Don't Let Stress Put Stress on Your Marriage!
Is stress putting stress on your marriage? In this week's Ask the Expert, Marriage and Family Therapist Aundrea Paxton provides three practical tips to work as a team during times of stress.
Recently, my family and I made a big move. Needless to say, there were a lot of changes, above and beyond the constant changes in our post-COVID world. I have to be honest; I was not the happiest camper in the first week of our move. I was stressed! I am not a fan of change, and I was being bombarded by it.
So what did this psychologist do? She took it out on her husband.
In times of stress, we cope in a variety of ways. Sometimes we attempt to take out our frustration on someone else. Oddly enough, the easiest people to take your frustration out on are the people closest to you and sometimes the ones you feel the most secure with, which is often your spouse. There are reasons why this is the case, but that is for another article. The bottom line is that it is counterproductive. In times of stress, you need more people on your team, not less.
So how do we not let stress put stress on our marriages?
Call a spade a spade. When you and your spouse are making a big decision or there is an unexpected change in your routine (like a pandemic), call it out. Too often, we can lose sight of the stressor. All we see is our spouse and we end up making our stress about them. We have to pause and identify the real cause of our stress or else we will get stuck in a negative cycle. Make sure you set aside time for identifying the stressor. Talking about it while trying to learn your way around a new city or after a long day of Zoom calls just doesn't work. Both parties need to agree when they should have this conversation. However, remember that the sooner and more direct the conversation, the better.
Identify your roles. What are your strengths? One thing that makes a marriage work is knowing you and your spouse's strengths and capitalizing on them, especially in times of stress. Decide what each of you can do to reduce a stressor or to make a transition more manageable. You will likely have to intentionally focus on what you can control and direct your efforts there (since change often makes us all too aware of how much is outside of our control).
Expect something to go wrong. Perfection is impossible on this side of heaven. (I am trying to commit this truth to memory.) If you don’t plan and make room for something to go wrong you will be not only holding yourself to unreachable standards but your spouse as well. This is a breeding ground for arguments and discord. Maybe you need to make your budget slightly larger for all of those extra expenses, give yourself permission to take that 90-day probationary period to adapt to that new job, or aim to focus on just one major assignment with your newly homeschool child. Sometimes lowering your standards can be healthy, when perfection or close to perfection is your default.
I later took a moment to pause and acknowledge all of the changes my husband and I had experienced in the last week alone and it put things into perspective. From there it was easier to work with him as a teammate instead of as an enemy. I pray you too find a teammate in your spouse through whatever season you are in.
Dr. Aundrea Paxton graduated with her Psy. D. in clinical psychology from Rosemead School of Psychology. Currently, she serves as staff psychologist at the Biola Counseling Center and special appointment faculty for Biola University. Aundrea and her husband Kerry are both Southern California natives and have a passion for encouraging and supporting the development of healthy relationships and families.