissatisfaction is our relationship, as our perspective is clouded by negativity.

If any of these signs sound familiar, there’s no need to fret or add more stress. There are things you can do to help get your relationship back on a solid track. Here are 9 tips4:

  1. Commit – Start by making the commitment to save and heal the relationship with your partner. You won’t be able to make progress with one foot out the door. If you feel the relationship is toxic and beyond saving, talk with a counselor and your social network on moving forward.
  2. Be respectful – Remain respectful to your partner. Disrespect can cause long-term harm to a relationship and can lead you to say things you can’t take back.
  3. Take care of yourself – You can’t help someone else without helping yourself as well. Get involved back in hobbies or activities you previously enjoyed but fell out of for whatever reason. Embrace your support network and make time to be with friends and family on your own.
  4. Make emotional deposits – Validate, encourage, and appreciate your loved ones at a rate of five positives to every negative comment or request.
  5. Connect – Make it a point to connect to your partner daily through eye contact, attention, and affection. Take some time for dinner together, a movie, a walk, or any relaxing activity that doesn’t add pressure.
  6. Accept your partner as-is – During stressful times, relationships may be strained and critical. Shift your focus away from flaws and toward the qualities you like and appreciate. That love you feel is lost or waning can return quickly once you again recognize why you fell in love with then in the first place.
  7. Maintain healthy boundaries – Maintain or put up boundaries for things that can interrupt and add stress to your relationship, such as too much screen time, intrusive family members or friends, excessive talk about work, etc.
  8. Make plans for intimacy – Don’t wait for the opportune time. Before you know it’s late and you’re both tired and uninterested. Strike when the mood arises or cut out time in the day when you’re both feeling more relaxed and intimate.
  9. Conserve energy – Monitor your energy the way you do money. There is a limited supply and you must decide how to spend it. Without boundaries, energy is wasted on less important things and people who are not a priority. If you value your relationships, you must save energy for yourself and your loved ones every day.


  1. Newman K. Could Stress Be Causing Your Relationship Problems? Greater Good Magazine.
  2. Stress in Relationships.
  3. Smith S. 7 Signs That Stress is Affecting Your Relationship. PsychCentral.
  4. Smith A. 10 Tips to De-Stress Your Relationship. Psychology Today.

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