Remember the early days of your relationship? Back when you have time for yourself and your partner? I imagine that if these days were a song they would sound like this.
It's normal for a relationship to evolve, and as it (and you) grow and mature, many things go from novel to the norm. Intimacy develops, both for the good (your heart is open and loving despite flaws) and also for the "not so good" (the bathroom door now stays open) But this is all a part of the relationship growth cycle and as long as we keep things balanced between "good" and "not so good," then everything runs pretty smoothly.
Except real life doesn't care much for balance and stress is a fact of modern living.
When it is just the two of you in a relationship, you still have all of your stress and your baggage, but you also have each other to lend each other support. Before children your relationship generally has its place at the top of the priority list. Then, enter kids and life starts throwing stressors at you like a tennis-ball server gone berserk. Each ball causes only a small bump, but over time the cumulative effect can cause the relationship to gradually slip down this list until it hovers somewhere between "Have planter wart burned off," and "replace furnace filter."
I’ll bet your head is nodding - your relationship could work better, no question. Maybe you’ve even started to make your marriage more of a priority. But if stress is still causing cracks - it’s not letting up and the demands pile on - yours, mine, and ours, you can get lost in the stress and you will miss each other; I know my husband and I often do.
And it’s not just kids and the stress they bring (good and bad) who compete for your time; financial crises, career struggles, extended family frustrations, aging parents, illness of a family member, death and grief, life transitions, starting a business, moves etc all compete for time, energy, and prioritization. Take a look at the Holmes and Rahe StressTest to see how “stressed” you score. A score of 300 + points is common for many for most people, and it’s a score that suggests you are likely going to stress-out and even get ill in the near future.
Stress shows up in many ways— short fuses, feeling overwhelmed, couples taking it out on each other. It doesn't feel good and it isn't healthy. Or maybe you’re disconnecting and putting your head in the sand when it comes to stress and your relationship. If you ignore the problem and simply hope it will resolve itself, this will lead only to resentment and frustration. It’s like living apart while together. When you’re kids grown and leave the house, you’ll turn to a stranger, because no one can recall the last time they really spoke to the other.
So, stress. It sucks. But you can fight it, without fighting each other.
There are times when you might need something from each other in the height of the stress—reassurance, understanding, or help. Often you can extend it, but there will be times when you can't and the capacity for compassion just isn't there. It’s simply reality and reality bites! It’s important to acknowledge and lament this truth: there is nothing left for you or your partner to give in that moment and that needs to be okay for each of you to admit.
Check Yourself (Don’t Wreck Yourself)
Your partner's stress isn't necessarily your own and support and compassion can be provided without being pulled under by your partner. When someone empathizes with you they don't need to feel and react in sync with how you are feeling and reacting, it is healthier when they don't and simply provide support. If your partner returns home stressed it isn't okay to be flippant about it but manage your feelings not to lose your peace just because they have, rather tap into your strength, separate the issues and seek balance.
Express Your Needs - No Matter How Small
When you become aware of how much you need from your partner, see if you can provide it equally for them. When my husband desires connection with me, he often provides it. He plays with my hair or scratches my back, knowing that if he needs it, I likely do as well. Another thing you can do is ask for what you want and what you need. Don’t disguise it as a ticket for a guilt trip- no “You never want to have sex with me” or “I always give you back rubs but you never do for me” are allowed in this conversation. Instead, be clear about your desires and their level of importance to you.
Sometimes life isn't working out the way you had hoped, and tough decisions must be made so you can have more time and energy for your relationship. Make date night or even date lunch happen despite your hectic schedules. Make these events as important as other things in your busy date-book and they will happen. It might also be a time to look at what isn't working and think about possible solutions: Is there a career, scheduling, house, location move that could make a positive difference for your marriage?
When Julie Nowell of Three Chickens and a Boat and her husband Matt recognized their life wasn't working the way they wanted, they decided to make changes, risking security and lifestyle for their happiness. Julie says that they “tried multiple band-aid solutions, but in the end it took wiping our slate clean and starting over building the life we wanted together, and not because we “fell” into it in our youth.” The big move they made has been positive for their marriage, as well as for their children and their quality of life.
Although life presents challenges, and marriages will always face struggles, honest conversations help create a new lens which provide an honest look at your life, so you can create opportunities to do better.
For better or for worse we are in it together, so always be looking and striving for more of the better, together.
Want to read more about relationships? See How Not To Have An Affair, Part One and Two, and Conscious Uncoupling: Why the Phrase is Making a Comeback.
Please visit my Facebook Page, where I regularly share relationship articles and resources.