Move Over Love Languages, It’s Time to Learn Your Partner’s Stress Language

stress languages"
stress languages
Source: @cottonbro | Pexels
Source: @cottonbro | Pexels

We’re all familiar with love languages—you know, the way that describes how people like to receive and express love in a relationship. It’s a concept that has dominated the dating scene and relationship world since its inception in 1992, thanks to its ability to help people understand their needs in a relationship. But now, there’s another important language to consider: Stress Languages.

Coined by wellness expert and author of Settled: How to Find Calm in a Stress-Inducing World, Chantal Donnelly, stress languages refer to the way we react to and express that we are stressed. Claimed to be relationship game-changers, I set out to find all there is to know about the new term and what learning them can mean for our relationships. Ahead, everything you need to know about stress languages, from the definition of each to what to do if you have a different one than your partner, and even more in between.

The impact of stress on relationships

We all know that stress can wreak havoc on our mental health and well-being, so it should come as no surprise that it can negatively impact our relationships, too. No matter how good you are at handling it, stress is draining AF. It depletes the energy and resources you’d otherwise use toward your partner and relationship, zaps your patience, inhibits libido, and makes you more irritable and withdrawn. And when this happens, you become more susceptible to fighting with and alienating your partner and taking your frustrations out on them undeservedly.

No matter how you spin it, the impact stress has on relationships can be a recipe for disaster. Not only can it lead to a lack of intimacy and emotional support, but also a communication breakdown. All of these things can create a major divide between the two of you, which is why understanding how to navigate your stress, as well as your partner’s, is so important.

The five stress languages explained

stress languages

The Fixer

You know those people who immediately jump into action over everything? This is them. Donnelly explained in a TikTok video that people with this stress language try to fix situations when they’re not invited to or even need to be fixed. They might look helpful and capable on the surface, but they often do more harm than good. They might cross boundaries, become nagging or overbearing, or try to parent their partner. For example, a fixer might insist on choosing their partner’s clothes when they’re stressed because they don’t trust them to make the right choice.

The Denier

This stress language is exactly what it sounds like. “Deniers are going to be people who throw toxic positivity around, even at themselves,” Donnelly said. They’ll choose to look at the glass half-full even when they’re struggling and should tend to their feelings or they will suppress and minimize negative emotions. Likewise, they might also have an “ignore it until it goes away” mentality and act as if the problem doesn’t exist.

The Numb-er

Everyone wants to escape once in a while, but numb-ers will essentially numb their stress with distractions. Because if you can’t think about it, it can’t hurt or overwhelm you, right? Wrong. According to Donnelly, people with this stress language gravitate toward coping strategies such as alcohol or other substances, spending more time on a screen (like their phone, computer, or TV), or even overworking.

The Exploder

Exploders have a fight-or-flight stress response. Their brain tells their body that there’s an immediate danger, and they act accordingly by “exploding” on their partner. Donnelly explained that people with this stress language will become aggressive and angry and are quick to criticize or point the finger, assigning blame to someone or something else. Someone with this stress language might exhibit reactive rage, paranoia, or catastrophic thinking, storm off in the middle of a conversation, or blame their partner for their stress.

The Imploder

Unlike exploders, imploders internalize their stress. According to Donnelly, they take on stress as if they’re the root cause of it, which creates a lot of self-criticism and shame. For example, someone with this stress language will chastise and degrade themselves with negative self-thoughts or talk, like “I can never do anything right,” “I’m so stupid,” or “Everything’s always my fault.”

The benefits of knowing your partner’s stress language

On the Empowered Relationship Podcast with Dr. Jessica Higgins, Donnelly explained that our stress response is biological and formed as a protection mechanism throughout our lives. This is why some people retreat inward when they’re stressed while others erupt and use their partner as a scapegoat, distract themselves with work or partying, cover up their feelings with toxic positivity, or search endlessly for solutions. We all react to and handle stressors differently.

Knowing your partner’s stress language can help you reach a greater understanding and connection in your relationship. It can admittedly be hard not to take things personally or get defensive when your partner’s taking out their stress on you or is distant because of it. But understanding where their behavior’s coming from won’t make you feel this way. You’re able to recognize what they need in that moment, whether it’s a scapegoat or space. Likewise, this will foster more empathy between the two of you and create a stronger bond that stress won’t be able to tear apart.

Of course, none of this is to say that it’s OK for your partner to tear you down left and right because that’s how they handle stress—because it’s absolutely not. Rather, it should be used to recognize their behavior and vice versa so you can come to a mutual understanding and work on growing individually and as a couple. If you can do that, your relationship will be all the better for it.

How to identify your stress language and your partner’s

The good news is that you don’t need fancy medical equipment or a Ph.D. to figure out your stress language or your partner’s. Start by paying attention to how you respond during times of high stress; this will clue you in on whether you distract yourself like a numb-er, lash out like an exploder, bottle up your emotions like a denier, jump into action like a fixer, or blame yourself for your stress like an imploder. Pay attention to your partner’s behavior as well, and don’t be afraid to ask for their opinion. They might be able to point out coping mechanisms or behaviors you didn’t think of or missed.

Once you’ve taken the time to do this, sit down and have an open discussion with your partner about each of your stress languages. Keep in mind that people can have a blend of stress languages the same way they can have a mix of love languages; certain situations might bring one stress response out while another brings out a different one. Doing this will ultimately help you understand one another better, which in turn will help you grow as a couple.

That said, Donnelly says that the stress languages are not meant to be used as labels or to criticize or judge one another. Instead, they’re meant to provide insight. So from here, make a joint effort to actively become more aware of your reactions to stress. This will help both of you better learn the warning signs and what to look for so you’ll know when to take a step back and treat yourself to some rest and relaxation before it’s too late.

What to do if you have different stress languages

If you have a different stress language than your partner, don’t stress—seriously. As someone whose significant other has a different stress response than them, I can attest that this does not doom your relationship. However, understanding each other’s stress language can help you know where the other is coming from.

For example, my stress language is a combination of denier and exploder; whenever I’m stressed, my natural reaction is to laugh things off or look at the bright side, and I’ll unknowingly bottle up my emotions to the point where I explode. My fiancé, on the other hand, is an imploder—he internalizes everything and often reverts to engaging in negative self-talk. So, we’ve had to learn how to deal with our stress languages individually and as a couple. For me, this means meditating every morning, sitting with all my emotions, and talking about them. For him, this means talking about what’s bothering him instead of keeping it all to himself.

If you have different stress languages, start by having an open and honest discussion with each other. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes isn’t always easy, so walk each other through what goes on in your mind and body when you’re going through stress and what you need to combat it. This might mean having some space to engage in self-care, venting and having your emotions validated, or going out for dinner to talk it through.

When it comes down to it, stress languages can foster healthy coping mechanisms, growth, strong communication, and more empathy between you and your partner. Essentially, it’s the key to dealing with the highs and lows of life as a couple. And that is something we can all get on board with.