“If to change is what you need, you can change right next to me.”
As Ben Platt beautifully illustrates in his song “Grow As We Go”, you don’t need to leave a relationship just because it hits rocky waters. Our society looks up to long-lasting relationships, not because we applaud their ability to stay the same forever, but because they could make it through each other’s lifetime of changes and still find love for them.
Your entire relationship can suffer even if only one person is dealing with stress. How can you better your relationship’s chances of survival? Follow these steps to help ease stress on your relationship.
Acknowledge the Problem and the Solution
If your relationship is feeling the consequences of outside stress, it’s probably because one or all partners are acting emotionally distant. Emotional distance is when one partner shuts out the other to deal with stress outside the relationship. This is normally not done intentionally, but can have a heavy effect on the partnership.
Emotional distance can look like sleeping in separate beds, keeping conversations intellectual instead of emotional, using harsh words to cut conversations short, or being entirely silent towards the other person.
You will need to introduce functional ways to cope with stress (whether on an individual or couple’s level) to regain a sense of intimacy and romance.
Identifying Your Stressors
Having too many external stressors can interfere with a couple’s ability to communicate well, connect intimately, and resolve conflict. You can try the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale to help identify where your stress is and how stressed you are, especially if you have a bad habit of denying or downplaying your stressors.
Compare your list with your partners and see how and where they might interact.
Share How You’re Feeling with Honesty
Sit down with your partner and go over these questions:
- How has stress affected your emotions recently?
- What are you trying to help cope?
- Are there any coping mechanisms that have a positive effect on this relationship?
- Any that have a negative effect?
- What actions will you take to cope better in the future?
Take turns answering until each partner has felt fully heard by the other. When one person finishes, re-explain what they said in your own words to make sure you understand each other correctly.
Connecting with each other in this way will help you feel lighter, like the stress isn’t all your own anymore, and it will help to know for certain that your partner is supporting you through it.
Build Psychological Resilience
Psychological resilience is our ability to bounce back from stress and trauma. Everyone has psychological resilience, but its strength varies between people. The stronger one’s psychological resilience, the better they cope with stress that arises. It’s like a muscle you can work out over time through self-awareness and practice.
Here’s a list of things you can do to enhance your psychological resiliency…
- Reflect on your strengths and talents. Ask yourself, how am I using these strengths in my everyday life? How can I create opportunities for me to use them more often? Consider strengths assessments like VIA Strengths to identify and start building on these skills. Even better: ask your friends and family what they think your strengths are! This will also help build your sense of gratitude, which is linked to improving mental health.
- Expand your social circle. Being socially distant can weaken your psychological resiliency, as socialization is something all humans need to survive and thrive. Think of a hobby you love doing and see how you can build community around it. You could also perform random acts of kindness—this will bring more positivity into your life and leave you feeling like you helped someone today, which contributes to your sense of purpose.
- Acknowledge each other’s “bids”. According to Dr. John Gottman, emotional “bids” are ways we ask for attention or affirmation from our partner. These could be straight-up, like asking your partner, “Can you help me clean out the car?” or more subtle, like a sigh from across the room, indicating that they need to vent. In a study comparing couples’ first six years of marriage, the ones that stayed together answered each other’s bids 86% of the time, while couples that divorced only answered bids 33% of the time. Talking about each other’s bids is important to building a lasting, healthy relationship.
By following these steps, you can watch stress float away from your relationship like songbirds off into the sunset. Sometimes though, it helps to have an outside perspective that knows every detail. Schedule an appointment with our couples counselors in Los Gatos today for a more catered approach to building stress-coping skills as an individual or as a couple.