June 9, 2024



You missed an appointment you’d been waiting on for months because the car is acting up again. You just got a call from your son’s school about some behavior issues, and – oh look, the dog threw up on the carpet. ARGH! You’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, to say the least. Now, your spouse walks in looking serious and wants to talk.

Let’s hit pause here for a second. What do you think happens next? It’s probably pretty safe to assume that you aren’t in the best state of mind for a serious conversation with your partner. In fact, here are four communication mistakes we tend to make when we’re stressed out or overwhelmed.

1. We lose control of our tone and body language.

It’s not what you say, but how you say it, right? When you’re stressed out, anxious, or overwhelmed, you’re probably feeling a little amped up. This makes it harder to control the nuances of striking just the right tone or aligning your non-verbal language with your verbal. Your words themselves might be innocuous enough, but your impatient tone, exasperated sigh, or defensively crossed arms send a prickly message that might make your spouse shut down.

2. Our listening skills deteriorate.

Communication isn’t just about talking; the other side of the coin is being a good listener. And a major part of being a good listener is giving your full attention. That means avoiding not only external distractions like your phone, but also internal distractions like an overstimulated mind. Your partner is telling you about a problem with a coworker; meanwhile, your mind is in a completely different place, maybe running through a to-do list or puzzling out a solution for the dilemma that’s causing your own stress.

3. We have a low capacity for empathy.

When you’re dealing with your own stuff mentally, it takes a lot of effort and intention to put that aside and respond empathetically to your spouse, especially if they’re coming to you with issues that seem to be adding to your stress. Without empathy, we tend to criticize or judge, which can often lead to more conflict.

4. We jump to conclusions.

A bad mood can affect how we interpret the words and actions of our partner. When your mind feels cluttered and overstimulated, it can have a similar effect. They make an innocent comment, and in response you get overly defensive or assume they’re not speaking with the best intentions. Instead of really listening and seeing the whole picture, your’ve already decided why they said what they did. Unfortunately, jumping to conclusions and making assumptions about our spouse’s intentions often results in conflict.

A realistic solution

When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it’s normal to feel like you’re not at your best. That doesn’t mean we can’t strive to get better at handling our own emotions and working to improve our communication. Realistically though, no one is perfect. We’re going to get caught up in emotion from time to time, and our communication skills might suffer as a result. Having the self-awareness to know when that is happening and being able to communicate that to your spouse can often go a long way in preventing the interaction from taking a negative or hostile turn. That might sound like, “I’m sorry I snapped at you. I’m feeling very stressed out about work and not in a great mindset to talk. Let me decompress for a few minutes and I’ll come find you.” This not only lets your partner know that you’re not angry with them, it also gives them the opportunity to support you – bonus points if you can tell them what you need, whether that’s a hug or some alone time.

It seems simple enough, but good communication is hard to master even under the best conditions. Throw in some mental and emotional hurdles, and things can get even more complicated. But the reality is, you’re going to face periods of stress or an occasional crisis. Understanding how that affects your communication is the first step in preventing your marriage from taking the brunt of it.

For more information like this listen to Family Life Today weekdays at 9 and 10 AM on WBLN-LP 104.9 Glens Falls, NY. FamilyLife is passionate about helping families pursue the relationships that matter most. Hosted by Dave and Ann Wilson the daily FamilyLife Today® program offers practical help and biblical hope for the challenges facing today’s families—all in a setting that is candid, honest and entertaining too.