Relationships have seasons. Sometimes a relationship is in a season of peace and tranquility. And sometimes a relationship is in a season of stress and frustration.
These difficult seasons are inevitable. My now wife and I just got married in July (regular readers may have noticed a lack of blog posts that month). And while it was a wonderful celebration, it certainly was a stressful build up. If our relationships are going to last, then we need to know how to stay connected to our partners during those stressful times. It seems to me that there are three essentials to staying together.
The first is patience & forgiveness. When you, or I, are stressed we rarely behave at our best. And this is also true about your partner. When you’re stressed you might become more forgetful, or you might become much more focused on managing every detail, or you might have sudden outbursts of “grumpiness.” You have a stress reaction and so does your partner. That isn’t going away.
So instead of wishing your partner would stop doing that annoying stress reaction, we need to practice patience and forgiveness. But how? Next time you need to practice patience & forgiveness try one of these three exercises:
- When you’re near your limit, take a break. Politely and kindly excuse yourself, and then go and do something comforting for yourself. Even if it’s only for five minutes. Go take the dog for a walk, listen to some calming music, enjoy some self-empathy. If you can find a way to lower your stress levels your natural compassion will start to kick back in.
- Repeat to yourself “this is my partner’s five year old.” Our stress reactions are usually a learned habit from when we were very young. We developed some coping mechanism when we were young that were very effective then, but at some point along the way became less effective. If you can remember that when your partner is reacting poorly to stress they’ve reverted a younger version of yourself, then maybe you can show the same kind of patience and gentleness that you’d show a scared and upset five year old (but don’t ever tell your partner they’re acting like a child, THAT won’t help).
- Don’t bring it up. Notice when you’re about to bring something up from earlier, and see if you can just let it go. This is a practice in meditation. To do this you have to be aware of your thoughts and impulses, and then have the centeredness to allow those thoughts and impulses to float by without reacting. This is possible, and you’ll be amazed at how many things can really float if you don’t react to them
The second essential to staying connected in stressful times is generosity. Generosity can take many forms. Maybe we take on a few extra cleaning duties. Maybe we pick up the slack that our partner hasn’t noticed and just don’t mention it. Maybe it looks like taking our partner out on a date night. We need to actively try to help lower our partner’s stress levels. I know they are annoying you and you probably don’t feel like taking them out on a date. But doing that extra nice thing can make a huge difference.
And finally, we need to take responsibility for ourselves. The previous two essentials both dealt with how to address your partner when they are stressing out. This final essential is about how to address the fact that you’re stressing out too. You have to take responsibility for yourself and your reactions to stress. It isn’t your partner’s fault that you’re grumpy or that you’re managing all the details. It isn’t life being unfair. Your reaction is totally your reaction. So own up to it, let your partner know that you’re aware that your acting irrationally. Take stock of when you need to unwind, and take that time. If there are things that your partner could do to help you relax, be specific and ask them for help. You are the best tool you have for helping yourself manage and navigate stress.