Conflict in an evolving relationship is normal (and often healthy!). However, there is a real difference between healthy, constructive conflict and unhealthy, destructive conflict. Marriage Therapist and Dating Coach, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, expounds on this critical relationship topic today on the Love, Happiness and Success blog.
Protect Your Relationship In Times Of Stress
Habits of Healthy Couples
In my work with couples through online marriage counseling and relationship coaching, many of my couples clients report that their conflicts become unavoidable and difficult during stressful conditions. Even the most healthy, successful relationships will admit that when outside stressors begin to permeate the protective barrier built with patience, perseverance, and care there is an underlying discomfort that starts to engross itself into the relationship.
Now more than ever as we face social isolation, city-wide quarantines, and the threat of a highly contagious virus we need to rely on our closest relationships for support. Unfortunately, the stressors due to the state of the world we are currently living in make our relationship conflicts heavy and difficult.
When under perfect conditions, relationship conflicts are easily manageable and negotiable. Stress, however, awakens a fight-or-flight reaction that requires a mindful response from both partners. If you are looking for ways to protect your relationship in times of stress, here are five easy ways to look out for your partner and your relationship when things start to feel a little heavy.
5 Easy Ways To Protect Your Relationship In Times Of Stress
Look for Opportunities to Show Grace
When we are experiencing a great deal of stress, anxiety, or worry we’re far less likely to be as forgiving, thoughtful, or mindful of other people as we would be normally. The lack of patience we feel when stressed (especially when stuck at home) can lead to a great deal of conflict in any relationship.
As such, simply being aware of your or your partner’s shorter temper caused by stress can allow the flexibility of compassionate understanding. Looking for opportunities to show grace is an excellent way to protect your relationship in times of stress.
If your partner is likely to experience high levels of anxiety and decreased patience as a result of stress, give them grace for it. Make these moments an open conversation and ask them how they’re doing, how they’re coping in spite of the increased stress, and if they need anything.
When we show grace to our partners in their time of need, they are more likely to reciprocate for us in ours. Being supportive of your partner’s feelings and reactions to stress (even if you don’t fully understand) will strengthen your bond.
For more on communication in times of stress, read: Communication That Connects
Consider Your Partner’s Love Language
Every one of us has a special way we understand and process love. For some, it may be spending quality time together, while others may enjoy words of affirmation. When asking what your partner needs, consider their love language. If you don’t know what your or your partner’s love language is, here’s a link to a quick quiz to find out: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/.
You can better support your partner when you know how they prefer to give and receive love, and vice versa. Stress and anxiety may prevent us from showing love in the best way, but if we understand our partner (and them us) on this deeper level, it makes showing up for one another easier.
Showing your partner love in the best way that they receive it can make a huge difference at the end of a long, stress-filled day. Sometimes, however, no matter how love is shown our loved ones may simply not be in the best place to receive it. When this is the case, it’s okay to give them adequate space to work through and process what’s happening internally.
Remember, your partner loves you! And if their “flight” response is initiated in times of stress – give them the much-needed space they may need to heal, so that they can show up for you when you need them the most!
Know that Time Apart is Okay!
Sometimes, after long stressful days what we need is a period of time alone to reset, recollect ourselves, and reorient to being at home. This can be extremely difficult for partners whose boundaries are drastically different from one another.
If you are a “reacher” and always down for attention, but your partner tends to retreat when stressed or tired you can help them by giving them some alone time to process their day and feelings. This will help avoid conflict and maintain a healthy relationship.
If you or your partner are encountering a lot of stress within the home environment, encourage one another to find a quiet space to be alone for a few minutes. This simple act helps to reset our internal stress meters allowing us to “show-up” more attentive and empathetic for our partner.
Looking for other ways you can practice empathy? Read: Empathy: The Key to Connection and Communication
Maintain Your Individual and Relationship Routines
Stressful situations often cause us to forego certain routines: relationship care routines, self-care routines, and professional routines. We NEED these routines to feel normal, be successful, and feel a sense of security in ourselves and our partner.
If you and your partner try to keep a regular date night once a week, do everything you can to maintain that routine. That means if you’re stuck at home, bring date night home. You can light candles, cook an easy meal together, and find a fun activity to do.
If you’re accustomed to an early morning workout in the gym but can’t go to the gym, find a few guided yoga videos or in-home exercises to keep your regular routine going. Maintaining your self-care routines will help you feel more comfortable in an otherwise stressful situation. Not to mention, exercise and a little R-n-R can refresh your mind and lower stress cortisol levels.
When working from home, it’s important to maintain your professional routines. Set a schedule, connect with coworkers via phone or online video, and meet your deadlines just as you would at the office. Also, stepping away from your work when the “workday” is complete will help you keep healthy habits around work / home boundaries.
These are just a few ways that maintaining routines can help protect your relationship in times of stress.
Externalize The Stress And Unite Together
We can all be guilty of bringing external stressors into our interpersonal relationships. The more stressful things become the more it impacts our day to day with our loved ones. Eventually, we find ourselves snapping at our partners, angry at them for little things.
It may seem at these times that we’re angry or frustrated with our partner when what we’re really experiencing is loss. We miss our partner in the stress-free environment that allowed us to fully enjoy our partner’s company. Our partner isn’t our enemy during these times, in fact, they’re our greatest ally.
Unite together, recognize how the stress is impacting your relationship, and talk together about how you both can work to lower stress and protect your relationship.
These 5 Easy Ways to Protect Your Relationship in Times of Stress are all contingent on safe, open communication with your partner. Always communicate openly with your partner and do everything you can to listen and empathize with them.
Wishing you all the best,
Silas Hendrich, M.S., MFTC
Silas Hendrich, M.S., MFTC is a couples counselor, therapist, and life coach with an easy-going, humorous, and down-to-earth style that makes personal growth work both enjoyable and effective. His tireless support, encouragement, and expertise help you get motivated to make real and lasting change in yourself and your relationships.
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