It’s one of the dirty little secrets of relationships:
Just how hard it is to live together AND be nice to each other.
Home is the place you go to get rid of your stress. You’re working all day, you don’t have a private moment, and you can’t let your emotions out.
So you come home, and you just want to tune out. You don’t want anyone making any more demands of you. You just want to be in your own little world for a while.
Instead, you come home, and guess who’s there?
And your partner wants to talk. Wants to do something. Wants to get your help with something.
More demands. More stress. Why doesn’t everyone just leave you alone?
It is really, really hard to stay calm, polite, and loving when you’ve hit your limit. That’s why you need to have a strategy. How are you going to keep from killing each other when you’re both stressed, tired and fed up?
These 3 steps can help.
Of Course You’re Stressed
Let’s start with the obvious:
Human beings weren’t meant to take this much stress.
Modern lives are stressful. We’re cooped up inside, we’re sitting all day, we’re drinking buckets of coffee, and on top of that we have to be nice to everyone even if we don’t feel it.
Even worse, we take that stress home with us. We don’t walk through the door relaxed and ready for connection. We walk through that door in need of decompression.
Not everyone knows how to deal with their stress in a way that protects their relationships from it.
Some of us grew up in family environments where it was normal for adults to explode in anger at the kids or at each other. We learned that if Mom or Dad was under a lot of stress, they’d take it out on us—and that it was their right to do so, because no one apologized. It’s just the way it was.
Maybe you picked up that message, too. You learned that stress makes people grumpy and take their bad mood out on each other. You just have to keep your head down and wait until it’s over.
No one wants it to be like this. Our home should be a happy place, where we can feel emotionally safe. It’s not fun to get attacked out of the blue just because your partner is in a mood.
So how can we change things?
Step 1. Notice
The first step is to learn to notice when you get flooded.
“Flooded” is another word for emotional overwhelm. It’s the moment you lose your grip. You lose your ability to think rationally, you go into fight-or-flight, and your emotions sweep you away.
It’s impossible to have a constructive conversation when you’re flooded. You can’t solve an argument like this. You have to wait until you calm down.
And here’s the tricky bit: you can’t make yourself calm down just like that.
The only way to calm down is to get away from the situation and give yourself at least 20 minutes of doing something that soothes you.
If your partner snaps at you, “Just calm down!” he’s just going to add fuel to the fire. That’s the wrong thing to say.
In fact, that’s good advice for all relationships: never tell anyone, even your kids, to calm down. It never works, it guilt trips them, and it’s not helpful. If you want someone to calm down, help them calm down. Listen to them. Give them a cuddle. Suggest taking a break.
As an adult, it’s your job to know when you’re approaching your limit. You can feel that stress building up inside of you. You know when you can’t take much more.
Step 2. Communicate
Then, the next step is to communicate. Tell your partner what you need. You need a break. You need some time alone. Just half an hour or so, so you can get your stress out on your own rather than taking it out on him.
That can be hard. Under stress, we tend to go on the defensive or attack, but this is about being vulnerable … admitting that you’re really stressed and about to lose it and you really don’t want to do that.
He might think you’re trying to get out of talking to him. You might need to talk to him at another time about what flooding is and how it leads to fighting if you don’t do something.
Step 3. Self Soothe
The final step is to do something to discharge that stress. Leave the house if you have to. Go for a walk or a drive or a run. Go to your bedroom and shut the door and lie down and breathe, whatever calms you down. Figure out what works for you and use it.
Then you can come back to your partner feeling more like yourself. Back to the loving, kind person you normally are, when you’re not stressed out of your mind.
Do you have stress fights in your relationship? How have you learned to cope with them? If you feel like sharing, let us know in the comments!