Are you experiencing stress in marriage? Do you want to dial down the levels of tension in your relationship?
Most couples want a stress-free marriage. (Or the next best thing, low levels of stress.) Nobody gets married desiring a roller-coaster of emotions and habits in their relationship.
So today, you’re going to walk away with practical strategies for addressing relationship stress.
Stress Before Marriage
When my husband and I were still dating, we were walking down the streets one day when we came across a shop selling baby clothes.
One particular design of baby pants caught his eye: He loved the simple lines and fabric. I didn’t think it was all that. “But oh my goodness, look at this other one!” I thought the colors and design were just perfect.
Do you want to take a guess? Yeah, he didn’t like my choice one bit. And pretty soon, what started as a “hey look at these cute baby clothes” conversation became a full-on dispute on design and taste.
It’s been over thirteen years since that conversation, and my husband and I do not have children.
But standing outside that baby’s boutique and judging by the temperature of our conversation, you’d have thought we were pregnant. (By the way, do parents quarrel about baby clothes? If you have kids, let me know in the comments!)
On the surface, our conversation looked silly. But I’ve come to learn that outcomes (e.g., our argument) often reveal something else going on within ourselves or the relationship.
That day, our heated conversation over children’s clothes revealed our fears and insecurities. I was a people-pleaser and a major control freak. I had a high sensitivity to any action or thought with a whiff of rejection. I was willing to go to war for acceptance and control. (Peculiar combination when you think about it.)
When my sweet boyfriend stuck to his opinion, I worried he was mean and rigid. I thought “we” were too different, too headstrong to create a happy life together.
But it turns out it wasn’t about the baby clothes. Clothing was just a trigger.
Addressing Stress in Marriage
Have you ever had a “dialogue” with your husband (or in your head) that seemed to go nowhere? You wanted to be on the same page, but you were like two ships passing each other in the night?
Before we move on, let me be clear that not all stress in marriage is created equal. There are different types of pressures in marriage, some more serious than others.
Perhaps you’re worried because of red flags in the relationship. Maybe your spouse has a sinful or manipulative or a wounding way of relating. Concern over those red flags or unhealthy behavior is a strong and positive move, not something to be avoided.
This post isn’t about whether stress is right or wrong. Instead, it’s about what we do when we’re stressed out in our relationships. It’s about dealing with the root of stress in a marriage.
What causes stress in marriage?
Below are a few causes of relationship stress
- Unequal distribution of responsibility, e.g., she doesn’t know how to romance her husband. Or he avoids important conversations.
- Disrespectful in-laws
- Loss of attraction in marriage
- Sexual dysfunction
- Broken trust in marriage
- Unhealthy views of sex
- Infertility or a miscarriage
- Financial stress
How to Approach Stress in Marriage
Every marriage stressor requires a unique approach. But many methods will have some form of “trigger inspection.”
Examining the stress trigger (or “trigger inspection”) helps us understand what we believe about the stressful situation. Understanding our beliefs around our problems is key to addressing the stress in the marriage in a healthy way.
Trigger inspection in one of the thoughts I share in my How To Navigate Conflict in Marriage course:
“Triggers are situations and circumstances that provoke a negative or positive reaction from an individual. Examples of negative triggers: When a husband acts unloving, his behavior attracts a specific response, usually adverse, from his wife. When a wife says something a husband doesn’t like, her words trigger and generate an undesirable comeback.
Many couples live on that level, dishing out gut reactions and feeling like they have no control over how they respond. They focus on everything but the one thing they have control over – themselves. Moreover, they expend a great deal of effort trying to squelch the “symptoms” (the reactive cycle of action and reaction) in the hope of fixing the conflict.
However, emotional distance, stonewalling, yelling, indiscipline, laziness are symptoms of deeper issues. If we are going to grow through our conflict, we have to address the root of the problem. It’s essential to discover the “why” behind our triggers and then examine how to change our “why” so our outcomes can be different. How To Navigate Conflict in Marriage course, Lesson 5
Negative triggers are like breadcrumbs: They reveal something about us. And the good news is that we can reverse-engineer these marriage triggers to discover the underlying issue so we can deal with our problem from its root.
That way, we reduce the chances of “let’s spend the new few days upset over baby clothes.” And even on the days we fall off the healthy wagon or experience new or old stress in our marriage, we have a proven system to help us work ourselves off the ledge.
How To Navigate Conflict in Marriage course has given me a name for our conflict. Understanding what I am dealing with has meant so much to me because now I can approach our marriage issues with clarity and soberness. I feel so empowered. And my hope is renewed! -K, Wife
Stress in Marriage: 4 Hacks
To address stress in marriage, consider these four strategies
There are different types of stress and conflict in marriage, and each type calls for a different approach. When we don’t understand our stress type, we run the risk of under-reacting or over-reacting.
2. Slow down
When my husband-then-fiance had our dramatic discussion about better wardrobe concepts for kids, we accelerated from 0 – 100 MPH. I did not take a pause. And thus, I missed a crucial building block for healthy de-escalation.
You’ve probably heard about the value of thinking before speaking and how it works wonders for relationships, especially in moments of conflict. But few of us consider that thinking requires some type of quiet time. We need to pause in order to think.
When we don’t pause but instead respond and think simultaneously, we soon find ourselves in the weeds. That small gap between receiving someone else’s thoughts and responding to their words is crucial to addressing the root of marriage stressors.
This leads us to # 3
3. Make time for the “Why.”
Most of us don’t realize how quickly we’re moving through life.
Between our gadgets, our work and hobbies, and family commitments, we’re moving at breakneck speeds. Which means we have little to no room for contemplation.
Yet, it’s in self-reflection and self-examination (individually and as a couple) that we identify the root stressors of our marriage.
It’s in making time to quiet down in the evening and have an actual conversation about why he didn’t “call you right back” as he promised (more valuable than assuming he doesn’t care about the upcoming trip to your parents.)
4. Self-awareness is not enough
Overall, self-awareness is an excellent thing. But it is not enough.
We must take that awareness and do something with it. It is possible to know our motivations, feelings, and desires and still be stuck in unhealthy patterns. It’s one thing to understand why you’re passive-aggressive, quite another to address its cause and to change.
Addressing Tension in Marriage
The healthiest approach to stress in marriage starts with exploring (and eventually changing) what we believe about the stressor in the relationships.
As I discovered, we can have a whole conflict over “nothing.”
But when you explore the reason beneath the “nothing,” you find there’s a whole lot more. And it’s in addressing those underlying issues that your life and relationship can experience transformation.
Now, a quick caveat before we wrap up.
As I said, marital stress is not created equal. My thoughts today won’t fully apply if you are in a marriage where your spouse is completely disengaged or harmful. If that is your situation, identifying the root of the stress is more of an individual journey.
You don’t have control over your spouse, but with God’s help, you can control your response to stress and the environment you expose yourself to. Please talk to a licensed therapist to guide you in your next steps. This post assumes a level of care and goodness from both spouses, even in difficult moments.
There’s a lot to be said about managing stress in the marriage. Today’s thoughts are meant to support you on and help you take small steps so your marriage isn’t consumed by tension. To learn more about pressure, conflict, and how to address them healthily, check out my course How To Navigate Conflict in Marriage.
Are you tired of triggers and reactions? Do you want to address the root of your stress and conflict? Then check out the How To Navigate Conflict in Marriage course. You don’t have to dance around the same old problem or settle for the status quo. Enroll now.