There are a number of factors in modern life that can strain relationships. It is important to address these stressors as quickly as possible and find ways to overcome them. Some of the top stressors include:
- Death of a loved one, particularly a child
- Work-related stress, which can include starting a new job, performing a job, and transitioning into retirement
- Financial problems or different ideas about the use of money
- Moving to a new home or area
- Chronic health conditions or caring for ill loved ones
- Disagreements about child-rearing
- Having just too much to do – overbooked schedules or too many projects around the house
Identify your stressors and your coping mechanisms
When you become aware of stress and you notice your relationship is suffering, ask yourself, “What are my stressors? How are these stressors affecting me emotionally or physically? What coping mechanisms do I use to deal with my stress? Are these methods helping or hurting my relationship?” Your spouse or partner should also ask these questions, since you may both be experiencing stress.
Some practical advice about working through stress as a couple
Communication is absolutely key to any healthy and successful relationship, as are empathy and a real desire to support each other. You need to first recognize that people have different ways of coping, neither good nor bad – assuming, of course, the coping mechanism does not include intentional harm to self or others. Such behavior is definitely unhealthy and needs to be addressed, preferably with the help of a professional counselor.
First, identify your coping mechanisms and discuss them together. If your way of coping is to talk it out and your spouse’s way of coping is to shut down, there would seem to be a conflict. However, you can find a compromise. For instance, if the stress is from work, agree together to give your spouse time to calm down, relax, and destress before listening to you talk it out. You may have to wait a short time, but you will get a more sympathetic ear.
And if your partner is the one who needs to talk it out, don’t be too quick to offer advice. Just listen. Make supportive, sympathetic comments and ask thoughtful questions that show that you are really listening. By no means should you be looking at your cell phone or the TV while your partner is talking! After unwinding, your partner may be open to some suggestions or advice but offer it sparingly. This is time to cope and unwind. Save problem-solving for another talk.
Don’t compare your levels of stress. Everyone handles stress differently. If you are both stressed, assume you are equally stressed, and for that reason alone, you should both want to help the other, because you know how bad it feels.
Share private jokes and laugh together. We all know that laughter actually lifts the mood. Sharing laughter together, especially if it is something between just the two of you, increases intimacy and strengthens bonds.
Do activities together, especially away from work and without the children. “Date night” should be a regular event or some other way that you can share time away from anything stressful. If you can apply some of these techniques, your stressful events could actually help you grow closer.