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Stress and Relationships Week 3: Connect, Console, Comfort and Compassion

This month I have been sharing different tips and tricks to help lessen the stress on your relationships. I think we all know that relationships are not all rainbows and sprinkles… it takes a lot of work to create an amazing relationship. Every day stress, compounded by pandemic stress has created a whole new type of relationship stress that can put strain on even the most resilient couples. The good news is that when couples can create functional ways of coping with stress they can learn how to create a more powerful relationship filled with emotional closeness, renewed intimacy and, if done right, could even revive their romance.

Sometimes partners can become immune to the symptoms and warning signs of stress since it has become such a normalized part of our day. However, ignoring our stress only makes it worse and when we do ignore it, it can fester until one partner explodes with frustration. I speak from experience, this is not a place where you want to be in your relationship.

The other twist 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. Stress can show up in actions, behavior and in verbal and non-verbal communications. It will affect both partners and the crux of their relationship. The more stressed out the couples are, the more they can quarrel, bicker or fight. The higher the stress, the more likely they may withdraw from each other, feel disconnected, sad, frustrated or angry. Unchecked stress that is ongoing can create long term problems within a relationship. Long-term stress can lead to depression, isolation, anxiety and social ineptness. All of these can create distance between partners.

Do you feel this within your current relationship? Can you see where stress may be the underlying issue? Partners who are stressed are not able to relax and truly enjoy each other because their minds are focused on the tension and when the other shoe will drop.

Relationship troubles begin when one partner shuts out the other and doesn’t express their stress. Normally this isn’t done intentionally, but it can still be very destructive to a relationship. This is one of the dysfunctional ways of coping with stress. When couples keep their conversations on an intellectual level and not talk about what is happening in their lives or how their hearts feel it can make or break a relationship.

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. If your stress is pushing you further from your partner, take time to realize it, make some changes and seek help. These next tips will focus on connection, comfort, compassion and consoling to help you take action steps toward transforming your relationship and bring more passion into it instead of frustration and disappointment.

Tip #1:

Console and comfort each other. Sometimes we forget to take time to console our partners before we jump in to try and fix the problem. The key is to comfort each other first and then try and solve the problems after. Sometimes your partner is looking for a stress relief and not a brainstorming “fix-it” session. A gentle hug, kiss on the head or cheek or a kind touch and give them the support and comfort they need.

Connie Shapiro, PhD wrote a great article in Psychology Today detailing the reasons why some people may have a hard time comforting their partners during times of stress or trauma. She believes there are specific reasons why someone is able to provide support during certain situations, but not others and it is up to us to do some detective work to figure out why that may be the case.

Has your partner been able to comfort you in the past during specific situations? If so, jot down the situation and what they did to comfort you. Before you jump to conclusions it is always wise to know what may be the reason why they can support you sometimes, but not all the time. You may want to say something like, “I am so grateful when you support me on my rough days. Like last week when I didn’t get that raise. It feels so good when you find the right words to comfort me. Have I ever told you that?” Hopefully the response will be with an appreciation and you can continue with something like, “That’s why I am so confused during the times that you are oblivious to my overwhelm, sadness or frustration, like earlier this week when you knew I had been crying, but you were so matter-of-fact when I really needed you to be more comforting.”

When you are able to express your feelings and lay them out it can help move you closer to understanding what may be going on. This is a very non-confrontational way to ask for your partner’s help in understanding their perspective. You know and appreciate the times they do offer emotional support, but would like to know why they can’t offer it at other times.

Dr. Shapiro goes on to explain that there could be a variety of reasons from your partner is comfortable with your anger and they know that being a good listener is something they can do. Or, they know that they can empathize with your frustration and can shift their comforting techniques to strategize your next steps. But sometimes, if you are not getting the comforting response that you desire, it could be that they don’t know how to comfort you, especially if it is a situation without a clear solution. It could also be sad for your partner and they are not sure how to deal with their own emotions.

Tip #2:

Know your partners daily agenda. If you know that on Thursday your partner has a big day at work be prepared to help out a little extra that day. Do they have a friend who is going through some tough times and need some extra support? Do they have a work evaluation coming up? Ask your partner what is happening in their week so you will be prepared to offer assistance when needed. If you don’t know simply ask, “Honey, what is going on for you today?” No one is a mind reader, so asking is the only way you are going to know what is happening in their lives.

Tip #3:

Stay active together. Moving your body every day is key to keeping stress levels low, doing it with your partner is one of the best ways to reduce stress and reconnect on a different level.

- Try a new workout together.

- Take a hike together.

- Ride your bikes down a new path.

- Take up a new sport together like paddle boarding, snow shoeing or cross-country skiing.

- Find a beginner yoga class to do in your living room via stream or video.

- Engaging in new activities can even help reignite a relationship and put a new spark in your enjoyment of spending time together.

How can you connect, console and comfort your partner? How have you offered more compassion to their situation, thoughts, beliefs and fears?


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