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ERP 074: How To Combat The Damage Of Stress In Your Relationship

By Posted in - Podcast August 12th, 2016 0 Comments

What Is Stress?

Definition of Stress by Merriam-Webster:
Stress is “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation” and “tend to alter an existent equilibrium.”

Damage of Stress

Stress is a common part of our lives, yet it is easy for us to undermine its impact on our well-being and our relationships. In fact, many of us become numb to the symptoms and warning signs of stress.

However, when we ignore our symptoms and signs of stress, we remove our opportunity to reduce stress effectively. Furthermore, stress has a tendency to produce more stress. Have you ever been around someone who is extremely stressed? Stress almost feels contiguous.

When partners are both negatively affected by stress, it can have a serious impact on the relationship. Stressed out couples argue more, turn away from each other more, feel more disconnected, frustrated, and angry with one another. Couples experiencing stress also find it difficult to relax and enjoy each other, as well as seeing each other in a positive light.

Long-term Stress

If stress is unchecked, couples may end up dealing with bigger problems down the road. There are many consequences to the long-term experience of disconnection, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, conflict, and negativity (i.e. depression, anxiety, divorce).

“Relationships exposed to high stress for a long amount of time are bound to falter, no matter how well each individual’s relationship skills. During such times, we are more likely to see the relationship as being negative, not realizing the impact the stress is having in the validity of our evaluation — it colors our perception of the relationship itself. Remove the stress, and people’s positive relationship skills can once again — and usually do — take over.” By John M. Grohol, Psy.D

Stress Inventory:

Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale

Stress Curve:

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 1.11.12 PM

Signs and Symptoms of Stress:

Emotionally:

  • Apprehension or feeling anxious
  • More irritable or getting upset more easily
  • Social withdrawal and/or loneliness
  • Restless and worrying
  • Anger and/or sadness (smiling and laughing less)
  • Feeling insecure or more fearful
  • Dissatisfaction

Physically:

  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Muscle tension and unable to relax
  • Shortened or shallow breathing
  • Headache & dizziness
  • Stomach ache
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Low sexual desire
  • Increase in substance use (i.e. sugar, alcohol, caffeine, etc.)

Mentally:

  • Inability to concentrate or focus (i.e. more preoccupied)
  • Confusion
  • Forgetful and/or daydreaming
  • Decrease in productivity, creativity, and/or curiosity
  • Burnout
  • Negative thinking
  • Guilt

“When under increased stress, we feel perceived slights, for instance, by our significant other more acutely.” By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

“One study that followed 80 couples over four years found that those who experienced more stress outside of their relationship reported feeling less comfortable and less close with their partner. They also felt less sure of the relationship than folks who experienced less stress.” by Laura Newcomer

Relationally:

  • Shorter fuse, less patience,
  • Focus on pain and negativity
  • More likely to have a stronger reaction
  • Not available for connection
  • Kill libido
  • Communication does downhill
  • Lack of listening
  • More judgement and tendency to blame
  • Feel attraction towards other people:

“Research shows we’re more likely to feel attracted to other people when feeling taxed. Anxiety can make us fantasize about being with a different partner and pay less positive attention to the one we already have.” by Laura Newcomer

In the field of psychology, it is a common understanding that people tend to regress when under stress. People’s level of functioning and skilfulness is lowered.

“Ability alone, as the researchers note, does not ensure that you’ll be able to respond appropriately in your relationship. In may be necessary but not sufficient to have good relationship skills, because you may not be able to draw upon those skills when under increased stress. The researchers also found that a person’s relationship abilities — like relationships themselves — wax and wane over time. They are not these static skills that exist in some vacuum. In times of stress, this research suggests that we can’t always call upon our positive relationship or communication skills — the stress can overwhelm us and our abilities.” by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

6 Ways To Combat Stress In Your Relationship

1. Know Your Stress Cues (or warning signs)

  • How do you typically respond to stress in your life? Can you look back on past stress in your life and notice patterns or common stress symptoms?
  • How do you know when you are stressed? What are your cues (i.e. eye twitches, neck and shoulder tension, more accident prone, smile less, laugh less, more preoccupied, more perfectionist, etc.)?
  • Ask your partner, “what do know about me when I am stressed?”
  • How do you know when your partner is stressed? What are your partner’s stress cues and signs?
  • What happens in your relationship when one or both of you are stressed (i.e. fight more, have less sex, less connection, etc.)?
  • Use the list of signs and symptoms of stress (see above) as a resource list to identify your stress cues.
  • Take the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale to get your stress score to identify your level of stress.
  • Identify the source stress: Take time to explore the sources of stress in your life.

2. Hold The Bigger Picture In Mind

  • Acceptance. Don’t fight what is happening. Sure, you may not enjoy or prefer the stressful circumstance. However, struggling with the reality tends to create more suffering.
  • Recognize the stress as the issue, not your partner. Neither one of you are to blame.
  • Everyone deals with stress differently (i.e. zone out, cry, sleep more).
  • Being stressed is NOT character flaw!
  • Compassion. You and your partner are doing the best that you can.
  • Flexibility. Remember the stressful situation is temporary, and/or try to get perspective that your life is more than this stressful experience.
  • Forgiveness. Can you give your partner the benefit of the doubt? If you recognize an issue or concern (that you cannot overlook), make a point to address it. Otherwise, can you offer some grace and slack to your partner?
  • Gather resources. Ask family or friends to help out. Do a trade with someone to get support. Hire some extra help.

Stay tuned for the next 4 Ways To Combat Stress In Your Relationship in the next podcast episode.

Mentioned:

Transcript:

Click on this link to access the transcript for this episode: ERP 074: How To Combat The Damage Of Stress In Your Relationship

If you have a topic you would like me to discuss or a situation you would like me to speak to, please contact me by clicking on the “Ask Dr. Jessica Higgins” button here.

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Thank you!

If you are interested in developing new skills to overcome relationship challenges, please consider taking the Empowered Relationship Course or doing relationship coaching work with me.

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