Fact: Seeing your spouse stressed out is no fun. "We are wired to connect with other people, particularly those closest to us," explains Julie de Azevedo Hanks, Ph.D., LCSW, owner and director of Wasatch Family Therapy. "We help each other regulate our emotions. So it's important to support a spouse when he or she is stressed because it is a way to show love and understanding, and support your spouse emotionally." If your significant other is freaked out over work, family, or even your relationship, here's how you can help.
When we see our significant others stressed out, it can be easy to unintentionally smother them with our love and support. "We don't want him or her to suffer," explains John Duffy, clinical psychologist and relationship expert. "But take a beat, and ask what would really be most helpful: Talking it through, or a more hands-off approach."
2. Encourage physical activity.
No, this isn't the time to tell your spouse he's put on a few pounds. This isn't about how he looks, but how exercise will make him feel. Pick a beautiful evening for a sunset walk, then invite your spouse to join you with a no-pressure request, suggests Hanks. "Exercise is a great stress reliever," she says.
3. Share how his or her stress affects you.
"This may seem counterintuitive," says Duffy, "because taken at face-value, this approach may seem to compound the stress. But sometimes a person is willing to make some changes, even radical changes, once they recognize they are not the only ones negatively affected by the stress. This can be a true gift, and a catalyst for important change for a spouse."
4. Express confidence.
If your spouse is stressed and overwhelmed, he or she is also likely feeling "vulnerable and insecure," says Hanks. If they're worried they'll be let go from work or wishing they were a better spouse, one of the best things you can do is cheerlead for him or her, saying "'I know that this is hard, and I know you'll get through it. I am here for you. You've got this,'" says Hanks.
5. Initiate sex.
A sexy evening may be the last thing on your stressed spouse's mind, but "intimacy and sex are rather automatic stress-reducers," Duffy says. Having sex or even a snuggle session "may take your spouse's mind off the stress for a while, and allow him or her to view the situation in a different light."
6. Plan a getaway.
"Anyone feels stressed when they don't take breaks," points out Hanks. So if you can't remember the last time you and your spouse unplugged, it could be time to plan some time away from work, your extended family, and household chores. "Reconnecting and strengthening your marriage relationship is an important part of developing resilience to stress," Hanks says.