06 Oct One Surefire Way to Reduce Everyday Stress: Take Your Partner’s Side
In our day-to-day lives, stress is our constant companion. Everyday we face deadlines, expectations, and an endless stream of emails. Then we sit in traffic trying to make it home in time for dinner, social activities, and kids homework. We go to bed exhausted and wake up with a giant to-do list. And, as if this wasn’t enough, all this stress leaves us with a sense of despair and increases our risk of disease!
But there’s good news….research finds that a safe haven, secure base relationship can protect against daily stressors.
To illustrate, here’s an example from a couple in one of our online courses. Amit* and his wife Heidi* are home making dinner after a long day at work. Amit is distracted and pre-occupied, thinking about a conversation he had with his boss, Peter*, earlier in the day.
Heidi: “Honey, what’s going on? I’ve asked you three times to pass me the tomatoes and you didn’t even hear me!”
Amit: “I’m sorry, I just had a talk with Peter this afternoon and I’m pissed. He says I’m not performing well. When I told him I was surprised because my sales numbers have been great this quarter, he says he needs me to be more of a team player. He’s just looking for a reason to fire me. I hate him!”
Heidi: “Well, did you ask him how he’d like you to be a team player? Peter seems like a sensible man. Maybe you’re getting too defensive and not hearing his concerns. Email him and ask for a meeting tomorrow.”
Amit shuts down and storms off: “Forget it! I am not hungry. I’ll eat later.”
What happened here? Heidi, unknowingly and with all good intentions, took Peter’s side.
When we don’t allow our partners to explore negative feelings, and instead jump in with either criticism or solutions, it tends to cause shame, loneliness, and feelings of incompetence, which actually releases more stress hormones in the body. The partner then attacks back or shuts down, as we saw with Amit. In turn, Heidi’s stress levels increase, she attacks or shuts down….and so it goes.
Let’s rewind and give Heidi another chance. This time when Amit describes the difficult interaction with his boss, Heidi listens with an occasional “oh, gosh” or “that’s confusing,” allowing Amit to explore his feelings. At the end of his rant, she might say, “I can’t believe this guy! He was so mean to you. He can make anyone feel paranoid.”
She hugs Amit, and he hugs her back, allowing Amit to problem-solve: “It’s okay. Everyone knows how crazy he can be. I guess I should just ignore him. How was your day?”
And they move on to another topic.
This time, both of them are left feeling more connected. Amit has worked through his upset, felt his wife’s unconditional love, and is now able to let go and fully devote his attention to his wife and their meal.
Next time, when your partner shares something that s/he is upset about, try not to solve or subtly criticize—even if you truly think it would be helpful. Instead, remember your partner’s complaint is a bid for support. Listen attentively, and take your partners side. Show them you are in their court. With unconditional support, people are able to find their own way to resolve even the most complicated problems.
More importantly, being listened to, supported, and valued helps us feel safe and less alone in the world—and *that* instantly reduces stress.
If you found this helpful, share with your friends & family and invite them to join SHSB.
See you next week!
*names changed to protect privacy.