Your drains are plugged up tight, and the serviceman hauls out his plumber’s snake.
The belt on your washing machine has gone and the repairman gets out his wrench and a new belt.
How about stress in your marriage? What do you do when things go wrong? Well there’s some gear in the toolbox for that too.
There are all kinds of symptoms and causes of marital stress. Money problems can test the relationship. The arrival of children means less time to be together and changes the roles of each person in the relationship. Work and busy schedules impact energy levels and daily communication. Bad habits or poor communication can lead to emotional tensions. Individual issues of anxiety, addiction or trauma, low self esteem and poor boundaries from developmental issues or other traumas in one’s life also contribute to problems in a relationship.
A marriage is an on-going project which needs hard work, time, effort, commitment. Like any big job, good equipment is essential. A typical toolbox has tools that have various functions. So too, there is a variety of equipment to tackle the tough stuff of marriage.
Awareness: The tools don’t matter if you don’t know there’s a problem to fix
Couples need to be aware of each other’s stressors and issues. Maybe your partner is under a lot of pressure at work in terms of project deadlines or an insensitive boss. Maybe your spouse has a job review today. Do they come from a traumatic background? Are they anxious or depressed? Checking in regularly with your partner to find out what their day holds might be one way to avoid an argument later. There are obvious signs: are they cranky or angry? Are they withdrawn or teary? Are they hyper or agitated? Perhaps you’ve noticed signs in their actions. Maybe they are drinking more or eating more than usual. Recognize the symptoms of stress and other issues in your partner so that you can begin to respond and help compassionately.
Communication: Dialogue is the lubricant
It’s a well-known truism: Marriage takes two to make it work. And you can only change your part. Good communication is a key ingredient. Set some time aside and talk to each other-like an hour a week. It might be difficult. It might take courage. But in order to deal with the stressors, partners need to have an open dialogue. Share concerns, fears, worries and talk about ways to work together to address them as non-defensively as possible. Try to receive the information without judgment or criticism. Remember you are on the same team! Choosing a relaxing setting can go a long way towards setting the tone for communication.
Give yourself an “out” in the conversation if you begin to feel overwhelmed with your emotions. Taking a “time out” to calm down will go a long way of preventing angry arguments where things are said that you regret later. Plus you just aren’t rational if you are too anxious or too angry. Make a time to start over using calming techniques to stay rational. This is a skill to be learned.
Try to validate your partner regularly. This is something that goes beyond gifts or romantic gestures. This is a consistent effort to get on board with what your partner is experiencing or going through each day. Try to share in their point of view and understand how they feel in their shoes. This means listening and acknowledging what they’re saying with empathy. When couples do this for each other, each feels validated, accepted and cherished.
Support: Even the best tools are useless if the supports are not there
Without a foundation, it doesn’t matter what tool you choose, the structure won’t hold up. Couples need to support each other; before starting the tough discussions, try comforting your partner with a hug or grasp of the hand. Physical affection can help you and your partner access your feelings more easily.
Support the other person in what they’re saying, even in their anger or frustration. Try not to zoom in on their weaknesses especially in the heat of confrontation. It’s tempting but will only stress the relationship further. Also work on not taking what they are saying personally, even if its about you, it is their feelings and thoughts.
Physicality: Hugs and kisses are helpful and comforting
Humans are social creatures who need touch and affection, and marriage is no exception.
Take time each day to show your love. Maybe it’s a hug before your morning cup of coffee.
Go for a walk and hold hands. Plan some intimate time together. Be creative in choosing the setting, lighting, clothing and atmosphere.
Even in the midst of struggle, it’s important to confirm the connection. Saying, “I love you” even in the midst of stress in the relationship can serve as a reminder of commitment and pave the way towards resolution.
Balance: A Table with a broken leg will still collapse
It’s important to be honest and know how to set boundaries. Learn to say “no” to excessive social invitations or work commitments. An over-busy schedule will impact opportunities to talk and spend time together. Be clear in what you say and what you’re experiencing. Use “I” statements not “You” statements. You’re not able to nourish your marriage relationship if you don’t first take care of yourself. Each partner needs to be aware of their own health and well-being. Take time to nourish your body, develop personal skills and hobbies, and cherish family and friendships.
Marriage will almost certainly bring stress at some point. Couples can open up the relationship toolkit to face both the minor pressures and bigger issues and come out stronger for it.