Having an unsupportive partner can cause stress for many apparent reasons. For one, it can lead to resentment if you don’t feel your partner puts in the same effort. The longer you bottle up these feelings, the stronger they become. These stressors make it difficult to attend to other responsibilities.

An unsupportive partner can make you feel lonely and isolated, even in a relationship. When your needs aren’t met, you start to feel unsure about the future of your relationship. All this mental and emotional turmoil will inevitably cause stress if your partner isn’t willing to change.

A partner should add value to your life and take some burdens off your shoulders. They should never be a source of stress or any other negative emotions. Below, we’ll go over the science that shows why unsupportive partners can lead to poor health.

Study Confirms That Unsupportive Partners Increase Stress

While every couple deals with stress, certain pre-existing conditions can lessen or exacerbate it. For instance, a partner with mental illness or previously divorced parents may already have a heightened stress response.

So, handling the burden of a natural disaster, poverty, or unemployment could seem overwhelming to them. Both external and internal stressors influence a couple’s ability to adapt to challenges.

Characteristics of an unsupportive partner, like hostility and negative attitudes, have been proven to increase stress in relationships. On the other hand, being responsive and emotionally supportive can help reduce stress in difficult times.

A 2021 study analyzed whether supportive partners could reduce the adverse effects of internal and external stress on the relationship. Researchers assessed their behavioral responsiveness based on several factors. These included abilities such as sensitivity, understanding, correctly anticipating a partner’s needs, and willingness to provide adequate care.

Researchers compiled data from a longitudinal study that included 195 couples from the first group and 158 couples from another group. Couples had been together an average of five years.

For the study, couples had to pick three points of disagreement and discuss them during a 15-minute conversation. Researchers recorded each interaction and measured the couples’ internal and external stress.

They measured symptoms of depression such as anxiety, sadness, irritability, restlessness, fatigue, suicidal thoughts, and appetite loss or gain. They also used the Psychiatric Epidemiology Research Interview (PERI) to measure external stress. For instance, they wanted to see how stressful life events like losing a job, contracting illnesses, or having a child impacted mental health.

unsupportive partner

Next Steps in the Study

Next, the team analyzed how having a supportive or unsupportive partner impacted the relationship. They coded partner responsiveness using the following scoring methods:

  • Showing interest in the partner: Listening and responding to their feelings.
  • Being able to recognize stress: Understanding when a partner needs support.
  • Interpretation of distress: Understanding the partner’s concerns correctly.
  • Responsiveness: The desire to help and be a supportive partner.
  • Secure base support quality: A summary of the partner’s support quality.

Researchers evaluated marital adjustment to stress using the 32-item Dyadic Adjustment Scale. This scale measures how couples respond to various internal and external stressors, such as:

  • Finances
  • Friendships
  • Couple Bonding Activities (ex. Household Projects)
  • Sex
  • Dealing with In-Laws
  • Household Chores
  • Decisions About Careers
  • Disagreements or Discussions About Divorce
  • Visions for the Future of the Relationship

What the Study Found About Responsiveness in Relationships

Surprisingly, the team discovered that partner responsiveness directly influenced adaptive or maladaptive relationship functioning. For instance, when a partner with depression had an unsupportive partner, they didn’t adjust well to stressors. However, the depression didn’t affect the relationship as much if they had a supportive partner.

In the case of external stress, researchers found similar findings. Individuals who experienced more significant stress showed decreased marital adjustment in the case of an unsupportive partner. However, if their partner was attentive and engaged, external stress didn’t impact the relationship negatively over time.

The study shows how having an unsupportive partner impacts both the individual and the relationship. For instance, someone with depression may feel misunderstood and rejected, even by their partner. This may cause them to lash out or act passive-aggressively to meet their needs.

What We Learn by Studying These Stressors

Unfortunately, these maladaptive communication methods could make an unsupportive partner even less responsive. The spouse of someone with depression may respond with hostility or blame their partner for relationship troubles. When external sources of stress come into play, this further strains the relationship.

On the other hand, being supportive, understanding, sensitive, and willing to help can reduce the adverse effects of stress. As the study above showed, depressed partners felt more capable of handling stress if they had a responsive partner. The research also found the same results in the case of external stressors.

It takes two people to create a healthy, thriving relationship. Life causes immense stress, so relationships should feel like a refuge from the chaos. No matter what pre-existing vulnerabilities partners have, they can weather any storm together by simply showing support. Whether it’s mental illness, problems at work, the stress of having a newborn, or any other problem, a nurturing, loving relationship can overcome it.

It also helps to look at the relationship as a team rather than two individuals. Working with one another and reaching a mutual agreement creates more stability in the relationship. Unsupportive partners usually only think of themselves, but a genuinely cooperative partner will consider what’s best for the connection.


Final Thoughts on How Unsupportive Partners Create Stress

Most people want to avoid stressful interactions and tension, especially in relationships. Unfortunately, some unsupportive partners refuse to carry their weight, burdening their spouses.

The healthiest relationships involve two imperfect people willing to take on life together. When things get tough, they don’t bail on their partner or create unnecessary friction in the relationship.

They also don’t make their partner feel guilty about pre-existing conditions such as mental illnesses. A genuinely supportive partner will accept their spouse entirely and do their best to provide stability. When both partners meet one another halfway with understanding and compassion, the relationship becomes a haven rather than a battleground.