Stress & Relationships: Stress Response Part 3
When we are stressed it affects our primary relationships. If our stress response was only affecting us, it might be more manageable. But when we go into a stress response it greatly narrows our options to fight, flight, freeze, or faint. This limits our ability to respond to others appropriately.
Not surprisingly, the physiological stress response I explored in last week’s blog impedes our kindness and understanding for each other. In research on couples, Dr. Gottman discovered that when our heartbeat is over 95 beats per second (a sign of stress) we are incapable of being rational. No wonder so many couples say and do hurtful things when stressed and arguing.
Many times when I am working with couples we have to slow down and allow people time to process what has just stressed them. It is important to realize that since a stress response is part of our automatic processing system, the physiological experience is not optional, we have to go through it to return to equilibrium. No amount of denial, criticism, or wishing it gone will decrease the stress. Sometimes a break is needed, which for some people is very painful because it feels like their relationship partner is abandoning them. If you need a time-out, reassure your partner that you will come back once you have settled yourself down.
Sadly, as we become more stressed and busy, we put relationships on the back-burner. The end result is distance, dissatisfaction, and distress. As an alternative to distancing, stress-reducing conversations are the backbone of maintaining relationships through good times and bad. This means listening to each other supportively without judgment. This helps relieve the inner stress of things not working out as we wanted. Turning towards each other rather than away is how we can maintain our healthy attachment to loved ones in the tough patches and keep the love bank full.
Even when facing significant stressors like losses and deaths, people who are in positive connected relationships experience less long-term effects from stressors than people who are alone or feel isolated. When our partner is our safe harbour, where we can cry from our hurt and grieve for what cannot be, we have the renewed energy to return to the struggle that life can be.