When we choose to enter into a relationship, a partnership, we are choosing to take on another human being’s concerns and make them our own. We support each other, encourage each other, defend each other, and soothe each other. It’s part of the deal! In a good relationship, both people work to be each others’ sanctuary. Knowing how to help your partner de-stress is an important aspect of being your partner’s safe place.
Stress is definitely something that can be toxic in a relationship. Outside stressors routinely impinge on the inner workings of the relationship. They can impact one partner’s mood, making them more irritable or withdrawn, and if they don’t talk about it, the other partner can very quickly take it personally. The next thing you know, they are having a heated argument about something that doesn’t even matter! Outside stress is insidious! If you’re gonna help your partner to de-stress, you do have to know your partner. This knowledge comes from conversations in which you ask questions about each other’s worlds. Open-ended questions that foster enlightenment about your partner’s likes and dislikes; the things that bring them joy and things that cause them fear; who are their favorite and least favorite people; and so on. It can be difficult to know how to help your partner de-stress if you’re early in a relationship, because you may not have had much time for these types of conversations. I always urge people…just ask! Often times, we move to help others in the ways that we would want to be helped and that’s not always going to work. Ask your partner about their preferences for how you can help them to unwind and de-stress.
That said, there are some things that I have found to be universal. Taking care of little things so that your stressed out partner doesn’t have to worry about them seems to be a hit with most people. Do their chores; make them dinner or order out from their favorite place so that they don’t have to cook or make any decisions; take care of the kids (if you have them) so that your stressed out partner doesn’t have to manage them; and (this will be dependent upon what you know of your partner’s preferences) give them some space to decompress OR lend them an ear so that they can talk. Now, if you’re going to let your partner talk to you and vent Take. Their. Side. This is not a moment to try to get them to see anyone else’s point of view. This will not endear you to your partner. It is just not the right time. Listen to your partner, commiserate, let them know you understand why they feel what they feel, said what they said, or acted the way they acted, given the context of that situation. You do not have to condone or agree with the content…just convey that you understand.
Sometimes, it can be hard to know exactly what to do to help, but (and I cannot stress this enough) make every effort not to make it worse. Seriously. Don’t add to it. When your partner is stressed his/her mind is elsewhere, they may forget to take care of something or not pay attention to something you deem important. It’s not about you. Please try not to take it personally. Learn to recognize your partner’s stress tells and choose to discuss your concerns at another time. Don’t condescend to your partner during those times. Don’t criticize. And PLEASE don’t tell your partner to “just relax,” or in some way indicate that they are overreacting. That has never led to anyone feeling more relaxed or calm.
We are our partners’ keepers. Again, this is part of the deal. We should always be working to understand our partner’s internal world and move to soothe them whenever we are able. I am not encouraging co-dependency, which is more focused on smoothing things over and making sure other people are okay in order for you to feel okay. That causes its own problems. I encouraging interdependency. Being there for each other and being able to lean on each other when needed, without either of you having to give up or suppress who you are in order to keep the relationship. Safety in relationships involves being able to show up exactly as you are and receiving love, affection, support, encouragement, and understanding. Being your authentic self and being loved for it. When your partner is a safe harbor in a turbulent world, it’s much easier to feel capable and hopeful when those life stressors come your way.