Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Relationship Problems: How To Protect Your Love From Stress

How can our relationships flourish in this era of non-stop stress?  Stress can kill your joy, optimism, motivation and health.  No wonder it can cause relationship problems too! 
Symptoms of chronic stress include addiction, angry outbursts, overeating, disturbed sleep, crying, headaches, anxiety and depression.  And there are more. None of these make for an intimate relationship, do they?  It’s difficult to foster a loving ambiance when you’re wound-up and ready to burst or worn down to the bones.
Worldwide divorce rates are soaring, ranging between 39% and 68% in countries with the highest number of final separations.  There’s no question that stress is a factor in pulling couples apart.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Although stress will always be a factor in our lives, your relationship doesn’t have to be its next victim.  As a couple, you can learn how to manage stress together.  Your relationship will grow more relaxing, empathetic, and enduring when you learn to say “no” to stress as a team.

If you don’t want difficult relationship problems, try these seven ways to protect your love from stress:

1.  Identify Your Stress Triggers

When you identify and acknowledge your stress triggers, you start to regain control over your life.  Once you know your stress triggers, you can examine them one at a time and decide to: 
Change yourself;
Change the situation;
Or, perceive the situation differently.
You’ll have individual stress triggers — like a challenging boss or financial concerns — as well as triggers that set you off as a couple.  For example, your partner is never on time, drives too fast, or looks at the computer while you’re talking to her. 
Choose a quiet time when you’ll be free from distraction.  Sit down together and individually make a list of your top five stressors.  Then individually make a list of your top five relationship stressors.  
When you’re done, share some or all of them with each other in an honest, caring, and authentic way.  Brainstorm ways you can help each other respond differently or change a situation that’s triggering stress.
Making modifications will take time.  So go easy.  Decide on one thing you want to change and just start there.  When you accomplish the first one, move on to the next.
This level of honest communication can be scary at first, but I think you’ll find it’s so worth it.  

2.  Be Honest with Yourself

You can’t be authentic with another human being if you aren’t already honest with yourself.  Often, we live in a state of reaction and don’t take time to look at our own feelings, wishes, and needs.  So much stress arises when we’re not in tune with and true to ourselves.
Take the time you need to get to know yourself.  This might involve journaling, drawing, meditation, walking in nature, talking with a good friend, or taking a course on your own.  Allow your partner time for self-reflection so she can really come to know her true self too.  
Feeling like you have to hide your real feelings and wishes only creates distrust and unease and will eventually wear away your relationship.  Authenticity is the only true foundation for a healthy relationship.

3. Mini Check-Ins

Don’t be like trains passing at high speed.  Say a real “hello” to your partner every day.  
Otherwise, unexpressed feelings and concerns tend to brew within and then pop out in unhealthy ways – like irritation, withdrawal, or insecurity.  It’s can be easy to pick up on the energy of the unspoken and unconsciously react in tense or unkind ways.  That can then spiral into more inter-personal distress.
So find your own best ways to ask your partner:
  • How are you doing?
  • How are you feeling?
  • How was your day?
Then listen.  It’s easier to be supportive when you know where your partner is at.
You don’t have to fix your partner’s problems. Listening itself can be a significant healing force.  
Opening the door to communication with these gentle questions will let the steam out before stress and pressure builds to frightening proportions. 

4.  Regular Planning Sessions

Hold regular sessions to plan out your life together.   These are valuable times to confer with each other.  You can discuss your personal and collective visions – the big picture – as well as all the practical things that need to be coordinated from house repairs to phone calls to shopping lists.
Schedule a planning session at least once a month, but twice a month is even better.  Regular planning sessions will keep you on the same page, shield you from unexpected surprises, and ensure that resentments don’t build up.

5.  Gratitude

Too often we focus on what we don’t like in our relationship instead of celebrating all the goodness that’s there.  It’s easy to get nit-picky and bicker about the small things, isn’t it? 
Gratitude, on the other hand, is a powerful way to keep your relationship steady and bright.  Research has shown that cultivating gratitude can lead to greater happiness, more optimism, a reduction in physical symptoms, and lower levels of depression and stress.  
Don’t let a day go by without expressing appreciation to your partner.  Let her know how much you enjoy being together and express gratitude for all the small things that often go unnoticed.  Try out these phrases to get started.
“I appreciate you.”
“I’m so grateful we’re together.”
“Thank you for doing the dishes.”
“Thank you for getting the car fixed.”
Expressing your gratitude is a simple, but exceptionally powerful way to help each other feel deeply accepted, which itself alleviates the stress of uncertainty.

6.  Laugh Together

Laughter is a fun and effective way to reduce stress.  A good laugh has the added benefits of improving your physical and mental health as well.  Research shows extended periods of laughter can:
  • Reduce levels of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine.
  • Increase blood flow to the heart.
  • Boost your immune system.
  • Strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles.
  • Deliver more oxygen to your tissues.
  • Relax your muscles.
  • Reduce pain.
  • Improve your mood and outlook.
Find ways to laugh together often and you’ll safeguard your relationship from stress.

7.  Invoke the Relaxation Response Together

The relaxation response is the physiological antidote to the stress response discovered by Dr. Herbert Benson more than 30 years ago.  According to Benson, you can invoke the relaxation response through the repetition of a sound, phrase, or movement while setting aside intruding thoughts by returning to the practice at hand. 
Here are some easy ways you can invoke the relaxation response: 
  • Abdominal (belly) breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Prayer
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Jogging
Choose one of these stress-busting activities, and practice it together. 
Stress is a natural and needed physiological response when you’re in danger.  But, given the craziness of modern life, many people have their stress response turned on far too much.  Chronic stress can contribute to a host of undesirable disorders from heart problems to immune-related dysfunction to depression and anxiety.  And, of course, a frazzled relationship.
If stress is starting to get to you, remember you’re not alone!  Thousands of people are grappling with this very same challenge.  Reach out to your partner and decide to work together to protect your relationship and yourselves from the negative effects of stress.
What’s one step you can take today to protect your relationship from stress? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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