Here it comes again! The annual day of celebrating relationships and love with cards, candy, and flowers. We’re talking about Valentine’s Day. It may be a holiday of fun, excitement, and love for some; however, it can also highlight for many people the stress of being in a relationship. But don’t worry! Let’s figure out how to deal with relationship stress together.
What is Relationship Stress?
First, let’s clarify what we mean when we say “relationship.” It refers to all types of relationships, not just romantic partners. We form many different kinds of relationships throughout our lives: with friends, family, coworkers, and romantic partners. What we experience in our day-to-day lives can impact our relationships with others. As a result, relationship stress is not just for those in romantic relationships; it impacts us all!
What Can Stress Do?
When people experience stress, they can feel distracted, withdrawn, preoccupied, and less affectionate. Stress can even cause people to experience increased vigilance and sensitivity to criticism. When people find themselves in a heightened emotional or irritated state, they can also be more likely to fight or disagree over issues that they normally wouldn’t.
Stress in relationships is quite common. However, unmitigated stress can have quite a negative impact on a relationship. Stress can come from many places, but in relationships, some common sources of stress include financial issues, long-term illness, and work pressure. Stress in relationships also stems from a loss of trust, negativity, and frequent fights.
Loss of Trust
Losing trust isn’t just about infidelity. Trust can be diminished when plans are blown off and constantly canceled or when information given in confidence and privacy is shared with others. Negativity such as frequent sarcasm, criticism, and put-downs bring stress into relationships, in addition to frequent fighting and arguments.
Often when there is frequent fighting and arguing, it can lead to people feeling like they need to walk on eggshells and avoid doing or saying something that might lead to a fight.
With that said . .
Considering Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, it may be a great time to take stock of your relationship(s). How healthy are they? How much are they impacted by stress?
With Valentine’s Day being a time to celebrate relationships, it’s also a great time to focus on the deeper importance of the actual relationship itself, instead of the widespread commercialization of the holiday.
How to Deal with Relationship Stress
When dealing with relationship stress, three factors are most important: communication, insight, and acceptance. Let’s review each in-depth as we discover how to deal with relationship stress.
Communication is usually the best place to start with any kind of relationship stress. The majority of us are not mind readers, and we often make unfair assumptions that others know or can predict what we are thinking or how we will feel.
When we make assumptions about a person’s behavior or actions, we then develop our own beliefs or thoughts related to those behaviors and actions, and subsequent feelings based on those thoughts. So, before going too far with deciding how or why a person is exhibiting certain behaviors and actions and how it relates to you, seek some clarification first.
Understanding and Defensiveness
When we seek to understand another person’s experience or feelings, we must always come from a place of listening to understand, not respond. Think back to some tense conversations you’ve had or even verbal fights. We are often engaged in these types of verbal exchanges waiting for our turn to speak so we can defend ourselves or make our point.
When we do this, we are not hearing or understanding what the other person is trying to tell us. We must recognize that often when we are engaged in heated or tense conversations, we most likely are feeling defensive in some way. Defensiveness also limits our ability to listen to understand, not respond.
How to Listen
When in the listening role, try to keep in mind you are listening to understand. If you find yourself not understanding what the person is saying, ask more questions to help clarify. When asking these questions, try to do so with genuine curiosity, not sarcasm or judgment. Consider the following examples:
- “Can you help me understand what you mean when you say…..”
- “I’d like to understand better where you are coming from, but I am struggling to understand………… can you explain it to me more?”
- “What I am hearing you say is ……….. Is that a fair understanding of what you are explaining?”
When you are the one speaking or expressing your viewpoint, think about using “ I statements.” These types of statements help us to focus on our thoughts and feelings instead of the thoughts and characteristics we are attributing to the other person. “I statements” help us to reduce making assumptions and accusations towards the other person and allow us to focus on, express, and take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings.
They also provide an opportunity to express what we want. When we express how we are feeling without blame, the likelihood of the other person becoming defensive decreases, while the likelihood that they will hear and understand what we are trying to express increases.
Consider the following examples:
- “ I feel ________ when __________________becasue ___________. Please ______________.”
- Blaming: “You can’t keep coming home late, it is so inconsiderate.”
- I Statement: “ I feel worried when you come late because I worry. Please come home on time or communicate that you are safe when you are late.”
- Blaming: “ You never call me anymore. I guess you don’t care and we can’t be friends anymore.”
- I Statement: ”I feel hurt when you go so long without calling me because I’m afraid you don’t care.”
The next factor in “how to deal with relationship stress” is insight. Insight is when we have an awareness and understanding of something. We need insight into who we are, what our needs are, what our wants are, how we ask for or expect these things, and why we want/need them.
If we don’t understand how we operate or what drives our own behavior, how can we express this to someone else and expect them to understand? Additionally, without having insight and awareness to our feelings and moods, we might mistakenly assign responsibility to others for recognizing and fixing whatever is going on.
For example, our mood may be short-tempered or easily frustrated. Or we may feel very emotional and sad. We need to have insight and awareness as to what is influencing and causing these feelings.
What About Our Relationships?
Without understanding those components, we allow it to flow over into our relationships and cause unnecessary tension and drama. If we have insight as to what is driving our mood, feelings, and behavior, we can articulate it with words so those around us understand what is going on with us. Having insight, and then being able to verbalize it helps those we are in relationships with understand us better, instead of making assumptions about us and base their behavior off an assumption.
The final factor in “how to deal with relationship stress” is acceptance. What does “acceptance” even mean?
Guess what, it does not mean agreeing with others. It means valuing the differences we have with others and learning to live with them. Acceptance is a very important aspect of relationships. We must all recognize the fact that we are individuals, and as such, we have differing opinions, beliefs, and way of doing things. We see the world and our experiences in it through different lenses.
Flexibility and Compromise
For our relationships to be successful and mutually beneficial, there needs to be flexibility and an ability to compromise. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are not perfect. This means we will make mistakes, as will those we are in relationships with.
When we value and respect the people we are in relationships with, we are able to understand that they will make mistakes too. While we may not always agree with those we are in relationships with, we need to be willing to accept that they will choose to respond and handle things differently than us.
So long as their behavior and choices align with safety, your values, and comfort level, acceptance should come naturally. It’s important to remember that we should never accept or tolerate harmful, violent, dangerous, or abusive behavior. Healthy acceptance leads to healthy relationships.
Ready to Deal With Relationship Stress This Valentine’s Day?
If you need some help dealing with the stress of relationships, Bright Harbor Healthcare is here for you. For those struggling with interpersonal relationship issues, excessive anxiety, or even a divorce, separation, or loss, we offer trained therapists to help navigate stress, grief, and trauma within family and relationship dynamics.
What Else Can Bright Harbor Healthcare Help You With?
Whatever the case may be, Bright Harbor Healthcare is here to support you this Valentine’s Day and beyond.
Bright Harbor Healthcare offers so much more than outpatient counseling. Ongoing and chronic health issues such as major depression, substance use, and physical health needs can contribute to relationship stress too. If you find your relationship stress impacted by any of these health issues, Bright Harbor Healthcare is here for you! With a specialized TMS Center for depression treatment and comprehensive addiction care, Bright Harbor Healthcare is here to support you! Connect with us today to get started.