Imagine coming home after a stressful day, and your partner surprises you with dinner on the table. You perk up, your heart soars, and you fill with gratitude for your mate and all they do that is right and sweet.
Okay, how about you’re having a great day, and your partner walks in with a sour face and slams the door shut? You grumble, slump your shoulders, and quietly blame them for ruining your mood.
Our relationships play a pivotal role in the way we deal with stress. And if you share your life with a significant other, I don’t need to tell you the degree to which your rhythms and behaviors affect one another. However, we don’t have to be so affected by our partner’s every move and mood—and we can actually change and prevent these dynamics.
As you know from building your personal resilience, we all have habitual ways we deal with the ups and downs of life that aren’t always productive or healthy—but we have a large measure of control on how we can adapt, change, and thrive. (Need a refresher on stress personalities? Check out this Cup of Calm.) The same is true for our partner.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re dedicating this week’s Cup of Calm to creating resilient relationships—shining a light on the habits and patterns our loved ones have and the small, effective ways you can create stronger, happier bonds. Read on to find your partner’s stress type—and what to do when things get tough:
Under pressure, does your partner…
…Stay cool and calm?
Chances are your partner is a Regulator. And while you probably have long admired their ability to keep their wits about them, the downside is that they may come up short on the warm and fuzzy. What they may not realize is that you need more than solutions when things are stressful—you need support, too. Sometimes a Regulator needs to be reminded of that.
Try this: Let your partner know how much you appreciate their ability to stay calm under pressure, and how valuable that is to you. But rather than telling them to act a different way, communicate that you would also appreciate their emotional support, too. The best way to show someone what you need is to have a clear, non-critical conversation and then demonstrate it yourself—the more warm and supportive you are, the more likely it is to be reciprocated.
…Put everyone else first?
If your partner is a caregiver, you know they tend to put everyone else first, including you. This might seem great, but the risk is that if your partner doesn’t tend to their own needs and their resilience wears down, they may take you with them! It’s your job to be attuned to the support they need—simply because they may not ask for it themselves.
Try this: Give them the day off! They may not do it on their own, so build in time, together, when they can be off duty—maybe it’s a regular meditation practice, taking up a new hobby (or making time for an existing one), or as simple as carving out time to take a shower that lasts longer than two minutes. Remind them that being a rested, relaxed person will help them do what they do best—take care of everyone else.
…Want to take a spontaneous trip to Miami?
Ah, the Adventurer! This confidence and excitement likely drew you to your partner initially. But if you’re someone who holes up when you’re stressed, this behavior can seem risky to you.
While a short jaunt might be exactly what you need, the challenge for you is to balance your own need for predictability with the gentle boundary-stretching that your partner provides. This kind of courage can be great for both of you, because it’s contagious and can help you embrace bolder moves.
Try this: Stretch your comfort zone! Running away from a problem is not the same as taking a worthwhile break or even a calculated risk. If your partner’s strength is in taking the lead and trying new things, embrace that. Plan that trip, go out dancing, leave the house without a destination in mind! While you should always speak up when something makes you nervous or uncomfortable, sometimes a little adventure or spontaneity is a great way to blow off steam when life gets overwhelming.
…Have eyes for the bright side?
When you live with an Optimist, things are always looking up. The benefits of being around someone like this is obvious—because they may push you to see what’s working and possible. Where this can be frustrating is if they refuse to see the potential downsides (and then you feel like the bad guy for bringing it up).
You don’t have to rain on their parade, however, to have a productive discussion about what is—and what isn’t. Embrace their positive outlook, while inviting them to have a real dialogue about what’s at stake if you avoid the possible downside.
Try this: Criticizing an Optimist for being optimistic won’t get you very far. Instead, make sure your partner knows how much you appreciate—and admire—their ability to stay positive. But also express that you’d be more likely to join them on the sunny side if they could also recognize what could go wrong, so that you don’t feel like the villain—or get left holding the bag when things don’t turn out as expected.
…Get obsessed with fixing the problem?
Sharing your life with a Problem Solver has a clear upside. The challenge is that they can get such tunnel vision around a problem that they miss the point, and compromise the relationship in the process. Sometimes a Problem Solver needs to be reminded that your relationship is more important than any single answer they can come up with, and that your life together is bigger than any one problem.
Try this: A Problem Solver needs some gentle reminding that the problem isn’t always the most important thing. But your partner can’t read your mind, and is used to solving problems as a way to show their worth. Get on the same page as far as priorities go so that seeking a solution doesn’t create a bigger problem in your relationship or your life.
The secret to a stronger, more resilient relationship is not preventing stress period (good luck with that!), but in understanding how you each respond to stress.
Terri Trespicio is a New York–based lifestyle writer. For nearly a decade, she served as a senior editor and radio host at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, XOJane, Marie Claire, Prevention, MindBodyGreen, and DailyWorth. Find her on Twitter @TerriT