Bastards, bitches, and the stress implosion

You’re unhappy about something. Maybe something about something at work. You want to share it with your partner. But next thing you know, you’re feeling bitterly disappointed. Your partner just wasn’t there for you. Couldn’t give you the time of day! Or else they turned the whole thing around and make it about them! And the two of you had a fight. The bastard! Or, the bitch! As the case may be.


What’s going on here? Why do these things happen? Why are our partners so often not there for us?

Well, there are lots of reasons. Narcissistic personality disorder. Psychopathy. Profound stupidity. Sheer evil.


But the most common, frequently-occurring reason people run into this disappointment is what we call “the stress implosion.” Now I may be great or merely okay at being there for the people in my life, but the main determiner of how good I’ll be on any particular occasion is how much stress I’m under. Outer stress from things like work. Inner stress from things like anxiety.

And the way that works is simplicity itself. If I’m under no stress at all, it’s as if I’m carrying no packages. So if you need me to be there for you, I, being unburdened, will find it easy to do that. But the more stressed I am—the more packages I’m carrying—the harder it will be for me to carry what I’m carrying and at the same time try to carry some of your load.

The stress implosion happens because the more stress you have the less ability you have to focus on anyone but yourself. That’s just a fact, Jack.

Because the truth is—and call it a cynical truth if you like—that in a relationship your problem is my burden. Yes, that’s harsh, but emotionally it’s right. If you and I are going for a walk, all’s well. If you suddenly turn your ankle and can barely walk, now your problem is my burden. I might feel, because I love you, that I’m overjoyed at the thought of helping you, that it would be unthinkable that I’d do anything other than helping you. All true. But let’s face it, the value of a “nice walk” is seriously diluted for me by having to heft a wincing limper around.

And if I’m already burdened, all the more so.

So whenever we need our partner to be there for us, we’re walking into their stress movie. We’re walking into just how stressed out they are, which exactly equals how little they’ll be able to be there for us.

And we might not know there’s any stress implosion going on. I might come home from work after having one of the worst days of my life. But maybe I have the ability to put on an “I’m okay” mask. Maybe I want to put on that mask, because I don’t want to deal with anything. I just want a nice routine evening where no one deals with anything and we go to bed early. How could you know?

It’s just that if you drop a problem of yours on me, I’m running on empty, and yet what you experience is my being a bastard or a bitch. Not because I am, but because my circumstances, my stress implosion, have robbed me of my ability to use whatever tools I may have.

What, then, do we do about this?


There’s an easy and highly effective solution you can use, although it can go against the grain of who you think you are to one another.

Before you dump a problem or complaint on your partner, ask if this is a good time for that. Remember that dumping a problem on your partner without asking is a power move. But by asking permission first, you assure that when you do get to talk about it, your partner will be in a state of minimal stress.

What goes against the grain, of course, is the idea that true love is perfect freedom. “Two people who are truly in love don’t have to watch their words. Love means never having to say I’m sorry.” You just say what’s on your mind and let the chips fall where they may, even though you may end up living amidst huge piles of chips.

Hey, do what you want! All I’m saying is, if you want to avoid the one factor most responsible for people feeling their partner wasn’t there for them, then this solution is what works. Ask if this is a good time. Then there’s no disappointment, and your needs get met. Maybe they don’t get met now, but they weren’t going to get met now anyway.

For more understanding of what power moves are and how they screw up you getting your needs met in your relationship, check out Why Couples Fight.

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