Taking the stress out of relationships

Managing relationships can cause stress

Although the support of friends and family can be a lifeline for coping with stress, managing those relationships can be a source of stress, too. Most of us, at sometime in our lives, have experienced difficult relationships.

Professionally, this could be an uncooperative boss or colleague with whom you cannot get on, at home it could be the fact that your sister is still borrowing your clothes even though she is thirty!

Within families, tensions can arise almost out of nowhere – perhaps your husband constantly spends too long in the bathroom or your daughter is suddenly getting poor grades at school and is mixing with the wrong kids.

Arguments can even flare up over which programme to watch on television or who has command of the remote control. The day-to-day momentum of any relationship has the potential for creating misunderstandings. So much so, that it is often the minor incidents that wear you down or cause you to blow your top.

The trick in handling them effectively is to deal with them as soon as possible. The old adage that you should never go to sleep on a argument may not always be practical, but the message is clear.

The dos and don’ts in relationships

Good relationships cannot be created instantly – they need to be fostered to preserve them and help them grow. Consequently, it is important to deal swiftly with the stress that they inevitably create. The following strategies will help you to take the stress out of relationships and, importantly, avoid misunderstandings.    Used on a regular basis, these suggestions will help to prevent tension building up to pressure cooker levels.

Know yourself

• Get to know yourself. To create good relationships, it helps to be comfortable with yourself. Inner conflict, brought on, say, by doing a job that you dislike, can make it difficult for you to strike a balance with others as your negative feelings may spill over into your work or home life.

It is important to take time off to understand what it is that is bringing on those negative feelings and to get support that you need to help you make changes in your life. By identifying your strengths and weaknesses, by establishing your own goals and by recognizing your own values, you will be in a much better position to take control of your life and be far better equipped to manage your relationships.

Realistic expectations

• Do not expect too much from one relationship. Our thoughts and expectations often come from what we are taught as children. Relationships – both platonic and intimate – bring together people with different expectations, needs, and interpretations of what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Stress within a relationship is usually caused by a perceived failure of one person to fulfil another’s needs – in effect, the two worlds collide with each other.

To avoid the collision, you must have realistic expectations of those involved in your life. It is unrealistic to expect one relationship to fulfil all your needs. It is a tall order and one that is inherently loaded for failure.

Express yourself

• Do communicate. Poor communication is the most widespread cause of stress in relationships. How well  you communicate is a barometer of the quality of the relationships you have – good communications are usually blessed with sunny weather!

If both parties work hard at expressing themselves, then a relationship has a chance to grow and blossom.    So, it is important that you tell those to whole you are close your expectations, hopes, and aspirations – for your own good and for the good of the relationship.

– Do you let people get close to you?
– Do your friends, family or even your partner know what you really feel?, or
– Do you hide and bury your feeling for fear of rejection or misunderstanding?

If you do not express your innermost feelings, resentment can build up which can sour a relationship. Clear and honest communication is the key to keeping stress at bay. Remember that a shared ‘weakness’ usually provides a stronger bond than a share ‘strength’.

Learn to listen

• How often have you begun a conversation with a friend only to find yourself speaking into thin air? There are few things more infuriating than discovering that not one word you have said has been taken in. But are you guilty of this crime, too?

Stress can be avoided in a relationship by listening carefully to what the other person has to say. Often our instinct is to try to apportion blame for why things have gone wrong, to assume too much, or even to be too preoccupied with our own feelings.

When you listen carefully to what is being said, there is always something new to hear. And do not interrupt – let the other person have his or her say.

Be informed

• Do get more information. To prevent stressful situations building up at home or work, always try to get more information. If, for example, your partner is constantly quizzing you about where you and your friends go after work or about the clothes you buy with your money, rather than having a stand up shouting match about how you hate his or her possessive attitude, try to get more information without sounding accusatory. Use a calm assertive manner and say ‘When you keep checking up on me I feel unhappy about having to answer everything in detail. It makes me think you don’t trust me. What are you worried about?’

Give feedback

• Do give more information. Stress can build up in a relationship if you do not provide feedback. If your partner is always making jokes at your expense, especially in front of friends, then it is important to tell him or her that you do not appreciate being the butt of the humour.

Open communication can stop  misunderstandings from developing. It also helps to keep a relationship in a healthy state and prevents long-term stress situations from building up.

Appreciate others

• Do not take people for granted. In any relationship it can be very easy to forget what another’s friendship or love means to us. It is equally too easy to criticize and focus on a person’s faults.

If you are aware that you do this, try to stop. Show appreciation and tolerance and do not be reluctant to give praise when it is due. You can avoid relationship stress by respecting others and acknowledging their contribution.

Do what you say

• Do keep your word. Sometimes people use a variety of excuses for not keeping their word – ‘I’ve got to work late’ must be one of the most overused. As far as possible, do not make promises unless you can keep them.

Intimate relationships

In a relationship with your spouse or partner, the dos and don’ts listed above apply, but you also need to consider a few more methods for keeping the relationship stress-free.

Quality time
The more quality time – time together doing positive things – you spend with your partner, the closer you become. An intimate relationship, like a plant, needs nurturing. Book time in your diary to spend quality time together or make a date to go out.

Personal space
For a relationship to thrive, you also need personal space and time. Close intimate relationships often work best when you respect the other person’s need for space – space in which they can pursue a hobby or an interest that is special to them. Ironically, the quality of time spent together often depends on the quality of time spent apart.

Is this what you both want?
This brings us back to communication. Taking time to revise and review the past together – as well as planning ahead so that both of your needs and aspirations are met – can help a relationship to grow stronger.

Perhaps one of you wants children and the other does not; or one of you wants to move house and the  other cannot stand the idea. These are potentially stressful situations that can be avoided by calm discussion in which the needs of both of you are taken into account.

Joint responsibility
A relationship is a two-way process and its success depends on both partners taking responsibility for it.    If your relationship is not going well, the only way to improve it is for each of your to take responsibility for the way you feel. Only then will you be able to steer your relationship towards healthy positive change.

Steps towards a healthy relationship

Write down ten ways in which you think you could improve your relationships, both at home and at work.   For example, you could take your partner away for a weekend or you may decide to discuss your workload with your boss instead of worrying about it.

In the next article we’ll find out how to become more assertive.

Assert yourself >>

Text Copyright © Alix Needham
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