Stress is something that every person and all couples experience. It could be caused by a major life event like moving, being out of work, or health concerns, but most of the time, stress has multiple small causes. A particularly busy week at work, juggling multiple responsibilities, or an argument with a friend or family member can all bleed into relationship stress that affects your spouse or significant other. Relationship stress can also be caused by issues between you and your partner, whether it’s an argument, feeling neglected, or some other difference.
Managing your stress begins with identifying the sources of stress in your life. Easier said than done, right? Finding out the true sources of your stress isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary in order to avoid it harming your relationship. Keep reading to learn how you can do this.
How Stress Can Damage Relationships
Even something as common as stress can be incredibly harmful to your relationship.
The trouble begins when someone bottles up their stress rather than openly communicating with their partner. They may become withdrawn, distracted, and less affectionate. Their partner may then feel cut off, making it difficult for them to understand what’s going on or how to offer support. Without communication, a couple stops functioning as a team.
In addition to this, failing to properly deal with stress can create a cycle in which stress becomes “contagious”. You may not feel stressed, but because your partner is, you suddenly begin to feel their negative emotions and become stressed as well. Getting stuck in this cycle can become tiring, making couples unable to deal with the underlying issue or issues causing the stress.
People also tend to become the worst version of themselves when under stress. This can cause their partner to withdraw because it’s difficult to be around someone who is at their worst. If this goes on for a significant amount of time, the partners may become less involved in each other’s lives. This can create a superficial relationship that leads to increased conflict, distress, and alienation.
Stress also increases a person’s negative emotions and fight or flight responses, resulting in heightened vigilance, irritability, and hostility. This makes the person under stress more likely to notice even the smallest negative behaviors and have bigger reactions to them. It may also make them impatient less able to listen, show interest, or express empathy. The result? Small issues or nonissues become huge problems for a couple and they’re unable to constructively deal with them.
Misidentifying the Source of Relationship Stress
It’s easy to misidentify the source of your relationship stress.
For example, a couple with strong communication skills may notice that communication has broken down during a stressful time. This may lead them to believe that their problem is an inability to communicate when the true issue is stress.
Another couple that is usually highly affectionate may show each other less affection when under stress. Because of this, they may think that their problem lies in affection and spending time together instead of stress.
This kind of mistake can not only lead to mistaking a healthy relationship for a problematic relationship, but also leads to attempts to solve the wrong problem. This leaves the stress at the source of the problem unresolved, creating more problems down the road.
Identifying the Source of Your Stress
Fortunately, dealing with stress doesn’t have to hurt your relationship. If you and your partner see times of relationship stress as an opportunity to share and open up to each other, the relationship can become even stronger. You’ll also learn how to manage and navigate stress together, building resources to better deal with future stress.
How can you do this in your relationship? The key is how a couple manages stress as well as identifying the true sources of stress. It’s easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and emotions. You can identify the stress from work deadlines, but what is the genesis for having stress about the deadline? Maybe it’s procrastination, and not the job demands, that leads to the stress associated with deadlines.
How you can identify the sources of your stress:
- It’s easy to explain your stress as a temporary state – “I have so much going on right now.” But can you remember the last time you didn’t have a million things going on?
- Has your stress become a permanent part of your life? “My home life is always crazy and sporadic.”
- Do you blame others for your stress?
- Do you blame outside events for your stress?
- Do you think that stress is normal?
Until you are able to accept responsibility for your role in creating and maintaining your stress levels, relationship stress will continue to exist outside your control.
Managing Relationship Stress in a Healthy Way
It’s crucial that couples identify and discuss the sources of their stress and what they need from their partner in times of stress. It can be a difficult topic to talk about, especially if the source of stress is something within your relationship, but it’s necessary in order for a couple to navigate stress together and provide each other with proper support.
The couples that manage relationship stress most successfully tackle it together. They let each other know that they’re a team and are in it together.
How can you and your partner do this? Start by checking in with each other and listening before offering solutions to stressful situations. Once you’ve discussed the situation, ask your partner what they feel you can do to help and make things easier for them. It’s possible that they will feel there’s nothing you can do to help, while this may be frustrating, don’t use this as a reason to withdraw. It’s important to stay connected during times of stress. Discussing what’s causing your stress and providing support to help each other through it will make your relationship healthier and stronger.
Need Help Managing Relationship Stress? Get Couples Counseling in Orange County
It’s important to remember that starting couples counseling does not mean that your relationship is in poor condition or close to dissolution. Couples counseling can be good maintenance for any couple undergoing normal relationship stress in order to keep communication open.
Jennifer De Francisco, MPA, MSW, LCSW, offers couples counseling in Orange County, CA for couples at any stage in their relationship. Her approach provides a safe environment to open and honestly share thoughts and emotions. Through developing a positive, therapeutic relationship, you and your partner can interpret what is going on, both in your life and in the session, creating a better awareness within your relationship.
Contact Jennifer De Francisco by calling (949) 251-8787 or make an appointment online.