Whether you have a spouse, a domestic partner or just someone who is the current live-in love of your life, living with someone close can cause stress. Note, the ‘can’ not ‘must’. Interacting with someone with whom you have that kind of relationship introduces a variety of potential problems, but those don’t have to lead to stress – for either party.
Stress results when someone feels caught in a perceived, unresolvable conflict between “I must” and “I can’t”. They feel there is something they have to do, but are blocked from or don’t have the resources to do.
Close relationships, such as those with a spouse or ‘significant other’ inevitably bring many such problems. Individuals have unique values and interests, preferred lifestyles and even basic differences in pace or approach. Some men are very stoic, even when they’re not repressed. Some let the difficulties life presents ‘roll off their back like water off a duck’, others attack them head on.
Adjusting to the style of another person and dealing with the dozens of daily choices living together presents – especially when the preferences of one party conflicts with another – can be very difficult. But stress results most often when one or both of the two parties is unrealistic, unwilling to communicate or compromise, or are even downright unfair.
Sometimes the only solution is to part ways. But long before that happens, if the relationship is valuable, there are several ways to resolve conflicts that avoid chronic stress.
Acute stress is something of a misnomer. It generally refers to a stress that is short-lived, even though the word ‘acute’ can make the event sound severe. But whether minor or major, such episodes are all but inevitable in close relationships. Health problems, money concerns, conflicts with other family members, disagreements over child-rearing… there’s no end of possibilities.
But acute stress isn’t very harmful. The episode fades or a resolution is found and life returns to normal. When a series of problems occurs, and most importantly when individuals believe they don’t have what it takes to solve them, chronic stress can result.
But the way out, though not easy, is simple. There are, in fact, very rare circumstances that place us in situations that have no resolution. Very few people have no potential resources for resolving them.
No single, concrete event in raising children is all-decisive – with few exceptions. Many couples have worked successfully through times of low income or high debt, and often developed stronger relationships as a result. Most health problems are temporary. If life were nothing but a series of disasters we couldn’t cope with, insurance companies would go broke.
Reducing stress in relationships can be achieved by a series of techniques almost anyone can adopt. Evaluating problems objectively, looking long-term, reminding oneself and each other of the values that formed the relationship initially can go a long way toward lessening the perceived severity of problems.
That also helps build the awareness that sometimes the resource you need most to solve a problem is looking at you across the dinner table.