The seven habits of highly stressed people and highly stressed relationships – and what you can do about them

We all need supportive relationships to get through challenging times, but sometimes the people we love the most can cause us the highest levels of stress. If your partner, family or children are getting you down, why not check through our list of stress-inducing habits and see if any of them sound familiar?

Not knowing your limits

People under stress often find it difficult to differentiate between their ‘zone of influence’ and their ‘zone of concern’. In a car, for example, our ‘zone of influence’ is our ability to manoeuvre our car skilfully on a busy road; our ‘zone of concern’, on the other hand, might include the worries we might feel if stuck in a traffic jam. We have no influence, however, over the latter; the only thing that we can alter is our response to it.

Relationships are the same. We might be ‘concerned’ about our partner, but at the end of the day ‘our zone of influence’ remains our own behaviour. Thinking that we can control a loved one is merely a source of stress.

Living without purpose

If you don’t know what you want from life, you’re far more likely to be blown in directions that you feel are wrong. To clarify what really matters to you, write down on separate pieces of card all the important ingredients in your life (work, relationships, children, hobbies, dreams, etc.), and then arrange them in order from the most to the least important.

Once you have properly assessed your values, you will find it much easier to prioritise when conflict arises.

Looking over your shoulder

One of the most stressful habits of modern life is our tendency constantly to compare ourselves to others. But you must remember that even though other families or couples or individuals may look happier, richer or more fulfilled, you will never know what really happens behind closed doors. Trying to compete, or letting others make you feel inferior, stops you concentrating on your own unique talents and goals.

Not saying no

The hardest thing in the world is to say ‘no’ to somebody you love. However, if you don’t learn to refuse, at least some of the time, you run the risk of becoming overloaded and resentful. It’s worth taking time to consider which requests you are happy to fulfill and which you are not. Having worked out your own test of when to say no, you are less likely to be caught on the hop and to agree to something that leads to stress.

Not keeping other people informed

Good communication is the key to stress-free relationships. Letting your partner know when you are under pressure, rather than expecting them to guess, can help the whole family plan ahead to lighten the load. Allotting ten minutes each evening for you and your partner to share your experiences of the day and explain its stresses will strengthen your bond and increase the chances of you both feeling understood.


Blame is one of the most toxic habits in relationships. Constant criticism builds up barriers and leaves everyone diminished. It’s natural to argue – and it can be useful to clear the air and update how we feel – but it is essential to learn to forgive. Otherwise, the pain from one day transfers to the next.

If you find it hard to stop blaming your partner, why not try and reframe the dispute and ask yourself, ‘What part of the argument is my fault?’ Ultimately, we have to take responsibility for our own feelings.

Not accepting that change is inevitable

With the world moving more quickly than ever before, we often take refuge at home and cling to all that is familiar. We want our partner to remain the same; we don’t want our children to grow up and leave home. But unless a relationship changes and grows it will begin to wither, and the great irony is that the more we struggle to keep things the same, the greater the pain we experience. Try to see change at home as an opportunity rather than a threat.


About Andrew G. Marshall

Andrew G Marshall is the UK's best known marital therapist with over twenty-five years' experience. His self-help books include the international best-seller 'I love you but I'm not in love with you' which has been translated into over fifteen different languages. He also offers private counselling and workshops in London and writes for the Mail on Sunday, The Times, The Guardian and Psychologies.

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