How to deal with stress in a relationship Summary
My wife and I have been happily married for a long time, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that relationships can be great and wonderful things. They give you an opportunity to connect with someone else on a deeper, more emotional level while challenging you to discover new things about yourself.
However, even though happy relationships are great, sharing a life with another person can also be challenging and stressful at times. Now, that doesn’t mean that the relationship is implicitly stressful, even though that could be the case.
No, what that means is that dealing with life stressors tends to take on different dynamics when you’re in a relationship.
The unfortunate reality is that everyone will feel stress in a relationship at some point or another and will have to learn how to handle that if they want to be happy long term.
And these relationship stressors can include all kinds of things ranging from having to discuss something difficult with your partner, facing a life difficulty together, dealing with financial stress in a relationship, challenges your kids may be going through, and so on.
The list can be endless, and you never know where the next challenge could come from.
Stress in relationships is part and parcel of life which makes learning how to deal with stress the real game here, rather than trying to figure out how to avoid it.
We can’t avoid it. We can only learn how to respond to stress better and more effectively.
What I’ve learned in marriage, is that the key to enduring success and happiness in a relationship comes down to not allowing stress to take over your relationship. It’s always going to be out there, but that doesn’t mean we should allow stress to run our relationship nor life.
The key to success is ensuring that you don’t allow stress to take over your relationship.
Instead, it’s important to figure out how to deal with stress in a relationship effectively, how to work things out together as a couple, how to take challenges on as a team, and how you can make your relationship stronger despite any relationship stressors you might be facing.
And strengthening your relationship is especially important here because we know that some research suggests that positive relationships can uplift our mental and physical health.
In other words, what that means is that even though a relationship itself can be a stressor, it can also be a means by which you strengthen your mental and physical health, which in turn, will make it easier for you to deal with stress in the relationship.
Moreover, the question of how to deal with stress in a relationship has also become increasingly more important over the last 18 months as the world (and couples) had to learn how to live with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has really challenged couples and their relationships.
Back to our point on building positive and strong relationships, especially in light of dealing with stressors, it seems the resiliency and health of your relationship play a huge role in terms of your capacity to deal with the internal and external stresses your relationship might be facing.
For example, in two new papers, social psychologists from America and New Zealand looked at the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on couples and identified ways to support partners in crisis.
The researchers found that couples experienced the COVID-19 pandemic very uniquely, suggesting that couples who struggled in their relationship pre-COVID-19 would most likely face the greatest impact from the pandemic.
Therefore, how to deal with stress in a relationship comes down to the quality of your relationship as a couple and building the quality of the relationship comes down to 5 important factors.
How to deal with stress in a relationship include 5 important factors
Reducing relationship stress through empathetic listening
One of the most effective ways to reducing relationship stress or the impact relationship stressors have on you as a couple, is through empathetic listening.
We know that a lack of effective communication is one of the most common issues that many couples encounter in their relationships.
Either a couple doesn’t know how to approach their significant other, or they don’t know how to listen effectively when their partner approaches them.
That, unfortunately, can lead to additional communication problems which will only aggravate existing feelings of stress or overwhelm.
Thus, one of the most important ways to reduce stress and strengthen your relationship in the process, as an important strategy to combat the overall impact of stress, is to take the time to listen to each other empathetically.
Here is a good article on how to listen effectively, so we won’t go into it too much here.
The important point to consider here, however, is to learn to recognise the various symptoms of stress your partner typically displays, like moodiness, agitation, silence, or restlessness, and to then respond to that proactively and positively.
One way you can do that is to ask them if they want to talk about whatever is bothering them.
When you do that, you let them know that you are there for them and that this is a safe space for them to work through their feelings.
When you provide your partner with a safe space where they don’t need to save face but can instead, feel safe to feel whatever they are feeling, you’re naturally strengthening your relationship and making it more resilient to deal with relationship stressors.
However, just because you are offering your partner a safe space wherein, they can talk about their feelings, that doesn’t mean that 1) your partner wants to talk to you about their stress, or if they want to, that 2) you need to fix their problem.
Many times, when our partners are stressed, they know that you don’t necessarily have the answers for them.
However, what they actually want is just an opportunity to either vent or get some reassurance from someone they love.
Therefore, practice empathetic listening by sitting down with your partner and listening to them without offering advice, unless they specifically ask you for it.
Most of the time, the feelings of stress your partner might be feeling will be alleviated just by them sharing their burden with you. Listening empathetically IS the solution in that instance.
Always be yourself
In my experience, healthy relationships only work when a couple is honest with each other, which implies being honest with themselves.
When it comes to how to deal with stress in a relationship, it’s important to avoid pretending in front of your partner. Relationships only work when people are honest with each other.
You’ll end up causing yourself in your relationship a lot of additional stress if you pretend that everything is fine, when in fact, it is not.
When you’ve been in a relationship with someone for quite some time, they get to know you and it becomes easier for them to sense when something isn’t right.
So, when you’re experiencing stress, internal or external, it’s important to always be yourself, especially in front of your significant other.
Yes, they might not have the answers to your current dilemma or even understand what you’re going through, but as we’ve seen earlier, positive relationships can make a difference in terms of our own mental and physical health.
Pretending and shutting your partner out will only make things infinitely harder for you as well as add additional stress to your relationship and situation. But there is no reason for that.
Be yourself, trust your partner, and let them in by sharing what you’re feeling.
Again, you’re not sharing to get them to fix things for you, but instead, you’re sharing with them to bolster your relationship and as a result your ability to deal with your current stresses.
Ultimately, being honest will save you both a lot of stress and tension.
Look after yourself
How to deal with stress in a relationship, sometimes comes down to looking after yourself. For sometimes, the best way to care for a relationship that is dealing with relationship stressors is to look after yourself.
Now, how does looking after yourself help one deal with stress in a relationship?
Research suggests that stress is contagious, which could simply mean that if your partner notices that you’re constantly stressed, they could also start picking up on that feeling too.
In other words, your stress can become their stress which can result in stress taking over in the relationship. And if you remember, never allowing stress to take control of your relationship is the key to success.
More than that, if we are constantly stressed around our significant others, that can easily lead to them starting to believe that they are the source of our stress, possibly resulting in even worse problems.
The biggest reason for taking care of yourself as a way to deal with stress in a relationship, however, is the old “oxygen mask on an aeroplane” analogy.
It is very difficult to take care of those around us when we ourselves are struggling on a personal level.
It is therefore paramount that we take care of ourselves, not in place of the relationship or our loved ones, but as a supplement to it.
When we are in a good place ourselves, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, dealing with internal and external relationship stressors is infinitely easier.
Of course, taking care of ourselves won’t eliminate life stressors, but it will make us more resilient and robust to deal with them effectively.
Of these five factors of how to deal with stress in a relationship, taking care of yourself is probably the most important one.
Again, taking care of yourself in this instance doesn’t mean selfishness nor taking care of your own needs exclusively, but instead means personal self-care in service of relationship wellbeing.
So, to help you with how to improve your emotional wellbeing, here are 10 specific strategies.
10 Strategies to Positively Affect Your Emotional Wellness
This is one of the simplest and easiest ways to positively affect your emotional wellness because your brain and your body are connected.
We feel our emotions in our bodies. Therefore, if we move around more, our bodies will be healthier and better calibrated to our environment.
That also means we will be prepared more to deal with the stressors in our environment.
Sitting around too much, however, increases the likelihood of feeling stressed or depressed. Avoid that by moving more.
Use your time more effectively
When things start to pile up in our lives, they also tend to pile up in our minds.
Once we reach a certain level of emotional overwhelm in our thinking, everything tends to shut down.
We start putting more and more things in the “too hard basket” within result being more things being left undone and asked feeling more stressed out.
When we use our time more effectively, we get things done and create an opportunity to feel calmer and more relaxed.
Doing that will massively contribute to dealing with stress in our relationship, especially if the sources of our stress are external and non-relationship related.
Address any financial challenges you’re facing
We know that financial stress is a major relationship stressor for many couples. For example, one research study conducted in New Zealand found that one in five people reported relationship problems due to financial concerns.
The unfortunate reality of financial stress in a relationship is that there are no easy answers.
Basically, dealing with financial stress in a relationship comes down to only three basic strategies for addressing financial challenges: Worry about them, ignore them, or address them. That’s it!
So, to reduce the overall impact of stress on your relationship, it’s crucial to find solutions to your current financial woes and begin working on them.
Now, how you can deal with financial stresses in a relationship is beyond the scope of this post but ignoring them is not advised.
Because following the other options only result in more stress and misery either today or in the future.
Get enough sleep
Alongside moving more, getting enough sleep is paramount for managing stress in a relationship and life. The hard cold reality is that without getting enough sleep, your brain and body are a mess.
Many people will tell you that they don’t get enough sleep, which is a problem based on what we know about the importance of sleep on performance and mental health.
Now, I appreciate that if one feels differently about how much sleep they can get away with.
However, the latest research on sleep indicates that the average adult needs between 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep to function optimally.
It is usually at this point where a lot of people resist and come up with all sorts of reasons why they can’t sleep that much.
The truth of the matter is, however, is that many of us can do something about this by either 1) improve the quality of our sleep, or 2) increase the amount we sleep. Here is a post with five tips for developing good sleep habits.
As solitary as you might think you are, you still need to be around other people on a regular basis.
Having people, you can count on makes a huge difference in your personal wellness and how you deal with stress as a result.
But being around the “right” people is key because spending too much time with those that are bad for your state of mind will only result in increased levels of stress or depression.
Let go of expectations and focus on gratitude
Misery and feelings of unhappiness largely result from unmet expectations when there’s a shortfall between what we believed should have happened and what happened in reality.
One way to improve your own mental well-being is to let go of expectations and shift your focus to gratitude.
A different way of putting it is to trade expectations for appreciation.
When we make this mental shift and start to focus on gratitude rather than being annoyed or frustrated with life, yourself, or others, or how your expectations have failed, our mental state approves accordingly.
More than that, we also start noticing opportunities and available resources more because we are now open to seeing them.
Avoid the news
To be brutally honest and blunt, most of what passes for news nowadays is essentially “mental faeces wrapped in sensationalism”.
When we fill our minds with the news, we’re essentially giving someone else’s agenda, which is not in our best interest, by the way, shelf space in our minds.
With many people that I know personally, I can’t help but notice a correlation between many of their levels of anxiety, stress, or fear and the amount of news they consume daily.
I’m not arguing for causation in that media consumption causes anxiety or stress, but there does seem to be a correlation, as this study also suggests.
Mark Manson also suggests that quitting the news is a good idea in this great article.
Instead, aim to watch or read good quality material that feeds your soul, mind, and heart. Stuff that is actually uplifting and educational.
Avoid most social media
The basic premise of social media is admirable: Stay in touch with friends and family.
The reality is multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.
Social media may promote negative experiences such as inadequacy about your life or appearance.
The image that many people project is often false, and it makes others feel small by comparison.
Comparison can lead to feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction with your own life, which in turn, can lead to low levels of well-being.
In order to protect your mental state, be smart in how you use social media.
Limit your obligations
That is a fancy way of saying you must learn to say “no”.
Many times our well-being suffers because we overcomplicate our lives with too many obligations.
In other words, we tend to say “yes” too much and too frequently.
The problem with that approach, however, is that for every “yes” there is an opposite “no”.
So, while you are pursuing A, you might be missing out on B, which might have been better for you in the long run.
Take care of yourself by aiming to keep your life simple by avoiding obligations that don’t add anything to your life.
Take a daily walk outside
This is somewhat like moving more, but a tad more specific. Getting out of the house or the office and taking a nice walk each day, is ultimately about getting outside. Just taking a stroll and enjoy being outside, has so many benefits for your well-being.
To take better care of yourself so that you can deal with stress in a relationship better, you must learn to avoid those things that can have a negative impact on your sense of emotional well-being.
That includes social media, the news, unreasonable expectations, and unnecessary obligations.
Get your rest, move around, and address the challenges in your life that are within your control.
And spend time with people that you love.
Be open and honest in your communication
As I’ve said before, pretending to your spouse or lying to them about what you really going through, doesn’t serve you nor your relationship in the end.
Let me make something very clear – hiding things from your spouse does not protect them from it because you are still aware of those things and are dealing with the resulting feelings. That means, on the basis that stress is contagious, that your spouse is inadvertently going through what you’re going through.
A better approach to how to deal with stress in a relationship is to aim for openness, honesty, and transparency in your communication.
Communication and honesty are the pillars of a great relationship.
The sad reality is that more often than not, couples’ arguments and sources of stress come from us trying to figure out things on our own.
For instance, if you notice that your significant other is a little withdrawn one night, you might find yourself wondering whether it’s because you didn’t make their favourite meal because they’re upset about something, or whether something happened at work, and so on.
When we allow these forts and coinciding feelings to then fester and grow in our minds, it starts laying the perfect foundation for eventual conflict.
How does that work?
As people, when we sense that something is wrong we are very good at coming up with stories in our own minds.
When those stories start growing larger in our heads, they can easily lead to feelings of resentment, anger, or being upset.
That can then lead to us behaving and responding to our partners more defensively, which can then escalate into unnecessary conflict.
Conversely, if his couples, we simply aim to consistently be open, honest, and transparent in our communication with our partners, we remove all doubt and uncertainty from the situation.
By doing that we don’t give potential conflict a foothold in our relationship.
That is especially important when we are already dealing with stress in a relationship that might be external in nature.
But we can very easily allow external stressors to disrupt the well-being of our relationship by shutting our partners out when in fact we need to be open and honest with them.
So much conflict can be avoided when we simply use open and honest communication to leave no room for assumptions to cause problems.
Cutting each other some slack by being gracious
Finally, if there’s one thing you can do to reduce stress in a relationship and arguments as a couple, it’s to cut each other some slack and give each other a break.
When we fall in love, it’s easy to place each other on a pedestal.
We see our partners as perfect, and they can’t do anything wrong in our eyes.
Consequently, we also treat them with far more patience, compassion, and grace at the beginning of our relationships than we sometimes do later in the relationship.
But that is a mistake.
I’m of the belief that the longer we are together the more we need to do those things we used to do at the beginning of our relationship.
The world-renowned life coach, Tony Robbins, once said that when we do what we did at the beginning of a relationship, there won’t be an end to the relationship. That is so simple, yet so true.
I’ve met and worked with many couples in the past, and even from my own experience, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, that over time we start slipping up on things we used to do at the start of our relationships.
Things that our partners really love about us and most likely influenced their decision to be with us.
So, when we change the things that they fell in love with at the beginning, what is that spell for the long-term success of our relationship?
Giving each other a break and cutting each other some slack, especially if one wronged the other, significantly reduces stress in a relationship.
It’s important to always remember, you’re both only human.
Never take a position of superiority in your relationship where you have the moral high ground and feel justified to treat your partner with disrespect and even contempt because you somehow feel superior to them.
Even when they’ve messed up badly.
Taking that starts and having that approach to your relationship will not only increase the impact of stress in your relationship but also hurt the emotional bond you have with each other (or whatever is left of it).
How to deal with stress in a relationship ultimately comes down to putting your significant other and your relationship above all else, while doing what you can to deal with the stress you’re facing (alone or together).
It is always easier to work together as a solid and healthy team rather than pulling in different directions when the wolves are at the door.
So many couples turn on each other when the pressure is on, perhaps out of fear or feelings of uncertainty, but that’s never the right approach.
You only stand to harm yourself and the situation even more.
So, keep these ideas in mind when you deal with stress in your relationship.
They can help you to reduce relationship stress on a daily basis and make your lives more fun and fulfilling in the end.