Couples and Stress

March 6th, 2012


Robert Sapolsky, the Stanford neuroscientist and writer, revealed an important fact about primates under stress during an interview on KQED: one of the most effective ways to diffuse stress is to take it out on someone else. I was struck by how relevant this is for couples. In fact, couples do this to each other all the time, and they often regret it. So how can you change this behavior?

Here are a few ideas from my toolkit when working with couples:


Take care of yourself first and you will be less vulnerable to stress. This means employing the SELF acronym in daily life: Sleep, Exercise, Laughter and Food. People often question whether taking care of themselves first is selfish. Actually, it gives you a much better opportunity to be present and available to other people.

Get to Know Yourself

Become familiar with your sensitive spots. For one person, changing plans at the last minute is no big deal, but for another person this can touch sensitive areas around neglect and abandonment. The more you know about your own sensitivities, the more quickly you can recover from emotional injury, and the more capacity you have to talk to your partner about what hurts.

Build Up the Good Stuff

John Gottman, the marriage and relationship researcher, refers to this as the “magic relationship ratio” of 5:1. In relationships that work, there are five times as many positive things going on as negative things in a conflict. It helps to practice these kinds of interactions, so when the crap hits the fan, so to speak, these behaviors are more accessible to you. Positive behaviors you can practice regularly include:
• showing interest
• asking questions
• being kind
• being affectionate
• being empathic
• sharing appreciations

You might also be interested in another blog post I wrote, Helpful Practices for Couples, which features practices such as mindfulness, cultivating wise mind and sharing appreciations.

[image courtesy of Emmalynne Photography]

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