Stress from work, kids, finances, family and friendship obligations can all impact the relationship we have with our significant other. Do you ever find yourself snapping at your loved one and then feeling guilty about it later? I know I sure do. When we live with the person we love, it is only natural that they will get both the best and the worst of us. At our workplace or with our friends we often expect better behavior from ourselves, but when we come home to our family the tension we've been holding all day can sneak up on us and come out in ways we'd rather not admit to in public.
If you're finding that outside stress is impacting your relationship on a regular basis, or that the effects are becoming a problem in your relationship, here are some tips to help manage the impact of stress on your relationship.
1. Do less. This is both the least favorite advice I have ever received and the most effective advice I have ever received. I'm a chronic doer. There is really nothing in the world that compares to checking off that final item on my to-do-list. I love that feeling of accomplishment. I have found myself sucked into thinking that the longer the to-do-list, the greater the sense of accomplishment will be. It took me a while to admit to myself that this isn't what happens in practice. The truth is that when my to-do-list gets too long, I have more difficulty identifying what is truly important to me. When my list is too long, my patience is shorter, I have less pride in the results of my projects and I'm generally less present in all that I do. I've discovered that doing less means that I have more of the parts of my life that I enjoy.
The idea of doing less to have more can be applicable to people who aren't chronic doers as well. People have different limits as to how long their lists can be. The tricky part is figuring out what your own limits are. When we're in a relationship, we also have to find ways to communicate to our partners what our limits are. To take it a step further, it can also be helpful to figure out what our family limits are. Conversations about how and what to limit on our family schedule can be empowering by helping to shape, define and clarify our family values and goals.
2. Have a buisness meeting. One practical way to limit your to-do-list is to have a regularly scheduled business meeting with your partner. This is a regular scheduled time that is NOT part of a date night. It is a time when you and your partner sit down and talk about the business of running your family. The agenda can include finances, housework, calendar planning, meal prep, child care arrangements; the things that are often on one or both partners individual to-do-list. Sitting down to talk about these things as a couple can become an opportunity to share in responsibilities, feel supported in day to day life by your partner and feel a sense of team work.
3. Share your feelings and ask for space when you need it. Sometimes outside stress can be overwhelming and what we need is time alone to process and decompress. Our partners can be left feeling inadequate if they want to support us and we want to be alone. A simple but effective communication tool can help prevent and manage hurt feelings during these times. First, share your feeling, "I feel overwhelmed and frustrated." Next, share what this feeling is about, "Work is incredibly difficult right now. My supervisor has been on me all week about getting this report done and I just don't seem to have enough hours in the day." Lastly, ask for what you need, "I really need some time alone to decompress before we get on with our night. Can I have an hour to myself?" This technique is helpful because by sharing your feelings and thoughts first, you're including your partner in your inner world. This can help your partner feel a sense of connection with you as well as the opportunity to give you what you need, even if that is time alone. In addition, you're honoring what your needs are and trusting that your partner will be able to help you meet those needs.
4. Ask for a hug. Sometimes what we need is a hug. Physical connection with our attachment partner can do wonders to alleviate stress. Research has shown that hugging actually reduces the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine. You can read more about the amazing benefits of hugging here.
5. Practice your own self-care, and become knowledgable about your partners self-care. The times when stress is most present in our lives are usually the times that are the most inconvenient to practice self-care. This is when having a partner who knows what your self-care is and can recognize when you're not practicing it can come in handy. Having conversations about what our own self-care is can give your relationship that opportunity to support your individual well-being. Your partner will benefit from gentle reminders to practice self-care, and you will benefit from the same.
If you've tried any of these tips and they've worked for you, I'd love to hear about it. If you have other tips you would add to the list, I would love to hear those as well. I look forward to reading your comments below.