Meg Luce: Surviving stressful times without destroying your relationship
We all know that in life “stuff happens.” Things can be humming along and wham — you are hit with a major stressor.
Maybe it’s a job loss, car accident, legal trouble or some other calamity. When this happens, before couples even realize it, they can begin taking their stress out on each other. This is exactly the time to avoid such impulses and instead double down and create a strong alliance to tackle the stress and not each other.
Sounds good in theory, yes, but what are some realistic steps to making this work?
1. The first step is taking time to stop and think together about how to manage the stress. That means you first must notice what’s happening and think, “Hey, we are up against something big; we need to pull together.” If you don’t recognize what is happening, you can do a lot of damage before getting on the same side. Recognizing the stressor and creating a plan will help you mobilize resources and work together effectively.
2. Now for the plan. You can start by identifying ways to work as a team. Ask each other, “How can we support one another to get through this?” Brainstorm about what might be helpful. What can each of you contribute? Even if one of the partners is going to be responsible for handling the bulk of the stressor, the other partner can do more in support areas, such as increasing their chores around the house. Another way to work as a team is by recognizing the need for increased emotional support during times of stress. For example, partners may need to vent and to let off steam now and then. Bolstering each other’s spirits with words of encouragement can also go a long way. “We are going to get through this,” or “I know you are doing everything you can and I see you fighting hard.” Find out what would be meaningful to your partner and try to come through for them. Let them know what would be helpful to you also, rather than expecting them to read your mind.
3. Remember, a stressful time is usually temporary and will pass. You want your relationship to weather the storm. Think about how you will want to have handled yourself after the stress has passed. When you look back on it in the future, what will make you proud regarding how you conducted yourself? How will you have wanted to treat your partner? Whatever that is — you can use it as your guide.
4. Another crucial step in managing high stress is to figure out how to calm your body. Take breaks from the issue at hand. Focus on something else for a while; a walk in nature, a kayak excursion, a good dinner out. Get some exercise, (you knew I was going to stay that). Harvard Health Publishing says that exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Exercise also stimulates the production of endorphins, which are the body’s natural mood elevators. Also, if you decide you need some outside support, don’t wait until things fester, go ahead and reach out.
5. Finally, don’t expect perfection. You might see some iffy behavior from your spouse (or yourself) during high-stress times. It’s likely to test your mettle. I once heard the definition that a good relationship is when only one person goes crazy at a time. If there is a major stressor, there’s a good chance that both people will be tempted to “lose it” at the same time and if so, it’s going to be ugly. Instead, you can tag-team with each other, and when your partner is struggling hard, you can step up and be the calming influence.
When “stuff happens” in your life, take measures to care for yourself, as well as your relationship by following these common sense ideas.
Meg Luce, M.S., is a marriage and family therapist in Grass Valley specializing in helping couples create satisfying relationships. You can find her contact info at nevadacountytherapist.com.
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