5 Ways Stress Hurts Relationships and What to Do About It

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Relationship Rules

Prolonged stress dulls our receptivity to intimate connection. We forget how to love or let love in. We lose our ability to feel, to think, and to act, in cherishing ways and inadvertently push the people we most care about away.

Stress is sensory overload.

Love, at its best, is sensory openness.

Our senses — touch, smell, taste, seeing, hearing, and intuition — are how we experience ourselves and others.

When we are stressed, we lose access to our senses, and therefore lose our ability to connect intimately, and our partners may give up in frustration.

1. When We Lose “Touch”

We lose access to our sense that is our weakest link first. If it is touch, we are no longer able to differentiate whether a physical connection will be demanding or healing.

We encase ourselves in an invisible bubble, shutting the world out in order to cope. If our partner relies on touch to feel loved, we inadvertently send the message that we no longer care.

 

2. When We Lose Emotional Availability

When we are stressed, behaviors that would normally be slightly irritating feel like major disruptions. The more protective part of your brain is in fight-flight mode, ready to react or disconnect at a moment’s notice.

You’re tired and wired and any emotional request from your partner is overwhelming. Innocent questions like, “How are you, sweetheart?” bring out irritated reactions: “How do you think I feel? I’m overloaded. Isn’t that obvious?”

Anger is easy, and patience is in short supply. You’re aware that you’re reacting poorly, so you promise yourself you’ll be better as soon as “things let up.”

 

3. When Our Thoughts Are Scrambled

When our frontal lobes have been uncharacteristically scrambling to sort ideas and resolve problems, we are unable to share our thoughts with our partners.

Our partners, who are used to solving problems together, offer suggestions, hints and support. But because our thinking is off-kilter, we can’t trust outside interference as it further confuse us.

We invalidate the offers and make our partners feel stupid or inappropriate: “Can’t you see I’m trying to figure something out? If I need help, I’ll ask you.” Your partner is justifiably hurt, rejected, or offended.

 

4. When Our 5 Senses Suffer

Some of us lose access to enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of life.

A partner who hasn’t showered smells sexy when you’re balanced, but offensive when you’re stressed. A restaurant can’t be enjoyed because food just ends hunger, it doesn’t awaken the taste buds. Our vision and hearing narrows and we can only focus on solving the immediate problem ahead. We can’t listen to stories or details or day’s events, nor see beyond what’s stressing us out.

For example, when we come home stressed and sleepless, and our partner has prepared our favorite dinner, we can’t see it. We stare directly ahead and focus on something mundane: “Where’s that folder I left on the counter? It was right here. Did you throw it out for God’s sake?”

Our partner will either try to anticipate our every move to avoid being stung, or will write us off impossible to be satisfied.

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