By Heather Sutter, LCSW
Our daily lives are full of non-stop personal and professional commitments that can create unmanageable levels of stress. For most of us, it feels as though there is never enough time to relax and ground ourselves. As a result, stress and its impact on our minds and bodies is constantly building up.
Recognizing how stress affects us while building a regular practice of self-care is important. However, it’s also crucial to examine how stress impacts our relationships and manage its natural effects on a couple. While this may sound very basic, we need to remind ourselves to make time for one another.
When discussing stress management, many couples think, “there’s just no way around it, this is life.” In truth, they are right, stress is always a part of our lives. Research actually shows that appropriate levels of stress are healthy for us, keeping us in tune with the world around us. But there are many ways to jointly manage stress and still make time to remain connected as a couple.
Speak to your partner about the good and the bad things that happen to you over the course of the day. Support one another by talking about sources of stress and identify what you need from each other in that moment. Use of “I-Statements” can be helpful in expressing your needs, like, “I need to vent about something that happened to me at work” or “I need a little space to gather my thoughts.” Instead of playing devil's advocate, aim to provide empathetic listening and to validate what your partner is saying, . Be an ally!
When we don’t talk to our partners about what’s going on in our lives, we tend to bottle up our frustrations. Letting our partners know that we’re dealing with stress or we are upset about something will allow them to understand how to best support you.
Marriage experts Drs. John and Julie Gottman state you cannot be influential unless you accept influence. This starts with valuing your partner's opinions and point of view, even if they are different than yours. If your partner communicates to you what they want and need from you, try to truly listen, respect the feelings they share, and understand the point they are making. Try not to be defensive or dismissive. Allow yourself to be impacted by the needs your partner expresses.
In my work with families, I speak a lot about traditions and customs which hold a powerful place in family dynamics. The same is true for couples. Whether it’s a daily, weekly, or monthly tradition, rituals can act as built in opportunities for you both to enjoy spending time together.
As we grow as individuals, our hobbies and interests can change. Therefore, it’s important to remain connected to your interests and hobbies as a couple and make time to enjoy them together. Eating at least one meal per day together with your partner can also act as an important tradition and ritual.
But don’t stop there….commit yourselves to putting away your phones and computers and really be present with each other during meals. Several couples I’ve worked with have dedicated one night per week to preparing a meal together and have found that the process of researching recipes and cooking side by side is a great way to spend quality time together. Sharing an activity is also a perfect opportunity to check-in with your partner about new hobbies and interests and find out what's happening in their lives.
Many couples I work with reach out to me for reasons other than conflicts. They see couples therapy as a time that they can dedicate to their relationship. Even though they are still communicating with one another during the other 167 hours of the week, this hour feels different to them. Therapy sessions are free from distractions and allow couples to truly focus on themselves as a unit.
You may be thinking, “Sure, but we can also just set aside time to go out to dinner and accomplish the same thing?” While that may be helpful, when you aren’t committed to a specific date with a counselor in a neutral environment, it may just fall into the “we’ll just do it next week” bucket.
Celebrate Anniversaries and Milestones Together
Although a special dinner or weekend getaway is a good way to celebrate an anniversary or milestone together, there are other ways to celebrate your relationship that don’t cost money. On your next anniversary, take some time to watch your wedding video together or look at pictures of a trip or event you enjoyed together. Reminiscing with each other often helps us appreciate our time together and to develop a stronger appreciation of one another.
These ideas involve planning ahead and maintaining open communication with each other. Scheduling time with your partner may seem strange, but our busy agendas mean we may never follow through unless we commit to a time. No matter what stage your relationship is in, they can be hard work. At A Good Place Therapy, we’re committed to helping couples establish strong foundations and, more importantly, build lasting and fulfilling relationships.
Heather is a therapist with A Good Place Therapy. To learn more about how therapy with Heather can help you achieve your goals, or to schedule a consultation with her, please visit our contact page here.