What are the effects of stress on a relationship?

Doctoral candidate Rosie Shrout discusses stress in romantic relationships and how to minimize its effects.


11/13/2018 | By: Rosie Shrout |

Stress is common in relationships.

All couples experience stress. Sometimes stress comes from problems at work or with family and or friends that we carry over into our relationships. Stress can also come from the couple’s issues, such as an argument, differences in wants or needs, or feeling neglected.

Stress can negatively impact relationships.

Although stress is common, it can be harmful for relationships. Oftentimes, people bottle up or keep their stress to themselves, which makes it difficult for their partners to understand what they are going through and to provide support.

Not dealing with stress can create a negative cycle where partners “catch” each other’s stress. This happens because stress is contagious – when our partners are stressed, we become stressed. Think back to an argument that escalated quickly. You might have “caught” one another’s stress during the argument, which made you both feel even more frazzled and made you say things you wouldn’t have otherwise said. Couples get stuck in this negative cycle and may be too stressed to deal with the underlying issue(s).

Stress can be beneficial.

Experiencing stress doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship is going to suffer. Rather, your perception of stress – such as seeing it as a challenge that you can overcome – is important. By viewing stress as an opportunity to share and open up with one another, relationships become stronger because couples learn how to navigate stress and build resources to better deal with future stress. Partners learn what they need from each other and show one another that they are cared for, valued and understood. Having a partner who is there for you and responds to your needs helps your body deal with stress better and makes stress feel less intense.

The key to stress is how couples manage it.

It's important for couples to identify and talk about what causes their stress and what they need when they feel stressed. Although it might be difficult to talk about what is creating stress, particularly if it is caused by something within the relationship, it is helpful for partners to talk about their needs and for partners to provide support. Those couples that are most successful in dealing with stress tackle it together. They create a feeling like they are in it together and are a team.

What can you do?

Check in with one another and listen first before you offer solutions.

Ask your partner(s) what you can do to help and to make their day smoother.

Hug more often. It sounds odd, but hugging for at least 30 seconds after work every day can help your bodies line up and calm each other down.

Stay connected during stress. Talking about your stress and having a supportive partner to see you through it makes you and your relationship stronger.


Rosie Shrout

Rosie Shrout is a social psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Nevada, Reno, and researches relationships and health. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology at State University of New York, Potsdam, and her master’s degree in experimental psychology at Townson University, Maryland. Her work has recently been included in news articles by LiveStrong.com, TheGuardian.com, and The Daily Mail. She was also interviewed by KNPR.org.

This past summer, Shrout presented preliminary results of her new research project, Health Trajectories and Breadth of Conflict over the First 16 Years of Marriage, at the 2018 conference of the International Association for Relationship Research.


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