There are so many ways a relationship can be stressed. The loss of a job, birth or adoption of a baby, grieving, or a pandemic requiring everyone to stay home can all cause significant stress in a relationship. The stress is so significant, in fact, that it can push the relationship to its breaking point if not managed.
The thing about management, though, is that often the focus is on managing the stress. But what if the stress can’t be managed? Sometimes you can’t do anything about a stressful situation other than push through and wait for it to pass.
So what do you manage then? Instead of trying to manage the stress itself, try to manage the way it impacts your relationship. Take steps to keep your relationship healthy and happy despite the stress bombarding it.
Engage in physical touch
Physical touch releases oxytocin, also known as the cuddling hormone. It increases feelings of connection, and decreases pain, blood pressure and cortisol levels. Cortisol levels rise with stress, so oxytocin can make you feel less stressed.
Physical touch doesn’t have to mean sex, though that is certainly one of your options. But you can also simply hold hands, cuddle on the couch while you watch a movie, or touch feet while you lie in bed falling asleep.
Offer each other massages, play with each other’s hair, or rest a hand on your partner’s leg.
Be even more communicative about your needs
Your partner is not a mind reader. You should always be verbally expressing your needs in order for them to meet those needs.
But in times of stress, needs can change drastically and quickly. It’s more important than ever to be clear and vocal about what you need. Particularly when your partner is working hard to meet a need and it changes, you need to speak up so they can shift focus and offer you what you really need.
Of course, this also means that you need to be in touch with your own needs. This may require engaging in meditation or simply taking a few minutes to sit quietly so you can understand what you need and figure out how to express it.
On the flip side of this, pay attention when your partner is communicating their needs as well. Even as you’re trying to get your own needs met, you need to be there for your partner and theirs.
Cut each other some slack
Stress can wreak havoc on a person. Memory and concentration both suffer, patience runs thin, and sometimes we get our priorities a little out of whack.
During stressful times, cutting each other a little slack can be imperative for keeping the relationship intact and healthy. This doesn’t mean you should overlook a big problem, such as having an affair or creating a huge amount of debt.
But it does mean offering a little understanding if they forget to pick up the milk you asked them to get. It means your partner not retaliating if you snap at them over dinner.
And if a bigger problem does arise, cutting each other some slack means taking a step back before trying to deal with it. Allowing big emotions to settle can allow for a calmer, more productive discussion.
Find ways to have fun together
During stressful times, it can sometimes seem like all you do is put your head down and try to barrel through. You’re trying so hard to get through the stress, to not suffocate under the weight of it, that there’s no room for anything else. But having fun can help with that.
Even during times of stress, having fun matters. It can reduce the feelings of stress. It can remind us there’s more to life than the stressful moment we’re currently living in. And it brings us closer with our partner.
Look for simple ways to have fun together. Play a video or board game together. Watch a funny movie. Get outside and do something you both enjoy. Explore new activities you’ve never tried before and if they don’t go well, find ways to laugh about that.
Having fun together will also help create more happy couple memories, which is especially important when you’re under a lot of stress. You want to have plenty of good memories together to balance or even outweigh the negative memories from stressful times.
Keep showing up for yourself
You can’t rely on your partner or other people to be the only source of your stress relief. You need to show up for yourself and find ways that you can deal with your stress yourself.
This is where self-care comes in. You should be engaging in regular self-care, and during times of stress, you should take extra care to ensure that you keep engaging in it.
Remember that self-care is not about fancy haircuts, expensive manicures or massages, or other luxurious things. Self-care is also eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep, unplugging from technology and social media, and setting and enforcing boundaries.
When we’re under stress, it’s all too easy to let our self-care be the first thing to go. Giving in to food cravings in an attempt to soothe ourselves, feeling self-indulgent by doing something good for ourselves when things are going haywire — self-care can either seem like a luxury or too much work to do.
If you need to, put it on your calendar or set reminders on your phone. Just make sure you show up for yourself. You’ll meet your partner halfway by taking care of yourself first instead of expecting them to do it all.
Seek out support from others
One of the biggest strains on a relationship, whether life is stressful or not, is expecting our partner to meet all of our needs. When things get stressful, however, this expectation can break the relationship.
Your partner cannot meet your every need. And you cannot meet all of theirs. This is not something to be ashamed of or worried about. It’s just a simple fact.
No one person can meet all of another person’s needs.
That’s why you need to seek out support from people other than your partner. Friends, family, co-workers, therapists, counselors, and life coaches are all people to look to for support. If physical health is a cause of stress, then your doctors and other healthcare providers should also be a part of your support system.
Remember you’re in it together
Too often, when faced with stress and problems, we tend to try to tackle them as if our partner is on the other side of it working against us. But our partner is not the enemy. We are a team with our partner against whatever life throws at us.
It’s important to remind ourselves of this when life gets stressful. When you feel like everything is against you, you’re drowning under waves of stress, and it feels like like just couldn’t get any harder, remember that you’re not alone. You have a partner who is on your side and in it with you.
Remember the connection between you. Remember the love you share. Remember you’re in it together and you don’t have to do it all by yourself.
Stress doesn’t (usually) last forever
Stress is often temporary. Sometimes it lasts longer, sometimes not as long. But it almost always goes away eventually. If you can keep your relationship healthy and intact through it, you’ll usually come out the other side stronger and more connected.
It just takes commitment and dedication to making it through. As long as you’re both willing to try, you’ll do what needs to be done.
Don’t let transient stress tear you apart. Stick together and keep fighting on the same side. When the stress is gone and your relationship is better than ever, you’ll be glad you did.
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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