My girlfriend and I have polar ways of handling stress and conflict.
I come from a very conflict-averse family: when one parent is angry for something (not necessarily for reasons related to the partner), the other one just takes a step back without intervening at all. At the other end of the spectrum, her parents yell at each other and at her over the smallest issue. We took our ways of dealing with conflict after our families.
Regarding stress, I don't build up it very easily, and I don't complain, as I think it's an ineffective way to deal with a problem. I come across as happy and carefree, even if it's not the case. She is the opposite: she's quite vocal about her problems and tends to be stressed out often. You can easily tell when she's angry, there is this distinct "storm approaching" feeling when she passes by.
The combo of these two is that when she's stressed out, she is aggressive and blunt, even if I'm not the source of the stress. While she behaves like this, I paralyze and I don't know how to react to make her feel better. Note that we are both aware of our issues, as we talked through them some times. She's working on reducing her aggressiveness, which was actually way worse some months ago.
Right now she's having an objectively stressful period. She only works two hours very early in the morning, and she has the rest of her day free, but she's too exhausted to do anything substantial. Moreover, we live in a flat together with other six people, most of them being younger than us. So most of the time she's surrounded by guys leading a careless life, being late at night, smoking weed etc, which reminds her even more of her monastic life. The main outcome is that she's completely worn out and has bad days pretty frequently.
This morning she was angry once more, and since I wasn't able to tell her anything to relieve her stress, she accused me of being self-centered and to chicken out every time she needs help. I can't say I completely disagree with her on it.
My question is: How can I respond properly when she stresses out?
The outcomes I desire are:
- I want her to rely on me when she's stressed.
- While helping her, I want to handle her aggressiveness and reduce/redirect it so that I don't stress out as well.
The things I already tried and didn't work:
- Ignoring it - only makes things worse.
- Leaving her alone - she will sort her problem someway, but it's not really useful from me.
- Distracting her - she feels like I'm downplaying her reasons to be stressed.