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February 2021 FSW Blogs Stress and Relationships Week 1: Relationship with Significant Other

“Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. No, don’t blush, I am telling you some truths. That is just being ‘in love,’ which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.”~ Louis de Bernières

I think we all know that relationships are not all rainbows and sprinkles… it takes a lot of work to create an amazing relationship. Normal every day stress can impact our love relationships and combine that with a pandemic and you are looking at a whole new type of relationship stress. The good news is that when individuals and couples create functional ways of coping with stress they can create a powerful relationship filled with emotional closeness and even renewed intimacy.

Stress has become such a normalized part of our day that partners can become immune to the symptoms and warning signs of stress. Ignoring our stress only makes it worse and when we do ignore it, it becomes absorbed and can fester until one partner explodes with frustration. I think we have all been there.

The other caveat is that stress is also contagious. When one person is tense, the other person can pick up on the tension and “put up their dukes” to prepare for a battle. Neither partner is able to relax and enjoy each other because their minds are focused on the tension. You can notice stress in actions, behavior and in verbal and non-verbal communications. The more stressed out the couples are, the more they can quarrel, bicker or fight. They may withdraw from each other, feel disconnected, sad, frustrated or angry. Ongoing, unchecked stress can create long term problems within any relationship and can also lead to depression, isolation and anxiety. All of these can bring more distance between partners.

Relationship troubles begin when one partner unintentionally shuts out the other and doesn’t express their stress. It can be very destructive to a relationship and very confusing to the other partner. This is one of the dysfunctional ways of coping with stress. When individuals and couples can learn and use more functional ways of coping with stress, they will be able to restore their emotional closeness, renew their intimacy and revive their romance with their partner.

The following tips will help you take action steps toward transforming your relationship and help you recognize stress as well as how to comfort your partner when either or both of you are stressed.

Tip #1:

Acknowledge stress symptoms in you and your partner. How do you know if you (or your partner) are stressed?

Are either of you cranky, moody, teary, angry, restless, agitated, ornery, pouty, withdrawn, snappy, hyper, restless or overly excited?

Do either of you are use drugs, alcohol or food to self-medicate?

Do you resent your partner, or are angry with every little thing that they do?

Drs. John and Julie Gottman created the Gottman Institute. They use a research-based approach to relationships and have had much success helping couples reconnect and renew their love and appreciation for each other. They suggest using the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale .pdf attached:

The scale provides a starting point for partners to pinpoint what is really affecting the relationship. Once you can start identifying the stressors you will see that it isn’t your partner per se, but the stress that they are enduring that is causing problems in the relationship. Check out the stress scale and answer the questions to better understand where each of you are with your stress. Once you have that, then ask yourself the following questions:

· What are you doing to help yourself cope with your stress?

· What ways are you coping with your stress that is having a positive effect on your relationship?

· What ways are you coping with your stress that is having a negative effect on your relationship?

· In what ways has stress affected your emotions?

· What actions would you like to take to better cope with your stress moving forward?

Tip #2:

List your stress reducing rituals. Take a moment and each of you to jot down some of your “comforting rituals” that help you destress. It can be anything from taking a bath, reading a book, working on a hobby, fixing up a car, or listening to calming music. If you find that you are gravitating toward a glass of wine, a drink or a beer, you will want to create some better coping strategies. Alcohol is not coping with your stress. Alcohol helps “numb” the stress, but doesn’t help you cope with it. In fact, it will be detrimental to your physical health and your communication skills as it can alter what you are feeling and you may say something you regret the next day. Look for something else that you can do each day that doesn’t involve alcohol or food. When you have your list, you can remind each other of some of the things on the list when you see your partner stressed. By simply noticing that they are stressed you can offer up one of their stress rituals; “Honey you look like you’ve had a stressful day. Why don’t you take an hour or so to work on your hobby while I make us some dinner?”

Tip #3:

Tune in and check in with your stress meter (1-10, 1 relaxed, 10 highly stressed). When you are both stressed it can be hard to comfort each other, so it is key to know how you can cope on your own. You cannot truly comfort your partner until you have comforted yourself first. Tune in and check in with yourself and your own stress levels. When you have determined what your level is, take a moment and do one of your rituals to bring your mind and body to a state of calm and peace. When you have done one of your rituals and feel calm, reach out to your partner and support them in what they are working through. You can share your stress meter with your partner so they have a clear idea of where you are on the scale and that may help them calm down, knowing that you are stressed too. Encourage each other to take care of their stress “temps” and do what they need to do to feel better. By being proactive with knowing and recognizing your stress “temp” you will realize when stress is the true factor in arguments or disagreements.


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