What Is Crossover Stress & How Can It Harm Your Relationship? We Asked A Psychotherapist

Have you ever felt your other half's workplace stress for an impending deadline or a micromanaging boss as though it were your own? This is called crossover stress, and needless to say, it isn't a pleasant experience. Empathetic couples supporting each other's emotional needs and being invested in the well-being of one another can indicate a healthy relationship, but taking on stress that isn't ours can also create additional problems. 

To learn more about what exactly crossover stress is and how it can harm relationships, we spoke to Dr. Courtney Tracy, licensed psychotherapist and founder of Exist Centers. "Crossover stress is when stress from one part of your life, like your job, starts melting into another part, like your family time. It's when the lines between your different roles get blurred and you can't seem to take the load off no matter where you are," Dr. Tracy exclusively shared with Gliz.

This snowballing of stress from one environment to another might not be apparent at first and can be tricky to identify in its early stages. "This kind of stress sneaks up on you because it makes it tough to find any place or time where you can truly relax and feel at ease," Dr. Tracy explained. "Imagine a backpack full of worries that just keeps getting heavier. No matter where you're at or what you're doing, you can't put it down." Ready to learn more about identifying sneaky crossover stress and keeping it at bay? 

Crossover stress can weaken your bond if left unchecked

If workplace stress — or stress from any other outside source — is left unchecked, you or your partner may begin to see the relationship itself as the source of the turmoil. The spillover might look like increased conflict, communication issues, or one or both partners shutting down more often. "Feeling stressed out all the time can make you more irritable and less patient, which might lead to more arguments and fewer happy moments with those you care about," Dr. Courtney Tracy exclusively shared with Gliz.

Essentially, when the stress from work is just too much and you aren't able to be present with your partner or family, it's time to examine the possibility of burnout and whether or not the job is sustainable for you — before the ricochet effect of the stress impacts your relationship too deeply. "You might find yourself pulling away or reacting more harshly, not because you want to push your loved ones away, but because the stress is just too much to handle," Dr. Tracy explained. "Over time, this can weaken the trust and support you've built together, even though it's the last thing you want to happen."

Healthy work-life boundaries are key to avoid crossover stress

There may be times, such as busy seasons or around big project deadlines, when workplace pressure is inevitable and traces of it follow you home. However, joyful activities and hobbies can offset some of this pressure and create a better overall work-life balance, which is healthy for many reasons. "It's key to make clear cut-offs between work and personal time to get a handle on this," Dr. Courtney Tracy exclusively told Gliz. "Doing stuff you love or getting some exercise can help chill you out, and chatting with someone who gets it can also make a big difference." 

Alternatively, if you're the one taking on your partner's stress, you may need to establish emotional boundaries. For example, think of yourself as a pillar for your other half rather than absorbing the anxiety in the relationship and, in turn, creating more. Moreover, there might also be instances where the crossover stress simply indicates that a job doesn't align with you or your partner's personalities or lifestyle and a change is necessary. "Trying to stay in the moment helps clear your head. But if this stress doesn't ease up, it might be a sign you're dealing with more than your fair share and maybe it's time to think about looking for a job that's a bit less overwhelming," Dr. Tracy told Gliz.