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Stress, Irritability, and Relationships

footprintsYou always hurt the ones you love, as the old saying goes.  And the reason is, they’re the ones who see us at our worst–at our most stressed and, therefore, irritable–and we know that they’re not as likely to hold it against us in the long run.  Snap at your boss, or at a client, and there might be no recovering.  But your husband, he’s got to forgive you, right?

Well, it might look that way.  But the effect of taking out your stress on others can be cumulative, and you might be doing damage you can’t immediately see.

So what’s a girl (or a guy) to do?It’s important to get more proactive about recognizing the stress you’re under, and asking for help.  Your partner will take much more kindly to, “Hey, honey, could you please…?” than “Why don’t you ever…?!!!”

Sometimes you can prevent a bad mood by realizing that a situation will be hard for you and planning accordingly.  Sometimes irritability can catch us by surprise.  But the thing to remember is that we’re all responsible for what we do once we get in a mood.

It might mean that we need to step away when we feel ourselves on the verge of snapping.  We might need to do some deep breathing, or remind ourselves that it’s not actually as bad as it temporarily feels.  We might need a quick gratitude check (realizing that there are people who have it way worse, and that there are ways in which we’re fortunate.)

The fact that you’re getting irritable with your partner is not necessarily the sign of an unhealthy relationship. Sometimes, the fact that we feel safe enough to express ourselves completely, unedited, is a sign that we are securely attached.  Oddly, it can mean that the relationship is healthy.

But if you keep letting yourself unload on those closest to you, you might not stay securely attached.  The other person might no longer feel safe with you.  As I said, the damage could be subtle but cumulative.

If you find that you’re repeatedly taking out your stress and annoyance on a loved one, it’s time to reflect.  Is your life organized in a way that increases, rather than decreases, your stress?  Do you have a variety of stress management tools at your disposal, and do you use them consistently?  Are you being too easy on yourself, or too hard?  Are  you actually angry at your partner on a deeper level and it’s manifesting in outbursts over small, or seemingly unrelated, things?  In short, what in your life needs changing?

Because if you’re often upset with the people around you, it’s an indicator that something is off, and needs to be attended to, either inside you, in the arrangement of your life, or in your relationships.  Slowing down and taking stock is always a good first step.

Couple on the beach image available from Shutterstock.

Stress, Irritability, and Relationships

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2013). Stress, Irritability, and Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Nov 2013
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