At the end of a stressful day, how spouses manage their stress can strengthen their connection to each other or push them apart.
Researchers surveyed over 100 heterosexual couples in Switzerland about their stress response to daily hassles over the prior year. Publishing their findings in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, they reported that external stress, such as workload, conflicts with coworkers and friends, and financial problems affected a couple’s satisfaction with their relationship. The more stress they had from daily hassles outside their relationship, the more stress, and dissatisfaction they felt in their relationship.
The Stressed-Out Spouse
Stressed men, in particular, tend to offer less support when faced with emotional expressions of stress from their wives, according to a study titled “Effects of Stress on the Social Support Provided by Men and Women in Intimate Relationships,” published in the journal Psychological Science.
A separate study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology observed couples in their homes over four days. Looking for instances where the couples offered support to each other, they found the couples supported each other only four percent of the time. This time wives did not increase the support they offered their husbands when their husbands came home from an extra-stressful day at work.
Not the Best Solution
It might seem reasonable to encourage wives and their husbands to find ways to manage their stress on their own, rather than to bring it into their marriage. But researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, discovered that this is not the best solution for couples who want to feel more connected to each other.
While their man received an electric shock, the researchers compared women who squeezed a stress ball or held their man’s arm to women who offered comfort to their male partner. The women who offered support to their partner experienced more activity in the caring and reward systems of their brains. Afterward, these women felt a more connected to their partner, than those who only squeezed the stress ball or held their partner’s arm.
Making Positive Connections
Husbands and wives who support each other through stressful moments in their lives strengthen the connection they have with each other. They develop a stronger partnership, a feeling that they're on the same team. This strong sense of “we-ness” has been identified by marriage researcher John Gottman as a trait common among couples in lasting, satisfying marriages.
When you and your spouse reunite at the end of a stressful day, consider taking these steps to support each other and build a stronger connection:
- Take Turns Complaining. Give each other fifteen to express their frustrations. When one spouse is finished, the other takes their turn.
- Don’t Give Advice Unless Asked. Offering advice generally isn’t considered supporting by those receiving it, unless they ask for it.
- Engage with Interest. As your spouse complains, your first priority is to connect with your eyes and ears to what they say, and how they express their frustrations. Don’t listen only to their words, but tune in to their body language and emotions. Ask questions to show your interest and help you understand their experience.
- Communicate Your Understanding. As you listen to your spouse complain and get a sense of his or her thoughts and feelings, connect verbally. Tell them in your words what you’ve heard them say.
- Be Your Spouse’s Ally. As your spouse complains, it is not the time to tell him or her that they’re being unreasonable or over-reacting. Now is the time to stand with your spouse against their adversary. Assure him or her that you’re on their side and that you’re a team.
- Show Affection. Connect with positive physical touch like a hug, and affectionate words like, “I love you,” can be powerful antidotes to stress.
- Validate Emotions. Connect emotionally. Reassure your spouse that his or her feelings make sense by saying something sincere like, “I understand why you feel the way you do.”
How to Connect with Your Spouse After a Stressful Day #marriage
A version of this post also appeared on LifeZette.com.