Stress in Your Relationship: Everything You Need To Know

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein, written by Blueheart
– published on December 23, 2022

Quiz: How well do you tackle stress together?

When you're in a relationship, it's vital you learn tackle stress as a team. How do you think you’re doing?

For each of the questions below, answer: 
A. agree
B. somewhat agree
C. somewhat disagree
D. disagree 

1. I always, or nearly always, notice when my partner is feeling stressed.

2. I understand what my partner needs from me when they’re showing signs of stress. 

3. I am comfortable to say to my partner that I am feeling stressed and share ways I feel they could help me.

4. I tend to notice when I’m feeling stressed before I let it impact on my behaviour towards my partner.

5. I feel that only a small proportion of my stress comes from my relationship. 

6. We usually work together to destress, or give one another the space we need to do so.

7. When I express to my partner that I’m feeling stressed I rarely feel criticised or ignored.

8. When I share with my partner that I’m feeling stressed they usually help to comfort me and reduce my stress levels. Work out which letter you have answered the most times to find out what it says about your joint approach to stress. 

Illustration by Marta Pucci

Mostly A
You have a healthy approach to stress, recognizing the impact of stress on your relationship and working as a team to make sure you tackle it head on. But no one is perfect all the time, make sure you keep up the good work with regular practice and self-reflection. Read on to find out more.
Mostly B
You are able to recognize when stress is having an effect on the way you interact with one another, and you are determined to pull together to resolve issues. However, perhaps you could be a little bit more pre-emptive, finding ways to reduce the impact with useful techniques to avoid those little conflicts wherever possible in the first place. There are plenty of ideas and techniques further through this article - keep reading to find some that resonate with you. 

Mostly C
Stress is having some level of impact on your relationship, and while you both want to do something about it, you’re maybe unsure how to go about it. You generally manage to resolve stress-triggered conflicts eventually when you’ve both had time to reflect, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel like you’re on the same page. Read through the rest of this article and share it with your partner to make sure you’re on the same page.

Mostly D
You are trapped in a cycle of stress, regularly dealing with the same issues and arguments on repeat. Or so it feels. It’s time to take stock, put some effort into understanding what’s triggering these interactions and learn to put in place tried and tested tools and techniques both up-front and in the moment. If you feel you could use some help to better work through stress as a team you’ll find plenty of useful information below. If you know there’s work to do in improving your stress response, no matter your result above, you’ll find life changing tips, tools, techniques and practical advice in our courses inside the app.

How is stress impacting your relationship?

When one or both of you is having a stressful time, it’s natural that the impact will spill over into your personal relationships.

Stress leads to distraction and irritability. It makes us less likely to pay attention to our partner and more likely to react negatively to situations. When we’re tense – particularly over a longer period - our worst traits come to the fore, and we find ourselves lashing out at, or withdrawing from, those we're closest to. Communication becomes difficult and we can even begin to imagine problems that aren’t really there, seeing ulterior motives in our partner’s behaviors.

On a practical level you may find that simple everyday tasks like working, household chores and childcare become more difficult or overwhelming. And you may find you’re more likely to withdraw from social situations or devote less time to hobbies, creativity and self-care. 

As we become anxious, our stress hormones mount, our nervous systems become more vigilant, and we react more immediately with defensiveness and hostility. We feel less able to cope with anything going on around us. Which makes fights inevitable. Things that would usually be resolved effectively become issues seemingly out of the blue. What's more, stress can have a very real impact on our sex drive and sexual function if not kept in check.

And it goes further than that, in an article published in the Clinical Psychology Review(1), researchers found that “Evidence suggests that stress is a threat to marital satisfaction and its longevity.” So, it’s not just that high stress levels make the day to day difficult, they can cause marital conflict longer term. Even in usually healthy relationships.

Stress management: getting chronic stress under control

Stressful life events can occur for a variety of different reasons. Perhaps it’s from something going on at work, an illness of a loved one, a family conflict… the list goes on. But no matter the cause, there’s no getting away from the fact that stress is dangerous.

Researchers from the UK and California joined up to review previous studies(2) and concluded that “stress can affect mental and physical health directly, through autonomic and neuroendocrine responses, but it also has indirect effects, through changes in health behaviors”. In fact, stress has an impact on multiple biological systems, and is bad news for your body and mind.

When you read into the research that’s taken place over the years, it’s a cause for concern. From milk production in mammals, to wound healing, to immune system response and mental health, acute stress can impact every aspect of our health and well-being. That’s why it’s important to recognise the signs and find help if and when you need it. Of course, we can’t avoid all stressful situations, they are a fact of modern-day life. The trick is to learn to manage that stress properly rather than allow it to become the norm. 

Of course, the internet is alive with practical tips for reducing and overcoming stress. Things like spending more time in nature, taking a warm bath with candles or treating yourself to a massage. But did you know that de-stressing with your partner can be not just a more powerful way to get rid of some of that pent up frustration and anxiety, but it can be a great bonding experience too. Check out our De-Stress Course inside the app to learn more.

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Can gratitude help reduce stress?

We were taught to say 'thank you' for gifts as a child, and to say 'thank you' for having us at the end of a play date. But how much do you remember to express your appreciation for things now you’re an adult? In the office, perhaps, when someone does something unexpected. But in your relationship? Maybe not so much.

When you stop and think about it, of course you’re grateful for the things your partner does for you. The household chores, cooking a meal, going out to work, looking after the kids all days etc. But how often do you show that appreciation to them? How often do you make sure they know how you feel?

Across the years, many scientific studies and research articles have found a correlation between gratitude and happiness or well-being. In fact, one 2019 study by researchers based in Hope College in Michigan, USA(3), found that gratitude “can bolster present happiness and hope for the future.” Both of which are major contributors to feelings of mental well-being and reduced stress levels.

Developing a gratitude attitude

Luckily, it’s not difficult to learn to practice gratitude. It might feel forced or awkward to start with, but if you make it a habit to become more mindful about showing gratitude to others, you’ll also begin to notice all those little things your partner does for you. 

Try these things:
      - Write little thank you notes or text messages to friends and family when they’ve given you a gift or done something nice for you.
      - Say 'thank you' more at work – that way it will feel more natural in your personal life, too.Even when you don’t plan to write or you’re not in a position to say 'thank you' in person, mentally note your feelings of gratitude. Even for the smallest things.
      - Keep a gratitude journal. Make a habit of writing down what makes you thankful each day. Or if that feels like too much, try once per week. Set aside just 10 minutes each week to finish the sentence:                     

                             This week I am grateful for…
  aim to write 3-5 things.

You’ll soon find that simply being more present with your gratitude and noticing those feelings of appreciation will mean you find even more things to be grateful for. Negative emotions will be replaced with positive effects and as they say, positivity breeds positivity. And positivity really does reduce levels of stress and make for a better quality of life which crosses into your relationship. Try to think of things about your partner that you are grateful for every week… and remember to tell them so they know how much you appreciate them.

Illustration by Marta Pucci

How to start tuning into your body

Do you notice difficult emotions bubbling up inside a particular part of your body? Or you can feel that latent level of anxiety just rumbling away in the pit of your tummy? Do you carry stress and tension in your neck? Your back? Your throat?

Get in touch with your body and you’ll begin to notice the little things before they become big things that threaten to overwhelm you. And not only that, you’ll also learn what helps your body to feel better. It might be physical activity to run out the anxious thoughts, weights to ground your nervous system or quality time with a loved one to help release tension through laughter and connection.

Take time, every-so-often, to just be still, notice what’s going on around you and allow yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.

What is body scanning?

Body scanning is a useful technique to help you become more aware of your body. It is a meditative practice, but if you’re just beginning with meditation or feel you’re struggling to master it, this can be a great start point.

Body scanning can help you to recognize and therefore release any physical tension that is sitting in your body. Sometimes, despite noticing the mental effects of stress, we fail to notice what’s happening to us physically. A body scan will help you bring the focus back to each part of your body in turn. And the good news is, even if you find it tricky to complete without your mind wandering to start with, this will get easier with practice.

So how do you perform a meditative body scan?

1. Find a comfortable position. You will need to be laying down or seated.

2. Take some deep breaths, feeling the rise and fall of your stomach.

3. When you’re ready, bring your awareness down to your feet. Notice any pain, tension or other feelings. Simply acknowledge them and breathe through them. Try to imagine any tensions evaporating into the air.

4. If your mind wanders, just bring your thoughts gently back to the body part you reached and continue.

5. Work your way gradually up through your body to the top of your head. Focus on your ankles, your calves, knees, thighs, bottom, hips, stomach etc, all the way up. Zero in on any tension and breath into it, visualizing the discomfort leaving your body. Not only will this help you release feelings of stress in the moment, over time, it will help you learn about where the tension tends to lodge itself and how you can begin to manage it better every day.

The importance of mindfulness in relationships

Mindfulness is the ability to stay focused, while being aware of your thoughts and surroundings. As you become more practiced you will be able to recognize and move past distractions as they arisen your relationships, which will make your relationships so much stronger.

QUIZ: How mindful are you in your relationship?

Read the statements below and give yourself 1-5 points depending on how much you agree or disagree with each one:

1 = strongly disagree
2 = disagree
3 = neutral
4 = agree
5 = strongly agree

1. I find it easy to keep my focus on my partner is talking to me about something they feel is important.

2. If my partner offers me feedback about something I’ve done (or not done), I am able to listen to what they are saying without becoming defensive.

3. I would never tell my partner how to think or act.

4. I always give my partner space to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas and know they have been heard.

5. I show my partner often that I truly appreciate them and all they do for me.

6. I am able to move on after a disagreement. I don’t get stuck in the ‘past’ or feeling resentful.

Add up your score to find out what it says about you.

Score: 23-30 points
Well done! You understand the value of mindfulness within your relationship and work hard to appreciate your partner and stay focused on them whenever you are with them. Keep up the great work by implementing some of the tips below. 

Score: 14-22
Room for improvement! While you aim to keep your attention and focus on your partner, there always seems to be so much else going on. Despite trying not to get defensive and dwell on arguments, it can sometimes be difficult to move on and stay in the present. Know you’re doing a lot of the right things and a few more tips and techniques to put into practice could help to get you where you want to be. Read on for some inspiration. 

Score: 6-13
Those little niggling arguments are becoming more and more frequent. and it often feels that you simply don’t have the time or the mental capacity to focus on your relationship. It’s important to build up some key skills to keep you grounded in the moment and more likely to avoid the little spats that can so quickly escalate into more. Why not ask your partner to take the test to see how they score in comparison? The good news is we can help. 

No matter how mindful you already think you might be, there’s always room for improvement - check out the expert tried and tested tips, techniques and practical advice in our in-app courses.

Illustration by Marta Pucci

How to: Create a mindful relationship

We’ve all heard of mindfulness, but have you heard of a mindful relationship? Whether you’re cohabiting, just starting out, or you’re a married couple with kids, there are some valuable lessons to be found in the idea of mindfulness in your partnership.

Simply put, a mindful relationship is one in which you concentrate on paying full attention to your partner when you’re together. It’s about staying with them in the present and accepting their thoughts and feelings without judgment.

Mindfulness in a relationship can help to build a deep bond or connection as it focuses on outwardly demonstrating unconditional support for your partner. If you are constantly criticizing or trying to change your partner it will only lead to misunderstandings, resentment and dissatisfaction in your relationship.

In order to be mindful, think in terms of ‘we’ not ‘I’, focus on being caring and supportive and allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of your partner. It’s a great way to build emotional intimacy and encourage them to open up to you, too.

Learn about your partner’s love languages and work to understand and share your own, you’ll soon be able to communicate with one another in a way that helps you feel truly loved.

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How to reduce stress through better communication

Of course disagreements will happen at times. A sign of a healthy relationship though, is being able to listen to one another and try to understand and accept your partner’s point of view. It’s not about forcing them around to your way of thinking, more about paying complete attention, listening actively and not reacting immediately to feelings that come up inside you.

Try to build a love and acceptance of yourself and also an acceptance of and trust in your partner and in your relationship. Show your partner that you appreciate them, not only when they do something good, but for all the little things too. And make sure you have a mutual understanding about the importance of allowing one another to express yourselves without fear of judgement.

What’s a mindful mini-date?

One great idea to help you purposefully add some mindfulness into your relationship is the concept of a ‘mindful mini date’. A small but perfectly formed chunk of time that you commit to spending with your other half. Leave the phones at home, or at the very least put them on silent in the bottom of your bag.

You might decide to have a low-key dinner, or to engage in a peaceful art activity. You could go stargazing or angling... or skinny dipping. Whatever you choose, make sure you’re both on board with it. And make sure it’s something that gives you the time and space to focus on the here and now and pay attention to one another.

While you’re together, try to stay in the present, this isn’t about resolving past issues or making plans for the future. Focus on how you’re feeling and ask your partner questions about their own thoughts and emotions. Take time to listen to what they say and respond with curiosity rather than judgement. The aim is to come out of the 'date' feeling like you're emerging from a little bubble that was occupied by only the two of you.

What is eye gazing in relationships?

Another technique that can quickly build connection is eye gazing. The act of staring into your partner’s eyes for an extended period of time. For many of us this might sound uncomfortable, particularly if it’s not something you’re used to doing. And yet, give it a go and you’ll find prolonged eye contact can be extremely powerful. If you want to know whether you have your partner’s full attention or want an insight into how they’re thinking and feeling, direct eye contact is the best way to go.

While recent research is sparse, previous studies have shown that prolonged eye contact, or eye gazing, can increase intimacy in a relationship(4).

How do you do eye gazing?

For some people, eye gazing feels like a difficult step to take. It can feel a little intense to begin with. Our best advice is to start small and even make a game of it.

Set a timer for 10 seconds, or even less if you feel that’s all you can manage. Then look straight into one another’s eyes. Gradually build up until you’re able to hold each other’s gaze for 30 seconds or more.

And when it starts to feel more natural, practice eye gazing while having sex. You might be surprised how much it adds to the experience in terms of intimacy and togetherness.

Mindful breathing and embrace

If you’re looking for other tried and tested techniques to reduce stress and support your relationship well-being, shared mindfulness activities have been shown to have extremely positive effects.

Try meditating together if that’s something one of you is familiar with. Or keep things simpler with a joint mindful breathing session.

Take 10 minutes, sit comfortably a small distance from one another, close your eyes if you wish, and breathe in time with one another. Focus on the natural rhythm and flow of your shared inhalation and exhalation. Notice how it feels as your nervous system begins to calm and your muscles relax. And feel how in tune you become with your partner.

There are many different breathing patterns you can try, but a nice one for stress relief is known as box breathing. Breath in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breath out for a count of four and then hold once again for a count of four before repeating the cycle.

Complete your session with a mindful embrace. A tight hug that lasts longer than you might be used to. And one for which you are both entirely present and entirely focused on the feel, the warmth, the smell and the sounds of your partner.

Aaaaannnnddd relax!

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1. Randall, A. K., & Bodenmann, G., 2009. ‘The role of stress on close relationships and marital satisfaction.’, Clinical psychology review, vol. 29, no. 2, pp.105-115.

2. O'Connor, D., Thayer, J. and Vedhara, K., 2021. 'Stress and Health: A Review of Psychobiological Processes', Annual Review of Psychology, vol. 72, no. 1, pp. 663-688.

3. vanOyen Witvliet, C., Richie, F., Root Luna, L. and Van Tongeren, D., 2019. 'Gratitude predicts hope and happiness: A two-study assessment of traits and states', The Journal of Positive Psychology, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 271-282.

4. Kellerman, J., Lewis, J. and Laird, J., 1989. 'Looking and loving: The effects of mutual gaze on feelings of romantic love', Journal of Research in Personality, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 145-161.