Living Happily Ever After with Stressful Life Events

Couple reading newspaper in bed together

Stressful life events can cause emotional strain that spills over into many areas of an individual’s life. For married couples, the stress of financial obligations, family problems, or health issues can add unwanted distress to an already challenging environment. Spouses already take on the daily responsibilities of maintaining a harmonious relationship with another human being.

But how do stressful life events contribute to the failure or success of intimate relationships?  April A. Buck of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin recently led a study to address this question. The study analyzed how newlyweds responded to daily stressors over a 14-day period.

The goal of the study was to determine if stress depleted emotional resources that individuals need to maintain relationship satisfaction. Specifically, Buck wanted to know if stressors caused couples to expend emotional energy to such a degree that they were left with insufficient emotional energy to cope with their relationship in adaptive ways. She sought to find out whether couples who were willing to work at difficulties and who work long and hard to achieve positive outcomes would succeed regardless of their emotional supply.

For her study, Buck assessed the couples’ amount of self-regulation resources, their relationship behaviors and appraisals, and their levels of stress. Buck found that couples tended to behave more negatively to their spouses on days when they experienced high levels of non-relationship stress compared to days when they had less stress. They also used less affirmative words and actions during times of stress.

Buck discovered that these negative trends were directly the result of taxed self-regulatory emotional resources.  She believes that the results of this study demonstrate the negative effects that non-relationship stress can have on intimate relationships, even happy ones. She added, “These findings suggest that even happy couples may find it difficult to engage in adaptive relationship processes under conditions of stress.”

Reference:
Buck, A. A., Neff, L. A. (2012). Stress spillover in early marriage: The role of self-regulatory depletion. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029260

 

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  • Nikoli

    Nikoli

    August 15th, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    I try so hard not to bring the work stress home with me, but I know that I am not the best at leaving all that behind at the end of the day. Most of the time I just want to come home and collapse and sleep the evening away so I don’t have to think about it anymore, but then there are the family demands and sometimes I just want to run away and hide. Not very manlike huh, but that’s how I feel most days. And then on the weekends I spend it kind of counting down until Monday again when it will start all over. I know that this is taking such a negative toll on my family but I am having a hard time juggling it all.

  • Frances

    Frances

    August 15th, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    Look, we all have bad days from time to time. But I have always felt that it is so unselfish and so unfair to the family to allow that to disrupt your time with that family. Are your kids to blame? Your spouse? The chances are that they are not. So why then should they have to be the ones who have to deal with all of the crap that you choose to bring in the door with you? That’s right, you make that choice to bring all of that home with you. Why not instead choose to leave all that behind, just leave it at the door when you come in from the day? I promise it will all still be there waiting for you in the morning, but for the evening they deserve to have your undivided attention.

  • Michael

    Michael

    August 15th, 2012 at 5:54 PM

    I kind of think you missed the study which is we appear to have a finite amount of emotional resources to deal with stress. Just like we have a finite amount of money to spend. If that is expended or spent elsewhere you cannot deal with things as well. It’s a subtle difference but I think an important one, because once you walk in the front door the die has already cast.

  • joanna

    joanna

    August 15th, 2012 at 11:33 PM

    i know its not easy but how about getting your great relationship to help you get over the non-relationship stress rather than letting the infection grow over to your relationship?thats just dependent on your outlook i suppose?

  • peyton

    peyton

    August 16th, 2012 at 4:27 AM

    There does have to be a little give and take here.

    very unrealistic to think that you can always leave the stress from work behind you.

    I think that for those of us who care a great deal about our jobs and careers, that’s something that is next to impossible.

    Just because I worry about work does not mean that I care less about my family. maybe I have to work a little harder on focusing on home when I am there (and only sometimes! this is not always true!) that doesn’t mean I love my family any less or treat them poorly when I worry about work issues too.

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