Here’s What You Can Do To Support Your Partner, Improve Your Health During The Holidays And Beyond Opinion


Rosie shrout, Purdue University

With the hustle and bustle of shopping, spending, and trips to see family, stress can seem inevitable while on vacation.

You might already know that stress can affect your own health, but what you might not realize is that your stress – and the way you are dealing with it – is catching you. Your stress can spread, especially to those close to you.

Like a socio-health psychologist, I have developed a model on how partners and their stress influence each other’s psychological and biological health. Through this and my other research, I have learned that the quality of intimate relationships is crucial for the health of people.

Here is just a sample: Relationship stress can affect the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems. A study on newlyweds found that stress hormone levels were higher when couples were hostile during conflict – that is, when they were critical, sarcastic, spoke unpleasantly, and used aggravating facial expressions, like rolled eyes.

Likewise, in another study, people in hostile relationships had slower healing, higher inflammation, higher blood pressure and larger changes in heart rate during the conflict. Middle-aged and older men had higher blood pressure at times when their wives have reported greater stress. And partners who thought they weren’t taken care of or understood had poorer well-being and higher death rates 10 years later compared to those who felt more cared for and valued by their partner.

“How to deal with the stress of the holidays? “

Conflict and cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone that plays a key role in the body’s response to stress. Cortisol has a daytime rhythm, so its levels are usually highest soon after waking up and then gradually decline throughout the day. But chronic stress can lead to unhealthy cortisol patterns, such as low cortisol levels upon waking up or cortisol not dropping much at the end of the day. These patterns are associated with increased disease development and risk of death.

My colleagues and I discovered that this conflict altered cortisol levels couples on the day of their argument; people with stressed partners who behaved negatively during the conflict had higher cortisol levels even four hours after the conflict ended.

These results suggest that arguing with an already stressed partner could have lasting biological effects on our health.

To manage stress

Here are three ways to reduce stress in your relationship, during and after the holidays.

First of all, discuss and validate each other. Let your partner know that you understand their feelings. Talk about big and small things before they escalate. Sometimes partners hide problems to protect themselves, but it can actually make it worse. Share your feelings and when your partner shares back, don’t interrupt. Remember, feel taken care of and understood by a partner is good for your emotional well-being and promotes healthier cortisol patterns, so being there for each other and listening to each other can have good effects on you and your partner’s health.

Following, show your love. Hug each other, hold hands, and be nice. It also lowers cortisol and may make you happier. A study found that a fulfilling relationship can even help improve vaccine response.

Then remember that you are part of a team. Think about solutions, be each other’s cheerleaders and celebrate victories together. Couples who unite to combat stress are healthier and more satisfied with their relationships. Some examples: cook dinner or go shopping when your partner is stressed; relax and remember together; or try a new restaurant, dance class or exercise together.

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Having said that, it is also true that sometimes these steps are not enough. Many couples will still need help managing their stress and dealing with their difficulties. Couples therapy helps partners learn to communicate and effectively resolve conflicts. It is essential to be proactive and seek help from someone who is trained to cope with persistent relationship difficulties.

So this holiday season, let your partner know that you are there for them, preferably while you are hugging each other. Take each other’s stress seriously, and no more prying eyes. It’s not so much the stress itself; it’s how the two of you deal with stress together. Working as an open and honest team is the key ingredient in a healthy and happy relationship, during the holidays and at the start of the New Year.

Rosie shrout, assistant professor in human development and family studies, Purdue University

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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