7 TIPS FOR COPING WITH STRESS AS A COUPLE
Are You and Your Partner Finding It Hard to Maneuver Through Stressful Situations? Following These Tips Are Important.
By Dr. Kurt Smith
Stress is a fact of life, and we all experience it. It can come with little things like running late for an appointment, or larger issues like being unable to pay your bills. Regardless of the reason, stress affects individuals differently and can cause problems in a relationship if not handled correctly.
If you aren’t able to work together as a couple during stressful times, even if the stress is primarily affecting one partner rather than the other, it can eat away at the foundation of your relationship. Eventually ineffective management of stress affects you as a couple and will cause other problems that can compound and a create divide that’s very difficult to bridge.
How Stress Can Impact Your Relationship
Stress is exhausting. As much as we may think we manage it and are able to handle things, it will always take a toll. And as much as you try, those effects can’t be hidden. When dealing with a stressful situation your time and energy will be diverted to its handling. This means that the other things in your life suffer. These include your relationship or marriage.
The overload on your mental energy will make you more reactive to any other issues that arise. Even the smallest conflicts can elicit an overblown response, leading to disproportionate anger and resentment on the part of each partner. And because the bulk of your focus is being consumed by the stressors you’re facing, effective communication skills are lost. The absence of proper communication in the first place leads to even further separation. It becomes a vicious cycle that snowballs as time goes on.
This cycle is often seen most clearly when couples face extremely traumatic and stressful events. The illness or death of a loved one, financial crisis, or being a victim of crime are among the things that can produce an extreme stress response. Without handling these situations correctly many couples end up facing the prospect of break-up or divorce.
So, what can you do to prevent such an unfortunate outcome and keep your relationship healthy?
How to Work As a Couple to Manage Stress
The key to maintaining the health and strength of your relationship when you’re experiencing stress is to manage it together. This is easier said than done. Managing stress as a couple takes practice and deliberate effort. But the good news is that all that effort and energy is almost always worth it.
There is never a one-size-fits-all formula for handling any situation, but there are several things that are effective for most people and couples. Below you will find a few suggestions for managing your stress as a couple.
- Be deliberate in your conversation. It’s easy to avoid talking about difficult topics. Many people believe that talking about painful or stressful topics will make them worse. The opposite is actually the case. So, rather than trying to keep things light, or skirt the painful topics altogether, bring them out, lay them on the table and talk – really, really talk. And as one partner talks the other should be listening – really, really listening. These topics won’t go away or get better by avoiding them, but they will if you give them a voice and work together.
- Give support and accept support. Understand that being in a relationship means you take care of each other and that means supporting one another. Together you need to ensure the trust between you is strong enough to allow you each to be vulnerable. This vulnerability and trust will allow your partner to support you and for you to reciprocate. We all need that. This can be particularly hard for men many of whom have been taught that being a man means you don’t show emotion or talk about your feelings. But being stoic or closed off to accepting support from, or providing it to your partner will only serve to drive you further apart.
- You’re in it together – be clear with each other about that. You and your partner share love and a life together. The hardest times in life are the times when operating as a team is most crucial. Remembering that you are stronger together than you are apart can be tough. Many of us want to avoid the stressful topics or feeling like you’re burdening your partner by talking about difficult things. Resist those urges. You need each other and you may need to remind each other routinely of that.
- Accept that some things are out of your control. Unfortunately, even the best planners can’t avoid stress. There is no amount of prep and life management that will prevent stressful situations from occurring. Accepting that you can’t control everything in your life can be difficult for many. It means letting go of guilt and worry about what you could have done or should have done, and instead focusing on the moment and how to move forward. Although letting go is an issue that many people have to deal with on an individual basis, it’s also something that partners may need assistance with in order to accomplish. And if both of you suffer with control issues you will certainly need to work together in how to move forward.
- Look forward together. All stressful situations eventually come to an end. Reminding each other that this too will pass and together looking toward the future will help you each cope. No matter how dark things seem there is light at the end of the tunnel. As a couple looking forward to a common goal or good time can bond you and keep you moving together.
- Keep communicating. It’s easy to withdraw into your own world when things are stressful. Making a point to check-in with each other and simply ask, “How are you doing right now?” will keep the lines of communication open and remind your partner that they’re not alone.
- Find a way to blow off steam – together if possible. We all need outlets for releasing stress. For some it’s physical like exercise, and for others it might be escaping into a book or something artistic. Finding something you can do together that serves this purpose can bring you closer together and solidify your connection to each other. But if your interests are different and you each have different ways you need to handle things, be sure to encourage, support and respect that for one another. Just make sure that your chosen outlet isn’t constantly pulling you away from your partner and creating more distance between you.
Every person must learn how to handle stress. This means that every couple does too. If you feel like you and your partner struggle with closeness and communication during stressful times you’re not alone. Using the tips above can help keep you on the right track for getting through things – stronger and together.