How can I support my partner when they're stressed with work?

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Work stress can affect our personal lives and our relationships, particularly if both partners are under significant stress. But learning to support each other in productive ways can strengthen the relationship, reduce stress and improve mood.

Research suggests that couples who actively manage stress together improve their relationship durability over time.

  • Listen and support: Questioning, challenge and offering solutions are important, but listening and offering support are most valuable. Research from eHarmony suggested that people who are supportive when their partners share bad events maintain relationship satisfaction and contribute towards an environment with fewer arguments.
  • Recognise and respect different coping mechanisms: People cope very differently with stress. Some people like to talk everything out as soon as possible, while others need silent downtime. It’s important to recognise you and your partner might not cope in the same way, and there isn’t necessarily a “right” way. Try to accept differences and find ways to accommodate and facilitate your partner to cope in their own way.
  • Kill comparisons: There are two types of comparisons couples make that enhance stress. The first is to compare yourself or your partner to others, professionally, which is a poor form of attempted motivation. The second is to compare your own stress levels with those of your partner. You should learn to listen and offer help to your partner, even when dealing with your own. The key is to solicit help and empathy from your partner without minimising and invalidating their own feelings.

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  • Be active together: Getting out and about together is a great stress reliever – even moderate activity can lead to lower levels of stress. Michael Otto, of Boston University, said: “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.” Exercising together kills two birds with one stone – you get the health-enhancing benefits of the exercise and also spend time together, strengthening your bond.
  • Find time to cheat: Partners often get into a rut – work piles up and the kids need chaperoning to school events. The easiest thing to do is to cut down on time together. But it’s important to cheat (on your kids and your job!) and find time ‘away from it all’ to connect as a couple. Make sure that when you sacrifice things for a family and a specific lifestyle, you aren’t sacrificing all the benefits of being a couple and the inherent stress relief that comes with it.
  • Laugh together: Relationship expert John Gottman (who is well-known for identifying relationship qualities that may predict the potential for divorce) says that shared humour is a key way to strengthen a relationship and a key ‘repair attempt’ for couples in conflict. Humour is also a good way to deal with stress – studies show that laughter can alter mood and soothe the stress response. Couples who can laugh, tease and play manage both their relationship and their stress levels. 

Read the full article at Harvard Business Review.

About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie Lawrence, HRZone

Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.

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