Managing Stress In Marriage

 

Most people are aware of the injurious personal costs of stress – those that harm the individual.  However, we often do not consider the destructive interpersonal consequences – those that damage our relationships.  Concerning marriage, the effects of stress can certainly present many difficult challenges.  But, your marriage can survive – and even thrive – despite encountering stress if you learn to manage it properly.

Causes of Stress

The first thing you need to know about stress is where it comes from.  External pressures are a part of life.  No one can avoid them completely.  A mistake people often make is supposing that stress is always caused by negative or unfavorable circumstances.  This is often true, but it can also originate from otherwise positive situations.  The birth of a child, moving into a new home, starting a new job, and preparing for a celebration or vacation are all examples of exciting events in a marriage that can bring some level of tension – and, with it, potential for problems.  Stress, then, is simply the “wear and tear” that we experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment.

Effects of Stress

Another erroneous assumption is that stress always results in negative or unpleasant experiences.  As we have seen, above, positive stress adds anticipation and enthusiasm to life.  In fact, most tend to thrive under a certain amount of stress.   Working under a deadline or participating in a competition can be exhilarating and gratifying experiences.  As odd as it may seem, frustrations and sorrows can add depth and enrichment to our lives.  Indeed, successfully working through difficult times together in marriage can increase bondedness, intimacy, and commitment.  Stress doesn’t always pull you away from your spouse.  If channeled wisely it can draw you closer together.

Symptoms of Stress

Not everyone experiences the exact same symptoms to the same degree as others.  But, the general symptoms are common and well known.  Examples of emotional symptoms include irritability, mood swings, and disinterest in interpersonal and/or social activity.  Examples of psychological symptoms can include feelings of being overwhelmed, sleep disturbances, memory problems, compulsive or obsessive behaviors, and feelings of anxiety.  Physical symptoms may include unexplained weight gain or loss, chronic fatigue, nausea, gastro-intestinal difficulties, and even ulcers.  It’s easy to see how the products of many of these symptoms can adversely affect both you and your marriage.

Stress in Marriage

Stressful circumstances come in all shapes and sizes.  Common stressors in marriage include: finances, parenting issues, extended family issues, parenting concerns, and conflict in the marital relationship itself.  Other stressors are not unique to the marriage but originate from outside sources. But these external stressors still have potential to eventually affect the harmony between husband and wife.  Examples include work problems, health concerns, legal issues, loss and grief, and many others.  Basically, any significant life adjustment has potential for personal pressure and marital tension.

Tips to Managing Stress

  1. Find contentment – To be content means to find a satisfaction and peace with whatever state in whatever state we find ourselves.  Often times our frustrations and anxieties about marriage and life stem from unrealistic expectations.  There is no such thing as a perfect mate, a perfect marriage, or a perfect life.  Insisting upon ideal circumstances only add to the move stress and unhappiness.
  2. Fix what you can – Not everything needs fixing.  Neither is it possible to fix every uncomfortable or difficult situation.  Sometimes we just need to just accept bad news and learn to cope.  But, we can fix some things!  The key to doing this is to differentiate between normal life stresses and our own bad decisions.  Some things are outside of our control, but we can still do what we can to minimize the negative outcomes.  Other problems are a direct result of the choices that you and/or your spouse have made and can be corrected over time.
  3. Diffuse conflict – Whatever the sources of your tension and trauma there is one thing that is certain – fighting about your circumstances can only make things worse.  Keep your attitude in check.  Realize that you are both human and give each other a break.  Rather than provoking one another actively work help one another while remaining calm and collected.
  4. Unwind – We can minimize the negative effects of stress by learning how to relax and alleviate the emotional, mental, and physical pressure that it brings.  There are numerous ways to do this, but the critical thing is to find a way that works and do it.  It is important not only to unwind and de-stress personally, but also to take time together to have fun and build your relationship.
  5. Communicate openly – Ignoring stress and refusing to talk about it doesn’t help.  Often couples report that talking about troubles just seems to compound them.  However, if done properly communicating openly about difficulties will be a key to overcoming them.  Keep in mind, though, that problems don’t need to be discussed immediately or repeatedly.  Make a plan to talk about hardships at a time and venue that will be conducive to constructive communication and problem solving.
  6. Take care of your health – Since stress can take a harsh physical toll on us it is vitally important to adopt healthy habits.  Maintaining a healthy lifestyle all of the time will certainly minimize the negative symptoms associated with stress as well as provide many other benefits.
Kirk VanOoteghem serves as Executive Pastor of River of Life in Muncie, Indiana.  He has many years of experience as a marriage counselor and educator and is the founder of MarriageMoment.org – an online ministry dedicated to protecting and strengthening marriages.
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