That moment when your stress level reaches a critical mass. Or at least you hope it has, because if it hasn’t, God help anyone in your path for the next 24-48 hours.
Life. Is. Stressful. It’s fun, too. Full of opportunities to experience joy and love and greatness. But it can also suck the life out of you with its demands, some so big they consume you, and some so small that they feel like 100,000 needles needlessly poking into your life.
When that happens, one of our first natural reactions is to get snippy with whomever is around us. Why can’t they understand how stressed I am? Why are they asking me a million questions? Can’t they let up so I can have just a moment’s peace?! This is the *especially* the case if you’re married.
Your spouse is an easy target: he/she is present. Plus, we tend to feel safest with our spouse because it’s our closest intimate relationship. We know they’re not going anywhere, and we don’t have to put up any defenses around them. We don’t have to wear our Happy Mask or our Polly Polite Persona; we can be cranky and blegh and we know the marriage won’t end. We might get a push-back, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.
In part, this is a spouse’s role: to catch the stress and the failings of the other person with grace. It’s part of a healthy marriage, because nobody is perfect and we all need a partner in life who can tolerate us on our most hard-to-love days. The tricky part is actually on the part of the person stressing out: when does that person’s burden become too much for their spouse to bear? How far is too far? How cranky is too cranky? Our spouse is there to catch our failings with grace, yes, but he’s also there as our partner-in-crime, our #1 fan, our accountability partner, our back-up when life is just too much. We can’t treat that person however we choose and expect them to just take it. When the stress of this world is enough that we’re starting to attack the one person who can best help us through it, that’s when we’ve gone too far. That’s when we need to take a step back and not let the stress of a fallen world impact the strength of the marriage relationship.
Some ideas for working out stress with each other, instead of against each other:
1. Laugh together. When we laugh with someone, we automatically feel a connection with that person. Even if it’s simply with someone in line at the grocery store, laughter creates a common bond and softens your heart, even if it’s just for a moment. Connect with your spouse on the level that lights up the happy part of your brain. Put some joy in between the two of you and see what happens. Pull up a funny video, watch a funny show or movie, be silly in the kitchen, anything.
2. Remember that your spouse is not the enemy. Stress is the enemy. While stress might be good for some things, like igniting a fire within or motivating you to action, the life stress we’re talking about here is the stuff that can really drag you down. It’s not your spouse doing the dragging. You’ve moved your spouse to the foreground of your emotional punching bag because she’s an easy target, but if you’re really upset about the bills, something the kids did, or a job situation, she’s there to help you, not hurt you. Your spouse is not the enemy.
3. Eat a candy bar. Give me a break, give me a break, break me off a piece of that Kit-kat bar. The National Academy of Sciences released a study in April 2014 that found that ‘hangry’ (become angry as a result of being hungry) spouses have a much higher likelihood of getting into a blow-up argument. Solution? Raise your blood sugar with something sweet.
4. Take a break. Either with your spouse or alone: go for a walk, take a nap, play a game, do anything else that will get you up and out of the situation stressing you out, so that you can come back later with a clear head. Clearly, this is the pup’s solution.
These four things will not fix your stressed-to-the-max self, but it’s like Bill Murray’s character in What About Bob?: baby steps. It’s all about the baby steps. With the hope that one thing will lead to another, and eventually you’ll not only be less stressed, but you’ll have a stronger relationship to show for it. Trust me, I’ve been on both sides of the coin, and the with side is way more fun than the against side.
What about you? Any tried and true tricks for getting through stress with your partner instead of against them?