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Is Your Partner Bothering You More Than Usual? A New Study Might Explain Why

Couple in a Kitchen Doing Different Things
Image by iStock
September 29, 2022

There are a number of factors that influence the state of your romantic relationship, and stress is certainly one of them. But how, exactly, does stress affect relationships? In a new study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science1, researchers appear to have pinpointed at least one way: It may make you see your partner in a more negative light, even if they have nothing to do with why you're stressed.

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Studying how stress affects romantic relationships.

It's no secret that stress causes issues with everything from sleep to your job and, yes, your relationship. So for this study, researchers wanted to know what, in particular, can happen when stress from our regular lives infiltrates a relationship.

To do so, they surveyed 79 heterosexual newlywed couples about stressful events happening in their life. Then, every night for 10 days, the individuals recorded their own behavior, along with their partner's behavior.

According to relationship researcher and study co-author Lisa Neff, Ph.D., the reason for studying newlyweds is because they're typically in the honeymoon phase and therefore more likely to see each other in a positive light.

What they found.

Based on the findings, it appears stress has a particular way of making people notice negative behaviors in their partners more so than positive behaviors.

"We found that individuals who reported experiencing more stressful life events outside of their relationship, such as problems at work, were especially likely to notice if their partner behaved in an inconsiderate manner," Neff explains in a news release.

It's also worth noting that the results didn't indicate that simply having one bad day yielded these results but rather accumulated stress over time.

That means, if you know you've been stressed out lately, you may want to prioritize recognizing when your stress is bubbling over into other areas of your life, noticing when you may be unnecessarily scrutinizing your partner, and letting them know when you're feeling the effects of stress.

"If stress focuses individuals' attention toward their partner's more inconsiderate behaviors, this is likely to take a toll on the relationship," says Neff.

She adds that going forward, researchers ought to look into how this study might play out in couples beyond the newlywed phase. "But the fact that we found these effects in a sample of newlyweds speaks to how impactful the effects of stress can be," she adds.

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The takeaway.

The bottom line is, if you've been stressed out and your partner seems to really be getting under your skin, this research suggests the stress itself may be affecting the way you're interpreting your partner's actions. The good news is, when you notice that happening, you can give your partner some grace—and maybe lean into some stress-busting practices.

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