In my last post I presented the idea that relationship issues are frequently (and perhaps usually) not actually issues with the relationship. Rather, they are issues with stress management.
I think it’s safe to say the following is true:
- people have different amounts of stress in their lives
- we are different in how well we manage the stresses we do have
- some ways of coping with those stresses are healthier than others
We all have stress in our lives, and studies show just how damaging stress is. It’s extremely bad for your own health, and it’s also extremely bad for relationships. In fact, high stress jobs tend to also be associated with high divorce rates.
So stress management is pretty important for both your own health and the health of your relationship. We all have things we do to de-stress. Ways to escape, however temporarily, from the stresses of life.
My idea in my previous post was that over time, in our heads our partner comes to represent our stress. We start to incorrectly see them as the source of our stress instead of seeing them as someone who is dealing with the same (or at least similar) stresses as us at the same time.
In a healthy relationship, our partner is our shelter in the storm of life. They are the first person we go to in order to let go, or relax. So once we’ve started to associate them with the stresses of life, our relationships get into trouble.
It is often said that bad relationships cause stress. That may be true, but stress doesn’t only happen in “bad relationships”. People can have relationships that have all the ingredients to be amazing, but they can still be destroyed by stress.
In my last post I talked about escaping from stress, and how many forms of escapism are unhealthy ways of dealing with stress. For example, I believe this sense of escapism is actually one of the leading causes of affairs. But there are also healthy forms of escapism.
One reader (bac4sccr) made the following comment:
I believe the trick (I am no expert though) is to allow the escapism. You may think I am crazy but if it is allowed you can get away from the stresses of life. The catch is can you do the escapism together as a couple. Zombiedrew2 already used sex as an example of escapism. I agree that it can be used but it cannot be the only form. It could be weekly dates where you are not allowed to talk about money or kids or your car breaking down. You do something with your partner to escape. You associate this escapism (positive) with your spouse and then your relationship grows because you associate it and your partner with positive thoughts and feelings.
I absolutely love this comment, and wanted to expand on it a bit – stealing some of my reply to his comment.
As a side note, many thanks for the people who write in and leave comments. I try to respond to every comment I get, and feel it is the interaction between bloggers and readers that really drives a site. If you have any thoughts on any of my posts I encourage you to write in. I am always interested in different ideas and insights, and believe we can learn a lot from each other as well as provide a bit of support for each other at the same time. Plus when you comment (or even just hit the “like” button) it lets me know someone is actually reading – which is always nice.
Back on topic, I think escaping together is probably the lifeblood of a relationship. And it’s also the area that MOST couples fail.
The hardest part of a relationship is balancing the “me” and the “we”. It’s not healthy to completely lose yourself in your relationship, but at the same time you don’t want to be roommates who simply share bills and sleep in the same bed.
It’s important that you maintain the couple. You should never use the excuse of there being “not enough time”, because it’s pretty damned important. Important enough that you need to MAKE time. And when you actually do have time, you need to let go of the distractions of life. Turn towards each other and focus on each other.
Yeah, you still need to do things as an individual. It’s important to have time to yourself, away from your partner. But when most or all of your escape time is as a “me”, here’s what happens…
Your escape time is when you can let go of the stress of life. So when your escape time is usually on your own (or at least away from your partner) at a subconscious level you start to associate the feelings of being relaxed, and being free from stress with the times that you are away from your partner.
If you had already started to associate the stresses of life with your partner, this just deepens it.
And if those stresses have led you to have any doubts about your relationship? Well, this will just “prove” those doubts to you.
I think this happens to couples with kids more than couples without, and there’s a reason for it that is at once sad and ironic.
Kids are awesome, but they require a lot of care and attention. Often it can be hard to find care, so one parent ends up home with the kids while the other is off having “me” time. So they are able to relax on their own.
Because they actually trust their partner with the kids.
They can relax because they know that their partner will take care of the kids. This sense of trust allows them to relax. But if they only relax when they are away from their partner, over time that negative association is made.
Hmm, I have fun and I can relax on my own. But when I’m with my partner I’m stressed and can’t relax. Shouldn’t I feel differently? Maybe this indicates a problem in our relationship? Maybe I’m better off on my own?
Yeah, when it comes to the health of the relationship that’s not really a good association to make.
Trends in Divorce
Divorces can happen to couples at any time, and for any number of reasons. But if you look at stats on divorces you will see that there are a few trends, and times in life and marriage where they happen more frequently.
The first group are marriages last less than two years. Chances are those are couples who were simply a bad match, and they couldn’t get along.
The next group is probably in their late 30’s to early 40’s. They are hitting midlife, and are probably at one of the hardest stages in life for dealing with the stresses of “day to day” life. This is when people are most likely to have young kids and tighter cash flow. But it’s also when they are most likely to question “is this it” about their relationship and life in general. If your marriage is going to fall apart, chances are this is when it happens.
And the last is after the kids have grown up and moved out. This couple was probably in trouble when they hit group 2, but due to the kids they were able to hold on and get by. Suddenly they look at each other and realize they have grown apart and the only thing they had in common over the past 15-20 years was the kids. Some stay in the marriage and live largely independent lives. Probably because they’ve invested so much time and they don’t want to start over.
I guess my point in all this is that you start a relationship because you saw something in each other once.
Something you wanted to hold onto, forever.
But a lot of us screw things up. We lose the very things that brought us together, and we don’t realize it until things are in a bad spot – and for many it’s too late.
And when it fails, often it wasn’t the relationship that was the problem. It was the stress of daily life, and the fact that instead of tackling it together stress caused us to retreat into ourselves and focus more on being an individual.
Finding time as a couple and making it a priority is the ONLY way out in my opinion. But to do that you need to recognize the difference between relationship stresses and life stresses. The life stresses are ones you are both experiencing at the same time, and changing the relationship won’t make them any better.
So yeah, you will need to escape sometimes.
But do it together.
Focus on each other, and always make time to connect (or reconnect if need).
Remember that you are supposed to be each others shelters from life. When times are hard, don’t turn away from your partner.
Turn towards each other, and just love each other.