Q&A: Dealing with stress differently

Q: I’m recently married. My husband and I are discovering (the hard way) that we deal with life stresses differently, and we’re struggling to understand each other. What can we do?

A: Welcome to married life – and a reality check! Stress can often cause us to function in an out-of-balance mode where we end up operating in the extremes of our personalities. This perhaps occurs most often when we feel pressured.

Research shows that men and women deal with stress differently. As a man’s stress level increases, his body produces more oxytocin hormone, which is further influenced by testosterone. These chemicals trigger a fight-or-flight response. In other words, when stressed, men either act more aggressively or withdraw (we like to say “go into their cave”).

Women also produce more oxytocin, but it’s coupled with oestrogen and has a different result: When stressed, women tend to lean into relationships, either protectively nurturing their children or seeking out other female friends. Researchers have called this the “tend-and-befriend” response.

Basically, these chemical reactions set men and women up to respond very differently during times of stress – the perfect combination for conflict. Women want to connect, while men may feel more ready to pick a fight or withdraw. Understanding that contrast can go a long way toward helping you find common ground.

Note – sometimes gender differences can seem pretty stereotypical. This scenario may look somewhat different in your marriage, but researchers have found it to occur in many relationships.

How you respond to your spouse when they’re under stress has a direct impact on their behaviour toward you – and, of course, vice versa. As you continue to understand how your spouse is different, it allows you to love them more fully. If you’d like more ideas for ways to connect and thrive as a couple, explore our Articles.

© 2018 Focus on the Family.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

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