Title
COUNSELLING PSYCHOLOGIST

ARTICLE: COPING WITH YOUR PARTNER'S STRESS


*This article was written at the request of a women’s magazine to specifically provide guidelines to women to help support their stressed-out men, but many of the suggestions would also be applicable for men to apply to their wives or girlfriends as well as for same sex couples.

Many of us can see when our loved ones are struggling to cope and can notice the effect that stress has on them. Sometimes your partner doesn’t realise how much he or she is being affected. This might be something that you would like to raise with your partner but aren’t sure how to go about this. What are the signs that indicate the effect of stress? How can you effectively broach this topic and help your partner to cope with the pressures of work and everyday life?

Some people may find it difficult to put into words what they are feeling, but certain behaviours indicate stress. A common behaviour would be withdrawal where your partner becomes quieter than usual and seems to be caught up in his inner world. Many people need time by themselves when they first get home to relax and unwind. This is perfectly understandable. But when you notice your partner needing more time before being ready to chat, or perhaps wanting to distract himself by aimlessly watching TV for hours, this may be an indicator of higher levels of stress. Part of withdrawal may be your partner wanting to stay home instead of visiting friends which is especially noteworthy if this is uncharacteristic for him. He may be irritable and short-tempered, making snappy comments over small things. He might struggle to sleep. He may also experience sexual problems such as a lack of interest in having sex. Another stress-related behaviour is excessive drinking.

If you notice these behaviours in your partner then you might like to raise the topic with him. It is best to approach your partner in a loving and kind manner – not out of frustration when you feel him withdrawing in the evening. It would be helpful to indicate your concern and your willingness to help him through this particularly stressful time. After telling him that you are concerned about him, ask him to tell you what you can do to make his life less stressful and to support him. He might not be sure of what to ask for and may not be willing to talk about it. However it is important that he knows that you understand that he is stressed and that you would like to help him. 

There are a few things that would be better avoided in this situation. If he is experiencing a lack of interest in sex then treat this topic with great sensitivity – try not to take it personally and do not pressurise him. Avoid blaming him for a lack of communication as this will make him defensive. Do not demand that he not bring home work in the evening, or that he comes home earlier. Try to be flexible and reasonable – if at this time he needs to work at home in the evenings then negotiate with him – suggest that you have dinner together first and then he can finish off that proposal. Tell him that you miss him when he works late but that you understand that there are times when he has deadlines. He needs to hear that you want him home earlier because you enjoy his company not that you are complaining that you have to do everything by yourself when he works late (although that may also be a frustration for you!)

There are practical things that you can do to help. Many of these depend on what your partner enjoys. A glass of wine or a cold beer might be appreciated when he gets home in the evening. He may enjoy being served one of his favourite meals. Another option is to run him a bath with relaxing bubble bath and candles. You could book him a neck and back massage or better yet, offer to do it yourself! Arrange a night where he is free of responsibility – no taking out the rubbish, no bathing children, simply a night for him to relax and enjoy being looked after. At this time it is important for him to see that you are putting his needs first. This will help him to feel supported, valued and cared for, which will help him cope and even perform better in the workplace. When your partner sees you initiating activities to help him relax then he will most likely also start making an effort to unwind in the evenings and to leave stress at the workplace. When you put your partner’s needs first, support him and care for him, you are assisting him in being more capable and willing to support you in the same way when you are stressed.