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Studies

Stress can make you focus on your lover’s bad habits

Negative actions being monitored included a spouse breaking a promise, showing anger or impatience, or criticizing their partner.

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Confused young woman gesturing with hand and looking at her boyfriend while sitting in a cafe at the park outdoors
The study indicated that even the honeymoon phase of a marriage can be impacted by stress. (Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Stress can make people focus more on their lover's bad habits - even for married couples still in the "honeymoon" period of their relationship, warns a new study.

Previous research has shown that stressful life circumstances can affect how couples interact.

However, the new study shows that someone experiencing stress is more likely to notice their spouse’s negative behavior than positive.

Researchers now believe that stress could affect what actions partners notice in the first place.

The negative actions being monitored included a spouse breaking a promise, showing anger or impatience, or criticizing their partner.

people, relationship difficulties, conflict and family concept - angry couple having argument
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

Study lead author Dr. Lisa Neff, of the University of Texas, said: "We found that individuals who reported experiencing more stressful life events outside of their relationship, such as problems at work, were especially likely to notice if their partner behaved in an inconsiderate manner."

The research team asked 79 heterosexual newlywed couples to complete a short survey each night for 10 days, in which they documented both their own and their partner’s behavior.

Before the study period began, participants completed a questionnaire in which they shared details on stressful events in their life.

Dr. Neff says that studying newlyweds drives home the significance of the results, because couples are especially likely to focus on each other’s positive behavior and overlook negative actions during the “honeymoon” period.

She said: “For many people, the past few years have been difficult – and the stress of the pandemic continues to linger.

“If stress focuses individuals’ attention toward their partner’s more inconsiderate behaviors, this is likely to take a toll on the relationship.”

The researchers noted a single stressful day was not enough to make someone zero in on their partner’s negative behavior, but a longer accumulation of stressful life circumstances could cause a shift in focus.

The findings, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science also suggest that those under stress were not any less likely to notice their partner’s positive behavior, but they were more likely to notice inconsiderate actions.

While it’s possible that being aware of the effects of stress could allow couples to correct their behavior and limit harm to their relationship, Dr. Neff noted that this will remain speculation until it is studied further.

She said future research would do well to expand the study beyond the honeymoon phase.

Dr. Neff added: “One direction would be to examine if the harmful effects of stress might be even stronger among couples no longer in the newlywed phase of their relationships.

"But the fact that we found these effects in a sample of newlyweds speaks to how impactful the effects of stress can be.”

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