7 Secrets for Supporting a Stressed Spouse

Stress comes in many forms. Perhaps your spouse is having trouble at work. Or maybe she’s caring for her aging parents. Or perhaps there’s tension between your spouse and an extended family member or close friend. Or maybe your spouse is sick, suffering from a health problem or concern.

Whatever it is, your spouse has been distant, touchy, and absent—shirking his or her usual responsibilities. You want to be there, but you also want to be treated with respect.

What to do?

  1. Voice the effect this stress has on your marriage. Don’t ignore it or talk around it. At the same time, don’t judge. Voice it as evidence, in much the same way a scientist might note the behavior of a mouse he or she is studying. You might say, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been getting takeout instead of cooking lately” or “whenever I try to talk to you, you seem distant. I’d love to know what’s going on.”
  2. State your concerns. Often, what’s really on your mind is this: fear. Few of us, however, are willing to admit that. So we end up talking around the fear, often blaming the spouse, which ends up starting a fight. Simply state the truth, “I’m worried that we are growing apart” or “I’m worried that I can’t handle this all without your help” or “I’m afraid you don’t trust me enough to open up to me.” Have the courage to be vulnerable. It’s your vulnerability that will allow your spouse to feel safe enough to lean on you.
  3. Listen. Our spouses just want to be seen, heard and acknowledged. Rather than do that, however, many of us attempt to solve their problem. After all, it’s a lot easier to solve other people’s problems than it is to solve our own. If you feel the urge to jump in and offer advice, hold back. Instead, listen and acknowledge with statements like, “That must be hard for you” and “That must be so frustrating.” Know that sometimes listening means that you don’t press when your spouse says, “I don’t want to talk about it.” It also might mean that you don’t jabber away when your spouse is anxious, because your chatter just works to heighten the anxiety. Be okay with silence. It might not be what you would need in such a situation, but it might be exactly what your spouse needs.
  4. Be there. This might be as simple as sitting quietly with your spouse while you hold hands. Or it might entail accompanying your spouse during a stressful moment, such as visiting the doctor for test results. It might be rubbing her feet. It could be initiating in the bedroom—and doing all of the physical work during the actual event, too. Being there means that you do what you need to do to get your own mind under control. Do deep breathing, meditation, exercise or venting (to your friends, not to your spouse) to get your own stress out of your system. But don’t try to control your spouse’s mind. Don’t say things like, “You have nothing to feel scared about” or “This is nothing to stress over.” That minimizes your spouse’s situation. If you want to know what it feels like to be minimized, think about how you felt the last time someone told you to stop worrying, stop being so angry, or stop feeling so stressed over something so minor.
  5. Temporarily ease the burden. If needed, offer to pick up some slack around the house or elsewhere to free up your spouse to deal with this stressful issue with his or her full attention. Help your spouse solve problems.
  6. Care for yourself. Again, this is where so many of us (myself included) go wrong. We spend so much time caring for our spouse that we neglect our own needs. Soon we’re the ones who need special nursing and attention.
  7. Cut your spouse some slack, but give it a deadline. Allow your spouse to seek refuge in television reruns, too much sleep, or some other seemingly dysfunctional practice, especially if your spouse doesn’t usually wallow in this way. On the other hand, if your spouse is constantly stressed—the kind of person who is a walking basket case 24/7/365—then you’ll want to create a boundary. It might sound like this, “I’m going to be here for you as much as I can until the end of the month. After that, I really think that it’s time for you to try counseling.”

Have you supported your spouse through a stressful time? What worked? What didn’t? Has your spouse supported you? What did you find helpful? What drove you nuts? What additional advice do you think others might try?

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Thanks Maureen for suggesting this post topic.

7 comments… add one

  • Kathleen June 6, 2012, 8:54 pm

    Yes, I am supporting my husband thru year 6 of his stress filled career. Unfortunately, I have become the whipping post. All that goes wrong is my fault. His stress is so high but he does not see it and says it is all me. I cover everything for our family, literally. However, if one thing goes less than perfect, he freaks out on me. I am not sure how to get away from the cycle. WHen I tell him what I see happening he tells me I am wrong

    Reply
  • angelia June 6, 2012, 9:39 pm

    Our family has been though a lot in the past couple of years. This is excellent information for both of us! I’m going to forward this to my husband and cross my fingers that he will read and we can discuss. :)
    angelia´s last blog post ..Are you reading it? Are you blushing?!

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  • Megan@DoNotDisturb June 7, 2012, 8:22 am

    Great practical advice. It is so important to help out our spouses as that kind of effort reaps benefits in our own lives even if we never get a thank you or outward appreciation.

    Megan
    Megan@DoNotDisturb´s last blog post ..Curb Appeal: 5 Ways to Make Your Marriage More Attractive

    Reply
  • Jennifer June 12, 2012, 1:27 pm

    How did you know?
    This is something we’ve been working on for the last year. He is in a start up company & I am in a fast paced job that can just steamroll you sometimes. He supports me by asking what I need….space, have him figure out dinner, etc.
    As far as him….His frustration in trying to promote the company to get the jobs they need can spin him into a depression. I’ve tried Being There which is definitely the first step, but I don’t know what to do from there & he doesn’t know what he needs apart from figuring out how to promote the business now

    Reply
  • Jessika July 16, 2012, 11:23 pm

    My husband just graduated with his bachelor’s degree and is in the middle of studying for the MCAT, applying for med school, and finding a job for this next yet while we wait to start med school. So he’s been very stressed! To help, I’ve been doing everything around the house, plus helping him with his work and school applications. So I feel like I’ve done these things, and I give him his space and let him wallow by watching tv shows, but it’s like the rut he’s in never ends and nothing helps. He’s about to take the MCAT for the second time, because he didn’t study enough the first time, and even now he’s hardly studied more! We have discussions at least once a week and he keeps wanting to do better, but hardly anything actually gets done. Even after all I can do, so I don’t even know what to do anymore!

    Reply
  • Phokoane March 3, 2014, 4:32 pm

    my fiance is work stressed but i don’t know how to support him Because we are 6 and half hours away from one another.
    It is freaking me out ,,,we are or have grown apart…i don’t wanna lose him.

    How do i support him from a distance? I want to back him up…show care…

    Reply
  • Stephanie June 30, 2014, 6:46 pm

    My husband is always stressed from work. ALWAYS. Every job he has ever had has completely stressed him out. He is so stressed that he dry heaves in the morning. He isn’t going to counseling, though sometimes he will in spurts. I’ve talked to him about how he needs to at least try to have a positive attitude instead of spiraling into anxiety. We even have a mantra that we use when either of us are really bad. I just don’t know what to do anymore, it’s just the reality of having a job that sometimes you are stressed but he takes things way to personal and can’t handle the reality of being an adult. He had a sheltered upbringing. How can I help him? I’m really reaching my end.

    Reply

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