Managing Stress in Relationships
Written by Tamara Lackey for All in One Life on July 6th, 2013.
Stress is a part of life. We all know that.
And it should be a part of life. It’s actually a good thing that we can respond to stressful situations instinctively.
If you’re going for a hike in the hills and a mountain lion suddenly appears, you are going to feel stress. Your instincts kick in and take over; and, in multiple ways, your body becomes your mind. Every cell heightens to respond to pure stress. Once the mountain lion disappears, however – and certainly later, when you’re safely in your home, the stress is meant to disappear.
But, once at home, you still have some emails to answer while the kids are making a mess in the house. And scream-laughing. You notice your spouse is in an irritated mood, but the two of you haven’t had time together alone for who knows how long, and you’re not even sure what his problem is. He just seems grouchy, and it crosses your mind that you wouldn’t be upset if he weren’t home right now.
You have a pile of work that just seems to keep looming larger, no matter how much you accomplished this day. And, for good measure, the internet drops out, so now you have to call the cable company to find out why. You get to have another hour of robotic voice prompts in your immediate future. Awesome.
Guess what? There’s no mountain lion in that room, but you’re in a continued state of stress that doesn’t look to be easing anytime soon.
And, unfortunately, your partner is feeling the same way.
If so, you’re not alone. In fact, the inability to managing an ever-increasing amount of stress at home is quickly becoming one of the top reasons most couples don’t make it.
Here are some great guidelines to getting on the same page when it comes to not only better managing your own stress, but being able to handle stress as a couple:
1. Acknowledge each other’s stressors
2. Communicate what stress looks like
3. Maintain a consistent high level of respect for each other
4. Differentiate the problem/stressors from the relationship
5. State, and show, that you have each other’s back
1. Acknowledge each other’s stressors. Many of us feel downright overwhelmed. When we’re in a relationship and it feels like the other one only sees their level of stress and busyness, we can start to feel a growing resentment, like we’re being unseen. This leads us to not only feel frustrated but to also progressively care less about the other person’s stress. Making a point of both asking about – and then acknowledging – the other’s concerns can go a long way to keeping stress levels managed.
2. Communicate what stress looks like. Communicate – and then look for – how each party exhibits the feeling of being stressed. One of the most difficult parts of being human is learning to understand that what is true for me is not true for you. That if i behave this way, it may be one thing to me, but you behaving the exact same way may mean something entirely different to you.
We are somehow expected, though, to just KNOW these things about each other? That doesn’t make any sense. While one person might bite their nails and get tense and close off when stressed, another might become more expansive – want to go out and get drinks, invite friends over for a small party, watch a movie marathon, do anything but sit with the feeling of stress.
3. Maintain a consistent high level of respect for each other. Many people believe the notion that the closer you are to them, the less you need to “behave” around them. On the one hand, there’s an incredible relief in knowing you can be yourself with someone, absolutely. On the other hand, that isn’t license to treat them like crap when you’re feeling crappy. Deciding to maintain a high level of respect with each other, even when you’re feeling anxious, can go a long way when it comes to truly caring for each other.
4. Differentiate the problem/stressors from the relationship. It’s not difficult to start to associate the person you’re in a relationship with with the stressful experience that surrounds you. Making a point of noting the distinction – and stepping away from the stress together to prove it – can be a powerful way to remind yourselves what is really taxing you each individually.
5. State, and show, that you have each other’s back. Being very clear about letting each other know that you are there for the other – and showing that through deeds and intentional action – can help each person to feel less alone under the weight of a stressful experience. This enables each person to turn towards each other instead of lapsing into a mindset of frustrated, overwhelmed loneliness.
Genuine connection and demonstrated support can ward off much evil. Let’s all work to be in this together.