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Stress

4 Questions to Ask About How Well Your Partner Knows You

Ask yourself these questions to find out if your partner really knows you.

Anna Kraynova/Shutterstock
Source: Anna Kraynova/Shutterstock

There are many possible ways to find out if your partner really understands you, but perhaps none are as important as finding out if your partner will be there for you when you're stressed. Going through a difficult life transition can make people feel isolated and afraid. During these times, it’s the people in our closest circle who can best alleviate the strain and unhappiness associated with change. When you're the one going through a tough period in life, who will really be there for you? Can you count on your partner?

Not everyone experiences stress the same way. One person’s stress may be another’s source of energy and happiness. Because stress is in the eye of the beholder, there’s no absolute way to classify an event as stressful or not. A partner who truly cares about you will be able to predict the events that can cause you to snap, and be ready to alleviate your burden as you struggle to get past them.

Perhaps you've wondered if your partner really does understand what leads you to feel stressed. Perhaps you're not quite sure yourself. According to University of Messina (Italy)’s Teresa Buccheri and colleagues (2018), there are ways to catalog stress into understandable categories. Her team wished to capture, in one comprehensive measure, “a reasonable and balanced representation of events” (p. 179). The findings of their study can help you understand what stresses you out and why. You can also use these findings to learn how much your partner really knows about you.

Buccheri and colleagues developed a measure of stressful life events by asking a large and diverse group of parents of young children (N = 497) to rate how much they'd experienced a set of fairly typical stressful life events. Participants also rated their levels of social support availability and outcomes in terms of depression, anxiety, and stress.

The four categories of stressful life events discovered by Buccheri et al. were:

  1. Social and financial readjustment (being laid off, major personal injury or illness, taking on a large mortgage), along with changes in habits and family dynamics (a child’s changing to a new school).
  2. Changes in amount and type of recreation (marriage, divorce, and separation).
  3. Social misconduct and work-time challenges (retirement, trouble with the boss, vacation, detention, in-law troubles).
  4. Death or change in relationship (death of a partner or close family member or friend, and son or daughter leaving home).

In general, all of the stressful life events scores were associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety. Importantly, however, people who reported receiving higher levels of social support were less impacted by the occurrence of stressful life events. Personal coping strategies also moderated the stress-illness connection; as the authors observed, “individuals who reported feeling calm and peaceful and having a lot of energy” were less affected by these stressful experiences.

Now let's think about how the Italian study can inform your knowledge of your partner's understanding of you. These 4 questions will tell you how well your partner knows you, and therefore is able to be your source of social support:

1. Does your partner understand what causes you to feel the most stressed?

The Buccheri et al. study showed that what’s stressful for one person isn’t stressful for another. Even “changes in recreation” can serve as tough transitions, according to this study. Falling into the category of “change in habits and family dynamics,” scores on this item were even more significant than relationship changes, such as marriage, divorce, and separation from partner. Holidays can also be stressful, falling into the category of “work-time challenges” along with imprisonment. Being fired, retiring, and experiencing a major illness may seem more obviously stressful, but so can a major change in the number of family get-togethers. If your partner really understands you, he or she will be supportive even if the stressor seems relatively trivial.

2. Is your partner available as a sounding board?

It can be a great relief for people going through a difficult time to be able to confide in their partners. Your partner can be more objective than you, because he or she isn't directly enmeshed in the situation. Perhaps you're feeling guilty for not being able to change your schedule to pick the kids up from their new school. Rather than play on your guilt, can your partner listen to you and allow you to express your frustration? Someone who truly cares about you will be able to provide the realistic view that there really is no choice in this situation.

3. Does your partner provide corrective, but sensitive alternative perspectives?

Let’s say you're feeling stressed and depleted due to an overly demanding boss. Can your partner come up with suggestions about a different way of handling the stress at work than the method you have chosen? Maybe you're being too touchy, or perhaps you actually aren't putting in enough effort, causing the boss to be demanding and critical. A partner who cares about you will be able to suggest ways to change so that you don't end up actually losing your job due to your own shortcomings.

4. Does your partner know your favorite stress-busters?

As shown in the Italian study, social support provides a way to counteract the effect of stress, but so do personal coping strategies. People who were highly anxious were more affected by death or the ending of a relationship, and those who remained calm and peaceful were more resilient. When your partner sees you losing control of your emotions, does he or she know what will help you feel better? Maybe you most like to cook, garden, or play Monopoly. A partner who knows you well encourages you to take a mental break and comes up with ideas that will help you calm down.

By asking yourself these 4 questions, you'll get a better sense of how well your partner knows you. They also provide a road map for finding greater fulfillment as you and your partner learn how best to support each other through life's inevitable stressful periods.

References

Buccheri, T., Musaad, S., Bost, K. K., & Fiese, B. H. (2018). Development and assessment of stressful life events subscales—A preliminary analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 226178-187. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2017.09.046

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