Managing Relationship Stress
No relationship is perfect. It’s completely normal for there to be some stress involved. However, when this stress becomes excessive it can negatively impact the relationship and have devastating effects on your mental health.
So how much stress is too much? Well, let’s first look at a “normal” level of stress.
Every individual has their own thoughts, feelings and experiences, so it is highly unlikely that you and your partner will agree on absolutely everything. Given this, occasional misunderstandings, not always “being on the same page”, sometimes having different expectations of each other and the relationship and not always communicating in the best ways are all part of a normal level of relationship stress.
However, if these issues become much more common, it seems as though you never can agree on anything, are always fighting, or worse, you’re not communicating with one another at all then it’s probably time to make some changes.
So let’s look at your relationship now. If you answer “yes” to one or more of the following, it’s probably time to look at making some changes.
1) Your relationship is quite new (less than 6 months) and you’re already experiencing lots of relationship stress.
2) It feels as though you’re having disagreements all the time, rather than just the occasional argument.
3) The issues causing the stress in your relationship are quite serious. For example, although it is annoying if your partner often forgets to put their dirty washing in the basket, this is unlikely to cause as much stress as more serious issues such as infidelity.
4) Most importantly, you’re no longer feeling happy in the relationship. For example, if you’re feeling constantly sad, angry, fearful, or disappointed by your partner, then this is definitely a red flag.
So you’ve taken the first step, you recognize that the stress in your relationship is not normal and you both need to make some changes for it to improve. So where do you start?
Talk it out:
For many people, one of their first responses to feeling sad or upset is to withdraw from those around them. If it seems as though every conversation with your partner ends in an argument, you’re probably not going to feel up to having deep and meaningful conversations with them. But this is exactly where you need to start if you want to reduce your stress. Open communication is the only way you can ensure both you and your partner are on the same page. It can be a very powerful tool, but only if used properly. Here are some things to remember when communicating with your partner:
1) You might have to make the first move – If your partner has withdrawn, you might have to make the effort to connect. Start with something non-threatening and let them know you are there to support them. For example, maybe try starting with something like: “You seem upset/stressed/angry lately, is there some way I can help?”
2) Although it may be hard, try to listen first, and put judgment aside. If you’re able to listen without immediate reaction it not only helps you to truly understand your partner’s side, their stress, and their needs, but it also helps your partner feel supported. This puts them in better stead to support you and listen to your needs. By showing this patience and compassion, you can demonstrate empathy for your partner, encouraging empathy back and building a stronger relationship.
3) Listen whole-heartedly. Sometimes, your partner might not feel comfortable being completely upfront initially about how they are feeling or what their concerns are. Sometimes, if very stressed they may not even fully understand exactly what is going on for them emotionally. So pay attention to everything they are telling you, both through their words, and their body language.
This can be the hardest part of trying to address stress in a relationship. You obviously care for each other, but somewhere along the line, amongst all the arguments, the stress and the annoyances, it can seem like you’ve forgotten how to show each other that you care. This can happen very easily when you’re feeling stressed or upset. As humans, we naturally try to protect and defend ourselves, which makes us see the thing causing us stress (in this case your partner) as the enemy.
So how do we undo this?
First, show yourself some compassion. Sit with your feelings, recognize that it’s okay to feel upset, angry or stressed. Then, try and recognize that it is highly unlikely that your partner would be causing this stress intentionally or maliciously. It is much more likely that there is something going on for them personally that is making them act this way. Use the communication tips above to talk this out with them, and as difficult as it can be to put your own feelings aside, try and show them some compassion and put yourself in their shoes. It may seem as though this is giving in, but it’s not. Showing your partner some compassion does not mean you are dismissing these emotions; it simply means that you’re accepting that they have their own emotions playing into things also. The more compassion and understanding you show them, the more tools you equip them with to show you compassion and understanding back.
Look after you
As you’ve seen above, a lot of resolving the stress in a relationship and getting your partner to meet you halfway often involves you putting your own feelings aside and showing compassion. This can be extremely difficult to do when you’re struggling with very strong emotions yourself. So it is important you find a way to manage your own stress to equip you with the strength to then work on your relationship. This can include looking after your health, getting enough sleep, making time for you, doing the things you enjoy and practising some relaxation strategies. Whatever you find that helps you feel better (and is healthy) then do it!
Access some professional support
If you’ve tried the suggestions above, but still feel as though things just aren’t getting better, it may be helpful to seek professional support. Couples therapy can provide a safe space and a trained mediator (the Therapist) that can help you both air your thoughts and feelings in a constructive manner. However, even if your partner is not open to therapy, simply seeing a therapist by yourself can arm you with new communication skills and stress management techniques that will make both you and your relationships stronger.
If you are experiencing relationship stress and would like some support around this, one of our Therapists will be happy to help. Get in contact and we’ll be able to set up a session.