It’s moving week. I told you all about it a few weeks ago – how I was expecting to be tired, at my wit’s end and neck deep in boxes by now.
Well, I’m all that.
And to add to the fun, all the expected relationship stress has peaked this week as well.
So now I’m exhausted, stressed, knee-deep in boxes and – when provoked – prone to occasional outbursts of tears and yelling.
I know I’m not alone in this because my friend M also moved just recently, and she warned me in advance that there would be tears.
Crying is one way we women deal with stress.
Luckily, all my glassware and vases are packed away safely in bubble wrap, or I may be tempted to start throwing them.
What doesn’t help about moving house together is that you’re both just as worn out as each other. Everyone’s coping skills have hit rock bottom.
And who best to take that out on? Why, each other, of course.
Which brings me to the real point of this column: How do you support your partner when you know they’re stressed, they’re tired and they’re struggling… but they’re taking it all out on you?
Being in the firing line isn’t much fun. No one likes to be a punching bag. Even among the most patient of us, something eventually has to give.
Cue a good argument where everyone can let off some steam.
The real problem comes when you’re not being the instigator – but your partner is doing everything they can to pick a fight.
You start by trying to be understanding. Then you quickly move to being silently annoyed, and finally turn an ugly shade of purple while you have it out with each other.
This vicious cycle makes me wonder how author Laura Munson got through her own husband’s hissy fit.
He came home one day and announced he wanted a divorce. He didn’t love her anymore, and he wasn’t sure he ever did.
She calmly told him no. No divorce. And then gave him space, in his own home, to sort out his feelings. She waited for him to come to his senses. And he did.
She likens it to a toddler tantrum:
“Here’s a visual: Child throws a temper tantrum. Tries to hit his mother. But the mother doesn’t hit back, lecture or punish. Instead, she ducks. Then she tries to go about her business as if the tantrum isn’t happening. She doesn’t “reward” the tantrum. She simply doesn’t take the tantrum personally because, after all, it’s not about her.”
Men and women deal with stressful situations differently. And it all comes down to the hormones.
The hormone cortisol is released when anyone is stressed. But women get a big dose of oxytocin on the side – affectionately known as the ‘cuddle hormone’, it works to drive women to nurture others and connect with people to help alleviate their stress.
We talk it out, usually with a bestie or with our partner. The experts call it the ‘tend and befriend’ response to stressors.
Men, on the other hand, aren’t blessed with the soothing effects of oxytocin. Which means they are the true representation of the flight or fight response when it comes to stress – they either retreat into their own little world or they lash out and fight back.
If there is no worthy opponent to fight with? Well, you’ll do just fine.
So when both partners are stressed, it makes it very hard for a stressed woman who wants to nurture something – anything! – when that someone is intent on lashing out constantly.
Couples going through stressful times should try and communicate if they can. Stay intimate. Turn towards each other and lean on each other, rather than turning away and sharing your problems with friends.
And if all that fails, dredge up the last of your patience, take a deep breath and try and give your partner some room. Luckily for us, we have separate offices in our new place so time alone won’t be a problem.
Originally written for mX Newspaper, May 2011