As many couples found themselves quarantined together during the COVID-19 pandemic, new (and old) stressors flared up. Annoyances that seemed too small to address when partners were away from each other most of the day began to fester. And what was working well in some partnerships before started to fall apart during stay-at-home orders.
During less stressful times, we often flex in and out of various styles during the course of a day, adjusting our personalities in small ways to meet the moment. During stress, however, people may stick more rigidly to their deepest-running personality traits.
A disaster event can temporarily bring couples closer, but ongoing stress such as long-term caregiving can put a lot of strain on intimate relationships. This article speaks less to everyday relationship trouble in couples and more to how the stress of outside events can show up in our interactions with partners and other loved ones. These can be events like pandemics, natural disasters, political upheaval, economic crises, injuries and illnesses, new caregiving situations, and death in the family. We’ve written it with partners and spouses in mind, but much of the advice can be useful in other relationships as well, such as siblings, roommates, and close friends.
Perhaps there’s a natural disaster, and your C-style partner wants to dissect the latest news every day but you’d rather unplug. Or your i-style spouse became depressed from the strain the pandemic had on her relationships, and you couldn’t understand why she took it so hard. You think your D-style spouse is demanding too much from the kids around schoolwork, but don’t want to start a conflict by sharing your opinion. Your S-style partner has taken on way too much extra work but would rather suffer in silence than listen to your suggestions about how to solve the problem.
Everyone’s situation has its own unique challenges, and people will react to these challenges in their own individual ways. But there are some patterns around how the different DiSC® styles deal with stress (see DiSC personalities under stress for more), as well as how two people of the same or different styles tend to interface.
How DiSC can help with relationship stress
You’ve seen the power of DiSC assessments to transform relationships at work. Have you considered the way DiSC could inform your personal relationships, especially with your spouse or partner? We know many DiSC practitioners who use these tools to navigate their partnership at home.
DiSC is not a substitute for couples counseling, nor is it a predictor of compatibility. In fact, what DiSC teaches us is that everyone is capable of working well with people of every style.
In our Facebook group, we asked about people’s experiences using DiSC with their significant others. Here are some responses:
- “He’s a strong D and I’m a strong S. I’ve learned not to waffle and just get to the point.”
- “As iD-styles, we can both be impulsive and direct, and now we catch when the other is doing it and can help hold each other accountable.”
- “We’re both D styles, but at home I lean to the i part of my Di style to keep things upbeat. I have to call my husband out when he claims he can’t help acting a certain way because he is a D style.”
- “She’s a C style and I’m an SC, so we can get really bogged down trying to make decisions. Do you realize how many decisions you have to make every day? It helps when we take a second to identify which decisions are a big deal—new jobs, large purchases, choices that affect our extended family—and thus merit the research and deliberation we’re putting into them. The rest—which restaurant to try, what movie to watch, etc.—don’t matter much in the big picture, and we have to remind ourselves of that.”
DiSC helps us understand our own and other people’s tendencies and how these manifest in professional or personal relationships. While recognizing that coworker relationships have different goals and stressors than intimate relationships, there are many ways in which DiSC can help you better understand your partner as well as your own reactions to conflict.
- Helps you gain awareness of yourself: How do I respond to conflict? What motivates me? What causes me stress? How do I tend to solve problems?
- Shows the traits of each personality type in a positive light.
- Provides insight into where your priorities and motivators differ from and align with your partner’s.
- Teaches you nonjudgmental language with which to discuss these priorities.
- Encourages flex—moving beyond your default reactions.
- Examines how you respond to conflict and stress.
- Gives you a visual of where you fall on various scales versus where your partner does.
- Supplies concrete tips for working with the other person.
- Reveals potential roadblocks in your partnership.
- Highlights the potential benefits of your styles collaborating.
Using Comparison Reports
To use DiSC tools with your partner, a great place to start is the Everything DiSC Workplace® profile with the Everything DiSC® Comparison Report (see Everything DiSC Comparison Reports). Even though the assessment was created for business use, it’s very applicable to marriage. View a sample Workplace profile and a Comparison Report to judge for yourself. (These are also available in Spanish in the U.S. and French in Canada.) Since DiSC does not value one style over another, the report provides a way of addressing issues without judgment.
Take a look at this example from an Everything DiSC on Catalyst Comparison between an SC style (You) and their partner, a Di style:
The text reads: You are very Tactful. Di is somewhat Frank.
- Try to focus on the words being used rather than the tone, but at the same time, speak up if Di is being too forceful.
- Consider that Di may get frustrated if you’re beating around the bush.
- Remember that Di is very candid, which means that honest feedback is probably preferred over silence on an issue.
The Comparison Report can also be helpful in areas where you and your partner are similar, like in this example of two people who are both very unstructured:
The text reads: You are very Unstructured. Di is very Unstructured.
- Since the two of you might leave too much last-minute work, set a series of deadlines to help avoid this.
- Before beginning, talk about who will be responsible for planning each part of the project so that nothing falls through the cracks.
- Because both of you probably enjoy starting new projects more than completing them, discuss how you will ensure that the final touches get put on the project.
DiSC styles during disruptions and stress
It’s possible for something to cause your partner stress when it’s only an inconvenience for you, or vice versa. If any of the points below resonate with you or sound like your partner, use this article as a starting point for discussion: “This is one way I’m struggling right now,” or “Are you experiencing this? Let’s talk about what might help.”
A few things that may be particularly difficult for D styles during times of stress or crisis:
- They are not in control. During a crisis, they are constantly confronted with how much is beyond their control, from the actions of politicians to the choices their neighbors make.
- They can’t take action. D styles want to go go go, but during something like an injury or illness, what may be necessary is actually inaction or rest. They want to lead, but that might not be what their body or other people need from them right now.
- They feel vulnerable (and they hate feeling vulnerable). D styles become frustrated when sidelined by restrictions, limitations, unforeseen disasters, or illness, and may lash out at loved ones.
- People are emotional. D styles struggle when they feel others are being too emotional or “needy.” They may become impatient with partners who need to be more expressive of their feelings.
To help your D-style partner: Be direct, but when you are challenging them, make sure they know you are not challenging their authority, but rather helping them see the bigger picture.
How i-style people may struggle during a crisis:
- Their social life changes. Much of i-style folks’ energy comes from being around other people, and there are times when that is not possible, such as when they are involved in intensive caretaking or when people are isolated due to a pandemic or natural disaster.
- Their days are too repetitive. A time of stress may result in a string of days where you’re asked to do the same thing over and over. This can be true with a new baby or when taking care of someone who is ill. It’s true during lockdowns or severe weather events when going out is less of an option. This rut may be particularly stressful for i styles, who crave momentum and novelty.
- They are distracted. Stress makes it harder for most people to concentrate, but i styles may be extra prone to distraction and struggle to complete tasks, whether those tasks are for work or home.
- Not everyone wants their positivity and ideas. One of the great strengths of people with i styles is their natural positive nature. Sharing this upbeat energy is a wonderful gift to many people during times of crisis, but others may not react well to it, and that can hurt an i-style person’s feelings.
To help your i-style partner: Listen to them—real deep, active listening. Find creative, short-term projects you two can collaborate on. Encourage friends to connect with them. Think of fun ways they can express themselves.
What stresses out S-style people during times of upheaval? It could be:
- Nothing feels stable. During events like the COVID-19 pandemic, so much becomes precarious and uncertain: massive layoffs, school cancellation, ill family members, a carefully planned year suddenly unmoored. Stability is important to S styles, and they get little of it during crisis.
- They’re taken advantage of, or they overcommit. S styles can struggle with saying no, so they often find themselves with extra work dropped on them. During stressful times, they may be overburdened both from the office and with an unbalanced amount of household chores (plus all those volunteer tasks they took on…).
- It’s harder to escape conflict. Conflict makes S-style people uncomfortable, and they will often just go along with something or remove themselves from the situation rather than argue their side. During a crisis, it might be harder to escape. Navigating their marriage or partnership through times of stress without making their voice heard doesn’t feel good either, but it may be the path they choose.
- They don’t know how to ask for help. S styles worry about inconveniencing others or being a burden. Even if S-style people are really struggling, they are probably keeping it to themselves. Even so, they can build up resentment toward their partners for not noticing the difficulties they are going through.
To help your S-style partner: Encourage them to speak up. Remember that their silence may not mean agreement. Assure them that conflict can be productive and healthy. Show your love by doing more housework, especially if your partner has extra work from the office or new caregiving duties.
People with C styles may struggle during times of crisis for these reasons:
- There’s so much ambiguity. C styles like clear goals, data they can assess, and situations that follow logically from one step to the next. With a pandemic, natural disaster, political upheaval, strained relationship, or complicated illness, there’s so much “wait and see.”
- It’s harder to ask for help. C styles struggle with asking for help anyway, worried that it makes them look less competent. When they are isolated from their usual social and professional networks, or everyone around them is also under extra stress, reaching out will feel like even more of an effort.
- They don’t see their experience reflected as often. Some of the more outgoing styles tend to share their experiences more and be more vocal in person and on social media. This means more reserved people like C styles might feel alone in how they’re reacting to a crisis or disconnected from the predominant social narrative.
- There’s often no clear way to be “good at” a crisis. C styles get a lot of satisfaction from excelling, being competent, gaining expertise. What this means during something like a pandemic or political upheaval can be unclear. If C styles divert their energy into pushing new projects at work or at home, they may feel frustrated at coworkers or family members who are more emotional and less able to focus.
How to help your C-style partner: C styles may need your help but have a hard time asking you for it. Ask if they need help, but try to do it in a way that respects their competence. Focus on the facts—what is known about your situation—and problem-solve together.
Using DiSC to focus your conversations
DiSC can give you individualized, actionable tips for getting through periods of stress with your partner. It can bring focus and direction to your conversations, rather than finding yourselves having the same argument you’ve had a hundred times already, or orbiting each other in silent stand-off.
In addition to illuminating your personal tendencies, your DiSC profile teaches you how to flex into styles that don’t come as naturally to you. The behaviors and best practices of each style are available to everyone; it just takes more energy to flex into some of them.
Think about how the strengths of your style have helped you and your family get through a crisis before, and take a moment to appreciate yourself. Now do the same for your partner or spouse. Now take a few deep breaths, a nice long walk, or look at some nature.