No matter how strong your marriage/relationship is, it is common for misunderstandings to escalate when you and/or your partner are dealing with significant stress (financial pressures, changing jobs, becoming new parents, moving to a new location).
Ideally you and your mate will learn to rely on one another to get through the difficult times that are part of every life. The reality for many couples, however, is often different.
Relationship Help: Become Mindful of Your Coping Style
Often a marriage or relationship is damaged not by the stress itself, but by the way in which you and your spouse/partner cope with stress. We each have typical ways of behaving and reacting when under stress.
So the more information you have about how you both deal with the pressures of life (your patterns of coping), the more understanding and empathy you will have for one another during relationship rough patches.
Information (and understanding) about each other’s copying styles is the antidote to letting stress erode your relationship.
So the goal is for you and your partner to educate each other about how you each deal with stressful events. Being able to predict the way your partner will react when overwhelmed can help you maintain a more rational perspective when your marriage feels the strain of the particular issues you face.
Marriage Help: What are Your Stress-Reactions?
If you’re not certain how you typically deal with stress, take a few moments to think about several stressful situations you had to deal with over the last year. This might involve pressure at work, financial strains, parenting challenges, health issues, to name a few. Then think of specific ways you handled that difficulty.
How did the stress end up impacting your relationship?
Here are a few ways couples cope with stress:
- You seek your spouse’s/partner’s support and ask for his/her help;
- You need to talk about your feelings as a way to cope and therefore need your partner to listen;
- Rather than listen to what your spouse’s needs, you jump into problem-solving/fix-it mode and push solutions on your mate (this has a tendency of making your partner feel like you’re not hearing him/her or that you’re trying to rush past the problem);
- You isolate yourself and try to deal with problems on your own (this may confuse your partner if s/he doesn’t realize that you’re coping with a stressful event outside the relationship;
- You try not to think about the stressful circumstances; you tend to throw yourself into unrelated activities as a way to distract yourself from the problems—an avoidance tactic;
- You shut down and become numb emotionally (which can create an emotional distance between you and your partner);
- You become argumentative–even though your partner is not the cause of the stress, s/he becomes a safe scapegoat for your frustrations.
This list is by no means exhaustive and you may not have just one pervasive coping style–e.g., you may initially withdraw to gain some perspective and then move into seeking support from your spouse/partner.
Sit down with your spouse/partner and review the above list. Try to suspend any judgment about how the other person copes with stress. Instead try to understand and empathize with why a particular coping style works for him/her. Ask questions about why s/he finds that style helpful (even if you don’t find it helpful).
You can also go a little further and explore where you each learned to rely on particular coping strategies (examining family of origin patterns).
Dr. Rich Nicastro