Do you feel like your relationship troubles always seem to kick you when you’re down? Like old problems reemerge most often while you are facing trouble at work, because of your kids, or due to health problems? It’s not just your imagination. Stress affects couples’ relationships and can strain even healthy connections between spouses and partners. Understanding how stress and relationships interact can be an important step to managing and maintaining those relationships, even in a high-stress environment.
Stress Can Negatively Affect Couples’ Relationships
Everyone experiences stress in their lives. But some people, and some couples face more stress than others. Stressful circumstances can come from external concerns, like financial trouble or job demands, or from one or both couples’ existing mental health challenges. When partners are stressed, they may become:
- Less affectionate
It can also cause spouses to act on their worst impulses, forgetting their commitment to each other or behaving negatively. When handled poorly, stress can easily push the limits of couples’ coping mechanisms, putting strain on the bonds of their relationship. If allowed to continue unchecked, it can sometimes push couples apart from the inside.
Get Help to Keep Stress from Affecting Your Relationship
Talk to a psychotherapist today about coping with stress in your marriage or relationship.
Couples Can Get Caught in Stress Cycles
Humans are empathetic beings. When someone you care about is stressed, that empathy can cause stress to be contagious. External stress can easily spill over into the relationship and cause tension between partners. However, once both partners are feeling the strain of a stressful situation, it can be hard to deescalate the situation and separate your own feelings from your spouse’s. This can cause added strain between couples as you and your partner both struggle to keep control over your emotions, rather than further escalate the conflict.
Couples Can Come Together to Overcome Stressful Circumstances
Just because you and your partner are going through a stressful period, doesn’t mean your relationship has to suffer. In fact, many couples come together in the face of stress to overcome obstacles and respond to challenges. For example, if a child is struggling with a medical condition, parents can come together to talk to doctors, create a treatment plan, transport the child to appointments and treatments, and help with at-home exercises. While everyone in that situation is facing stress and uncertainty, they are committed to addressing the concern together, so the stress can make the couple’s relationship stronger, rather than pulling it apart.
How to Manage Stress and Minimize Its Effects on Your Relationship
As is so often true when facing relationship problems, effectively managing stress comes down to couples’ ability to communicate what they are feeling, and what they need to cope with the challenges ahead. Here are some strategies you can use to manage stress and keep it from affecting your relationship:
Check In Regularly
When you are stressed, it can be hard to ask for help. You may feel like you are burdening your partner, or that this is something you should handle alone. Having built in check-in times can lower the barrier to talking about the stress in your life. But often, your partner doesn’t know about your stress or how to avoid triggering it. If you spend 10 minutes talking to each other after work or before bed, the habit can make it easier for both partners to get a temperature check on the other’s stress level, and given them an opportunity to offer help you didn’t know to ask for.
Listen First, Then Help
When someone you love is struggling, you may naturally want to jump to fix the problem. But sometimes, this can add more stress than it solves, especially if your solutions aren’t well suited to the cause of the stress or are things your spouse has already tried. When your partner comes to you feeling stressed, listen to them. Invite them to share how they are feeling and ask questions to better understand where they are at. Then ask how you can help. Are they looking for solutions, or simply a listening ear? Tailor your aid to suit your partner’s need in the moment, even if you think you have a perfect solution for their problems.
Get Physical with Your Intimacy
Physical contact, even something as simple as a 30 second hug, can shift a stressed person’s brain chemistry, moving them away from panic and toward calm. Physical proximity and comfort demonstrate that you are there to support your spouse, and that they are important to you. In addition, Sex and other forms of physical intimacy are great stress-relieving techniques because they flood the body with different endorphins and wash away the fight-or-flight stress impulses.
Get Help Learning to Handle Stress
Chronic stress is a physical health risk, as well as a strain on your relationship. If you and your spouse or partner are struggling with stress affecting your relationship, it’s okay to ask for help. A psychotherapist can use couples counseling to help you both learn ways to identify and cope with stress in your lives, and in each other. That way, you can face those challenges together, rather than letting them pull you apart.
David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps individuals and couples learn strategies for minimizing conflict in their relationships. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.