Long-term romantic relationships play a key role in our society and our personal happiness. However, if you have spent any amount of time with one partner, you know that as much happiness and peace as they may bring to your life, they can also usher in an equal or greater amount of stress. The long-term effects of stress in a relationship can be detrimental to your mental and physical health if not dealt with appropriately. Here, we’ll discuss the effects of stressful events on a relationship and highlight ways to decrease cortisol levels and bring some fun back into your household.
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What’s all this stress mess?
Multiple studies have linked the effects of increased stress hormones to cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack, along with negative effects on the immune system and endocrine dysfunction. According to a recent study, “The Physiology of Marriages: Pathways to Health,” in the Physiology & Behavior Journal, married people, in general, have lower mortality and morbidity rates and report lower depression rates than their single counterparts. However, due to the strong emotional ties between spouses, when conflict is hostile or negative, the effects of stress can be multiplied. These long-term effects can wreak havoc on your body and mind.
In short, learning how to properly fight with your spouse and resolving conflict without crazy spikes in heart rate are not only important aspects for the harmony of your home. They’re pretty much important for every area of your personal health! Incorporating stress reduction exercises, nurturing your sex life, and maintaining an element of fun and spontaneity with your partner are also key coping strategies. Let’s dive into a few ideas to maintain that spark with your partner… without burning the house down!
Disclaimer: The scope of this article is to tackle common, everyday stressors in fairly healthy relationships. If your relationship is experiencing an unhealthy level of chronic stress or is abusive mentally or physically or if you’re having major depressive episodes, then that is beyond the scope of the internet, and we advise that you seek proper attention from an expert in psychiatry or social psychology. If you’re experiencing health problems like obesity, symptoms of heart disease, or chronic depression, please see your physician. Self-care is important. Don’t ignore the signals your body is sending you!
Learning to fight fair
Conflict is a normal part of a long-term, intimate relationship. Almost every couple has areas of conflict, and if they don’t, then it is likely that they just don’t care enough to battle it out, or they have given up. Healthy confrontation can be a way to strengthen your relationship. However, we must learn to engage in conflict in the proper way. A healthy confrontation should take into account how your partner feels, doesn’t resort to name-calling or blaming, and always seeks resolution above all. The goal is to find a solution so you don’t have to fight about this again, not to dump all your frustration and blame on your loved one.
Writer Note: I have been married to my polar opposite for 17 years now. We met in college and were engaged after 5 months. We married in our early twenties, and we grew up together. We’ve remodeled three homes together, traveled the world at each other’s side, and we now live, work, and travel together… 24/7, which comes with a fair share of stress.
While my husband is my absolute best friend, he also knows exactly how to push my buttons and I his. Thankfully, we had some good pre-marital counseling and a few mentors along the way that taught us about the importance of fighting fair. I’m not saying that having this knowledge means you will always obey the rules of healthy combat. Stressful situations still bring out the worst in us, but having a few of these tips in your arsenal sure helps!
1. You control you
Perhaps the hardest part of being in a committed relationship is the realization (sometimes a very slow realization) that you cannot control or change your partner. You can only control what comes out of your own mouth. Everyone experiences stress differently, and you will learn your partner’s ways as you spend more time together, but you will never change them.
Change comes when two people come together, discuss the problem, and search within themselves to find a solution that works for everyone. Conflict is rarely one-sided, and your partner likely has a different outlook on the situation than you do. Be willing to listen to their side of the story, and be ready to express your opinions as well. Just know that change happens from within. You have to do what you can to improve the situation, and your partner must do likewise.
2. Your partner is not your enemy
One of the best pieces of marital advice my husband and I ever got was from an older woman in our circle. She said, “When things get heated, always remember that your spouse is not the enemy. It’s not you against him. It’s you and him against the world. The enemy is out there. If you face it together, you will win.”
We have found her words to ring true time and time again. The enemy is the external stressors, not your partner. When it’s time to fight, make sure you throw your anger at the situation, not at your loved one. The goal should be for you and them to find a way, together, to get rid of the source of stress for good, not to tear each other down over the effects of it. Target the stressor itself, and find a way to conquer it together.
3. Seek solution over vengeance
When we’re stressed out, it feels so good to lash out and throw all our grievances on the table. It’s easy to do, and because your partner is the closest person in your life, they are the easiest to unleash on. However, if you don’t want to fight about this same issue again next week and you don’t want to drive a wedge between you and your significant other, then you must aim the fight at finding a solution, not at tearing down your boo.
It might be their fault, the whole thing, totally their fault, and you may be really hot about it. You can express that, but make sure the sole aim of your fight is not to bring guilt or shame to your partner but to figure out a plan to ensure that this doesn’t happen again tomorrow when the trash is full. Seek solution!
4. Don’t resort to name calling
How do you “seek solution”? Well… let’s start with no name-calling. Calling your spouse a lazy, selfish **** won’t solve anything. In fact, it is likely just to make them shut down and stop listening. The more you nag and blame, the less they will listen. The same goes for using accusatory phrases like “you always” or “you never.” If you’re insulting one another and placing blame, you aren’t seeking a viable solution. You’re just venting and trying to hurt one another.
Instead, express why you are stressed in a calm manner. Explain the steps that your partner can take to eliminate the stressful element for you. Be specific and realistic. Tell them exactly what they can do to alleviate the situation, and then ask them if there is anything that bothers them and what you can do to fix it on your end.
5. Postpone the fight
If you’re in fight or flight mode and there is no way that you’re going to be able to have a civil conversation at this moment, postpone it. Don’t just walk away without explanation. That is evasion, and it is likely to elicit a stress response in your partner. Instead, inform them that you need to step away and collect your thoughts. Fighting when you are out of control is going to lead to you saying hurtful things that you don’t even mean and can’t take back. Walk away, but set a time to reconvene.
For instance, “I’m too mad to talk about this. I need to think. I’ll be back to finish this in twenty minutes.” Take however long you need; everyone is different, but the important thing is that you don’t sweep it under the rug and walk away from the conflict. You need to come back when you’re calmer and deal with the situation. Evasion is not a solution.
6. Be honest
Fighting fairly means you “say what you mean and mean what you say.” Set forth your expectations, your disappointments, and your ideas to solve the situation. Don’t refrain from telling your partner if you are hurt, disappointed, or stressed. You need to get the truth out and get it resolved before the bottling of those emotions causes harm to your person and your relationship. Your partner cannot fix a problem they don’t know exists. Don’t assume that they know or understand your feelings about a situation. Make your point of view known; just do it without placing blame if possible.
Controlling Relationship Stress
The second element of a peaceful household is having a few stress-release strategies under your belt. Personal stress often bleeds over into relationship stress because your partner and you share an intimate bond. They deal with the stress you feel and vice versa. Having a system for personal stress management will naturally decrease the stress levels in your romantic relationship as well.
1. Get plenty of exercise
It’s no secret that exercise produces endorphins, and endorphins help to counteract the effects of stress hormones on the body, increasing your overall well-being (though it may not feel that way about day three of a new routine). Find an exercise that you love and do it. Not only will it help keep you physically healthy, but it can also decrease anxiety and depression and release pent-up energy. If your relationship seems extra tense lately, try to incorporate a nightly yoga session instead of binging Netflix, a long walk at the park, or a quick HIIT workout into your routine. Encourage your partner to join in!
2. Daily quiet moment
In our busy lives, there’s rarely a moment without distraction. Most of us are scrolling Tik Tok, watching Netflix, and talking to our partners all at the same time, and things don’t get any better outside the home. The stress of children’s extracurricular schedules, work duties, community responsibilities, and maintaining a household can wear on your mind and body.
Schedule a moment in your day for solitude and quiet, even if you have to set an alarm to get up ten minutes earlier. Make it a priority. Whether you choose to silently stretch, pray, or meditate on the good things in your life, these moments of no distraction can set the pace for rest of the day and do wonders for your mental health.
3. Adopt an attitude of gratitude
Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami are the leading researchers in the field of gratitude studies. According to an article in Harvard Health Beat, their research has shown that people who routinely focus on gratitude report health improvement, greater overall happiness, and more positive emotions.
This carries over into relationships as well, as a recent study shows that individuals who intentionally focused on what they were grateful for about their partners felt more positive towards their significant others. They also felt more comfortable talking about areas of concern. So, there you have it. Thankful people are happy people!
It makes sense. If you spend time thinking about and verbalizing the wonderful things about your partner, instead of focusing on the bits that drive you bonkers, you will likely cultivate a greater overall appreciation of their worth in your life. Start with a journal where you write down one great thing a day about your partner. Better yet, leave them a note on the mirror or talk about it over dinner. Express gratitude for the little things they do (even if you think those things are part of their duties). It never hurts to say thank you. It might hurt your pride, but it won’t hurt your relationship.
4. Incorporate laughter
We’ve all heard that old adage that laughter is the best medicine. Well, the concept is no joke (pun emphatically intended). According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter has numerous short- and long-term side effects, including improved immunity, pain relief, decreased muscle tension, and multiple-organ stimulation due to the effects of an increase in oxygen-rich air intake.
Set aside some time to laugh with your family members. Watch a comedy show you love. Incorporate dumb dad jokes into dinner time. Leave a Laffy Taffy joke strip on your partner’s nightstand in the morning. Do a silly dance. Whatever it takes to make each other laugh every day, be intentional about doing those things.
5. Get outside
According to the USDA, getting outside has been shown to improve sleep quality, reduce the risk of cancer, increase motivation, and decrease the chances of cardiac disease. Imagine the benefits that just taking a walk with your partner each day could have on your relationship.
Personal note: This is an action that my husband and I have made a priority in our life. Every day that it is remotely possible, we head for our local park, just the two of us, and we walk the track. This is our time to discuss all of life’s issues. We just stroll in nature, curing the woes of the world, together, and this one act has drastically reinvigorated our relationship at a time when it needed it the most. It started as a chore, just another thing we didn’t have time for, but it quickly became the one part of the day that we both look forward to and even crave.
6. Make your partner your priority
As your relationship gets older, the responsibilities of work and children tend to take priority over your time with your love. However, your romantic relationship is the center of your family life. If it crumbles, everything else is likely to follow. Take some time for your partner. Be intentional about it, and don’t let anything or anyone (including your children) make you feel guilty for focusing on it.
Some couples like to follow the 2-2-2 rule. Every two weeks, they have a date night. Every two months, they get away for a day together, and every two years, they take a romantic vacation together. You may need to adjust the rule, but having a goal that you stick to is important. It’s very easy to let other obligations get in the way, but before long, it will be years since you have a real conversation with your spouse, and you won’t know where the time went. Grandma can take the kiddo to soccer practice this week so you can go on the date. Babysitters are still a thing. Organize a swap with another couple, where you keep their kids this Saturday night and they will keep yours next week. It will take effort, but the results are worth it.
7. Nurture a healthy sex life
According to the Center for Women’s Health, good sex can improve self-esteem, lower the risk for heart disease, provide immediate pain relief, and increase intimacy between partners. It also has the circular effect of increasing your libido, leading to more sex. Basically, sex is good for every area of your relationship, but we often make it a very low priority as time goes on. If you have found that the physical spark is gone, perhaps it is just because you haven’t tended to the fire, so to speak. Start scheduling sex into your week, and like your nature walks, you will quickly find that it becomes something you crave instead of dread.
8. Get help
Finally, if you have given all these tips a shot and they just aren’t working, it might be time for some professional help. There is no harm or shame in seeing a marital counselor, pastor, or psychologist for specific areas of your life. If you’re having trouble that you can’t resolve on your own, don’t suffer in silence and make everyone else around you miserable too.
Find a counselor that you trust, and work through it together. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around therapy in many populations, like you just can’t hack it or handle your own problems. The truth of the matter is that it takes much more strength and courage to admit you have an issue and seek help than it does to keep trudging in the dark. Often, one partner or the other has to swallow some pride on this one and be willing to make the sacrifice to save your relationship.
Being in a committed intimate relationship can be the foundation of a happy and healthy home, but this rarely happens without intentional nurture and care. You can’t just put your relationship on the back burner, giving it no food or water, and expect it to grow and flourish. It will much more likely wither and die. Mitigate the long-term effects of stress in a relationship; take back control! Give your love priority and allocated time. You might just be surprised to find that you really do still like each other!
How do you deal with stress in your relationship? Throw some knowledge at us in the comments!
Dating your partner is important, no matter how long you have been together! Check out our list of “26 Fun and Flirty At-Home Dinner Date Ideas” to put a little spark back in your home.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Stress hormones have huge effects on physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. These negative effects often flow over to intimate partners and cause strife between couples.
Controlling your level of personal stress through exercise and therapy, incorporating regular date nights, and learning to fight fairly can help save your relationship.
One of the fastest ways to rekindle the romance is to initiate a weekly date night. Find fun and flirty dates that help deepen your bond with Adventures From Scratch: Date Edition!
Since stress in relationships often leads to conflict, learn to fight fairly. If you’re stressed, don’t take it out on your partner; postpone fights, and remember they’re your partner, not your enemy.