How Stress Changes What You Notice About Your Partner, According To Psychology

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It’s not groundbreaking news that when we’re stressed, our whole perspective on life becomes bleaker. We’re so fixated on what’s stressing us out that we have a hard time seeing outside of it. Sometimes we’ll even project our stress unto whoever happens to be in front of us.

In romantic relationships, stress takes on even more of a brutal role. Because of the vulnerable attachments shared between partners, the stress is often taken out on the relationship. But one of the less talked about effects of stress is what exactly it changes about what you notice about your partner.

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Happy Couples, Happy Thoughts

People who are happy in their romantic relationships tend to put on rose-colored glasses when thinking of their partner. While this doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship s healthy or good, it makes them happy regardless so they’re willing to bypass any red flags to keep on perceiving their partner in the highest esteem.

Leah Kelley / Pexels
Leah Kelley / Pexels

When people are happy and in love, they down play their partners’ faults and even perceive them more positively than they perceive themselves. Whenever conflict arises in the relationship, they became it on circumstance and feel hopeful about change rather than cave to stress and assume it’s a permanent character flaw.

Stressed People, Negative Relationships

In contrast, we know that unhappy couples focus more on their partner’s faults. Still, psychologists wanted to know more so they could determine if circumstances make people less likely to notice the annoying or hurtful things their partner does. This would help couples shift the role that stress plays in a partner’s bad behavior and maybe even save some relationships.

Nathan Cowley / Pexels
Nathan Cowley / Pexels

New research by Lisa Neff and April Buck, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, is on a mission to explore the role of stress in how we react to our partner’s day-to-day bad behavior.

Stress Drains Energy

There are a couple of ways that stress changes what we notice about our partner. The first is that it drains our energy which takes up space and patience so when we get to our partner we have no more space for even small inconveniences. The more energy the stress takes, the more it takes a toll on the relationship.

Alex Green / Pexels
Alex Green / Pexels

The partner with drained energy simply stops putting effort into the relationship, so they stop noticing even the good things. Their attention is outside of the relationship and it can create problems where there are none as the stress spills over into the relationship.

Focuses Perception On Conflicts

The study surveyed a group of married couples every six months over a four-year period and found that stressful events, in areas like work, finance, or health, led to long-term declined satisfaction.

Keira Burton / Pexels
Keira Burton / Pexels

They found that the more stressful events the participants experienced, the more problems they noticed in their relationships. That’s because the stress got them stuck in a loop where the stress spills over into the relationship which creates more stress, which creates more problems.

Over time this strains the trust in the relationship, making it more difficult to make decisions and to show affection. Basically, the problems get worse, and along with them, the perception of the relationship as a whole and life by extension.

Shifting Blame

Stressful events can feel outside of our control, so it’s only a natural response to want to put the blame somewhere. A lot of the time it falls on the relationship and on the partner with whom we share our most vulnerable attachment.

Liza Summer /Pexels
Liza Summer /Pexels

The study explained the spillover of external stress to the relationship by the wives’ tendency to blame relationship problems on their partner. It was interesting to note that the stress spillover only occurred for the women in the study, as wives were more likely to blame relationship problems on their partner rather than the other way around.

That’s not to say that men dealt with their stress well, but that women are more likely than men, in general, to notice relationship problems in the first place.

Proven By Study

The results suggest that the reason stress spillover happens in romantic relationships is that we become more “attuned” to how our partners contribute to problems in our relationships. While we might turn a blind eye when we’re happy, we become more focused and fixated when we’re stressed because we’re already in that state.

Shukhrat Umarov / Pexels
Shukhrat Umarov / Pexels

Another study by Neff and Buck focused on the effects of stressors on couples’ day-to-day lives. A pool of 79 newlywed couples pointed out the stressful experiences they had faced in the last six months and revealed how they covered a wide variety of life domains, such as work, health, personal events, finances, and difficulties with friends or family.

Each partner completed a follow survey daily for ten days to note if they had engaged in any negative behaviors (like criticizing or blaming their partner) or positive behaviors (like showing affection) that day. By contrast, they also rated their partner’s behavior. This allowed the researchers to test how accurately people perceived their partners’ behaviors. There are always two sides to a story!

Happens On A Daily Basis

What the researchers found was that spillover from stressful life events affected how people perceived their partners, obviously. This was what they already suspected. The surveys showed that the more a partner indicated stress, the more they noticed daily changes in their partner’s negative behavior.

couple sitting at outdoor picnic looking angry
Viktoria Slowikowska / Pexels
Viktoria Slowikowska / Pexels

The problem is that over time, the negative behavior becomes what the partner looks for instead of good behavior. It’s like they expect it, so they go looking for it even though they only noticed it in the first place because they were stressed. By contrast, happy couples were more likely to overlook their partners’ occasional bad behavior and let them go, keeping them happier in the relationship over time. This shows that the success of the relationship is all in the mentality.

Feeding Off Of Each Other

The study also noticed an interesting influence that each partner had on the other. They found that if one partner admitted to bad behavior when filling out their daily survey, their partner often didn’t bother reporting r in their own survey. When the partners don’t notice, or it doesn’t linger enough for them to remember it by the end of the day and it passes.

man yelling at woman as she looks away
Timur Weber / Pexels
Timur Weber / Pexels

On the other hand, if one partner was stressed, the stressed partner was more likely to notice their spouse’s negative behavior and report it on their daily survey. That means they held on to the negative behavior and became resentful. Do you see how easy it is to get stuck in a loop when stressed?

Control The Stress

This research shows that the effects of outside stress on our relationships are within our control and perception. If we allow the stress to take over, it taints our perception of the person we love. We get stuck on the negatives and don’t let them go which creates a negative cycle of conflict and stress on a daily basis.

David Garrison / Pexels
David Garrison / Pexels

However, all it takes is to go out of their way to look for the positive and to focus on that instead. We may not have control over the outside stresses, but we have control over how we respond. Don’t let the world ruin your relationship.

In any relationship, always look at how you feel and ask yourself: does this person make you love yourself more? Do you want to grow old with them?

Love is more than just kisses and butterflies, it’s much more than that. If you want to know more on what your birth chart reveals about how you love and what you need out of a partner, check out this personalized report based on your date of birth.

For more great relationship advice and tips on how to attain the kind of love you deserve, watch this video from expert, Amy North: Click Here To Watch The Full Video.

Aria Misty

Aria Misty is a recent university grad. She did her undergrad in media, information & technoculture with a Master in Journalism & Communications in 2018.

Aria has a particular interest in all things astrology and spirituality. This is driven by her desire to create healing. In fact, Aria went back to school for A master’s in counseling p[…]