We’re Alienated From Stress, Both In Our Culture At Large And Our Relationships
For couples in which one or both partners are under stress, it can be easy to turn that frustration onto the other partner. Most people don’t have others they can get mad at, so their partner becomes the person who they can take it out on, sometimes without recognizing that the deeper problem is stress.
Part of this has to do with how stress is normalized in our culture. We’re all stressed, but act as if we’re not. It’s there, but we don’t see it. We’re alienated from our own experience of stress, and this means we’re also alienated from a partner’s experience of stress too.
Stress Impairs Our Ability To Understand Where Stress Is Coming From
Stress is sneaky. It impairs our ability to understand exactly where it’s coming from. I know that seems odd. Shouldn’t we be better adapted to stress? It seems maladaptive to be so clouded by it.
However, the stress we’re adapted to isn’t the stress of modern life. Enemy tribe attacks your village? We’re adapted to that. Giant boulder falls on your spouse? Check. Bad weather keeps caribou out of your hunting range? Check again. But, boss is a lunatic who’s making you take work home every night this week, and the downstairs sink is clogged? Not so much.
In other words, while these modern stressors are very real, they’re about five minutes old on the scale of human evolution. Our bodies are used to dealing with far more primal life-or-death stressors.
When Stress Enters A Relationship, A Type Of Scarcity Fallacy Takes Hold
There’s a sort of scarcity fallacy that takes hold when stress enters a relationship. We believe that if our needs aren’t being met, someone else is getting extra. We look to our partners to care for us. When both partners are scared, we are not only not getting that soothing, but they’re also adding to our stress by asking us to take care of them (because they’re stressed).
In these instances, it can feel like one partner is hogging a limited resource. It seems like there’s a scarce amount of care, calm and goodwill, and that we need to fight for it (there’s probably some primitive human instincts at play here too).
How Can Couples Stop Taking Stress Out On Each Other? Be Honest About Stress
So what can couples do to deal with stress rather than take it out on each other? Frankly, grab your partner and say, “Shit’s coming from all directions. Let’s bunker down together.” It’s about being honest about stress and the ways it sneaks in, even though we want so badly to pretend we have everything under control. It’s also important to look out for being mad at your partner’s stress. Recognize it by literally voicing it aloud.
While there’s often a drive to offer a blanket solution to stress (“we should do x about stress”), there may not be an easy answer, at least in the short-term. In other words: Hug your favorite stressed-out person, STAT!