Understanding Marriage Stress

by InnerHour on Tue, 26 Apr 2016

We live in a world where almost every aspect of our life and work undergoes some amount of stress. Experiencing stress is normal and isn’t always a bad thing – how we perceive stress, is what is truly important.

Marriage is not immune to stress either. In fact, every marriage goes through its share of challenges and some of the strongest marital relationships are those that have endured the most challenges together. 

Causes of Marriage Stress

There is a significant difference in stressors – the things that happen to us that have the potential to drive us round the bend, get us angry or frustrated, and stress – as well as the manner in which we choose to respond to these stressors. 

According to Karney & Bradbury (1995), the extent to which stressors external to the couple’s relationship affect that relationship depends not only on the nature of the stressful event but also on the partners’ enduring vulnerabilities (e.g., problematic personality traits) and adaptive processes (e.g., ability to provide support).

The potential stressors in a marriage are myriad and come in all shapes and sizes, including but not limited to finances – loss or change of a job, life events like illness and death, coming to terms with inevitable realities like ageing and financial responsibilities, and finally, social stressors like an extramarital affair or a close neighbour with whom one doesn’t get along.

A common internal stressor in a marriage is improper conflict resolution - one that is characterised by behaviour that is defensive, hostile and intolerant. In addition, certain personality traits also considerably contribute to marital stress. Being authoritarian in nature, avoiding issues and neuroticism can all exacerbate marital stress. In fact, according to a study conducted by Kelly & Conley (1987), being neurotic foresees marital dissatisfaction as well as separation and divorce. 

The Impact of Stress on Couple Interaction

The depression and anxiety that follows a distressed marriage can often lead to decreased marital satisfaction and negative interactions. There often is a marked reduction in shared experiences, and one partner may withdraw from the other,  or the couple may reduce the frequency of family leisure activities.

Communication and intimacy are also influenced by stress; the typical effective skills such as active listening and being involved may be replaced by criticism and withdrawal, for instance when one of the partners in the marriage is undergoing stress. This further escalates into conflict issues, trust and intimacy problems.

In addition to the above, women and men have distinct styles of reacting to marital stress. According to Kendall and Tannen (2001), women are known to communicate openly, express their feelings more often and show compassion while men under stress more often than not respond negatively, display unsupportive reactions and dispense inconsiderable advice.

Marriages with Low Conflict and Stress

According to James Coan, PhD professor of psychology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, being in a good intimate relationship can offset the tensions of daily life, having sex releases feel-good hormones including oxytocin and endorphins. Eventually, one begins to associate their partner with those positive feelings and the partner becomes someone they can trust to be a soother during tough times. When there is a physical connection, there is a natural tendency to go easy on our partners. Couples that have low stress in their relationship are more likely to experience more satisfaction during sex, increased frequency of sex, an absence of sexual dysfunction and greater feelings of love and overall marital happiness.

The Way Forward

There are numerous ways to deal with the stressors in a marriage:

Building a healthy mature relationship with yourself equips you to have an effective relationship with your spouse

Open, honest and respectful communication is the key. Ensure you get some daily talk-time; the more you listen and talk to each other, the closer you’ll be(come).

Discuss your financial goals as a family, have routine budget reviews and ensure you don’t make major purchases/investments without consulting your spouse first

Don’t play the blame game. The use of “I” statements such as “I feel sad/ hurt when this happens” rather than blaming statements like “You always do this to me” are more likely to bring you and your partner closer together

Schedule regular dates, take a hobby class together, take long walks together, plan a vacation and do what it takes to feel more connected with each other

When you feel you’ve done all that you can as a couple to make it work – then, in some instances, therapy might be another way to preserve the relationship

Couples therapy not only equips you with the tools to mend your relationship but also teaches you ways to manage conflict and anger, effectively listen to your partner and in turn strengthen your bond.


If you or someone you know is struggling to deal with stress in their marriage, one of our InnerHour therapists will be able to help you.


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  • It is understandable for spouses to have different opinions/views on various matters. Wanting to express your opinions is reasonable too. Sometimes, what starts as a discussion can escalate into a heated argument, if one or both partners feel the need to convince the other person to change their opinion. When the argument is about a trivial subject, you can both agree to disagree. When opinions differ on more important matters, conflict might become more difficult to avoid. However, conflict by itself is not negative. It can actually play a role in bringing you and your spouse closer, if resolved in a healthy manner. When you find yourself heading towards an argument, stop and try to listen to and genuinely understand what your partner is saying. Rather than blaming each other, express how you feel. Recognise that both of you are different and neither of you is necessarily right or wrong. Working to resolve conflict in a better way, rather than trying to change opinions will enhance intimacy between you and your spouse.

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