Marriage Stress: Understanding and Managing It
In today’s world, stress is part and parcel of everyday life. Experiencing stress is normal and not necessarily a bad thing; how you perceive stress determines the impact that everyday situations can have on you.
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
According to Karney & Bradbury (1995), the extent to which external stressors affect a couple’s relationship depends not only on the nature of the stressful event but also on the partners themselves. Particularly important are the partners’ enduring vulnerabilities (e.g., problematic personality traits) and adaptive processes (e.g., ability to provide support and deal effectively with the environment).
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 extra-marital affair or conflicts with a neighbour.
A common internal stressor in a marriage is improper conflict resolution- that is, conflict characterised by behaviour that is defensive, hostile and intolerant. In addition, certain personality traits also considerably contribute to marital stress. Marital stress is likely to occur when one or both the partners are authoritarian in nature, tend to avoid difficulties, and/or have a negative way of looking at the world.
The Impact of Stress on Couple Interaction
Marital stress can hinder the quality of the marriage, leading to decreased satisfaction, negative interactions, and in some cases, even depression and anxiety. There often is a marked reduction in shared experiences, and one partner may withdraw from the other - for instance, 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.
Research indicates that in comparison to men, women are more likely to communicate openly, express their feelings, and display compassion in times of stress.
Marriages with Low Conflict and Stress
Being in a good intimate relationship can offset the tensions ofdaily life, and intimacy with your partner releases feel-good hormones in your body such as oxytocin and endorphins. Gradually, you begin to associate your partner with these positive feelings, as a result of which your partner becomes someone you can trust and reach out to in times of distress. When there is an affectionate physical connection, you will experience the natural tendency to go easy on your partners. Couples that have low stress in their relationship are 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 will be.
- 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, go for long walks together, plan a vacation and do what it takes to feel more connected with each other.
When you feel you have done all that you can as a couple to make it work - and things don’t seem to be getting better - then, for some, therapy is 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.
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