Relationships can be really, really anxiety-provoking. So, naturally, I spoke with nine experts about things you can do to reduce relationship stress, because there’s no need to fret about the partnership that should be bringing you joy and nice, warm feelings of support and love. Unfortunately, just because your relationship should bring you such feelings doesn’t mean that it will, and it’s quite common to feel stressed out, worried, anxious, or otherwise off-balance when spending time with your partner. Or when thinking about your partner. Or when obsessing about your partner. Or, you know, when you just don’t know what’s going to ultimately happen with your partner so you project and what-if and wonder, instead of just relaxing into the moment.
Though the best things to do to feel calmer about your relationship vary, it seems as though most experts agree that it’s smart to take the focus off your partner (and your relationship), and instead take a long, hard look at yourself. Why are you worried? What does this bring up from your past? What can you work on within yourself first, before tackling any larger issues within your partnership? While you ask yourself these questions, try keeping these nine things in mind as you walk through your relationship — with a little less stress, I hope.
“As always, communication is preferred; while it seems juvenile, many couples experience unnecessary stress due to a lack of communication,” author and relationship expert Alexis Nicole White tells Bustle. “Communicating with your mate can simply mean to just listen. Be attentive, by demonstrating that you have heard what they’ve said by doing something to signal to them that you have heard them. If something is bothering them, do something to correct that irritation in their lives.” Just by sitting with your partner and opening your ears, you’re demonstrating the willingness to hear what they need to say.
It can be simple, but the payoff is great. Whether it’s a five-minute foot massage after they tell you they’ve had a difficult day or running them a bath after dinner, small gestures will remind your partner that you’re a team — and you’re on the same side.
2. Make Bids For Connection
“Acts of turning towards your partner — what researcher John Gottman calls ‘bids for connection’ — are a surefire and consistent way to reduce stress in a relationship,” licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist Natalie Finegood Goldberg tells Bustle.” This means taking bids for connection for what they are.” In other words, take your partner’s kind words or actions at face value, and try not to over-judge every little ting that happens in your relationship.
“When your partner pays you a compliment, take it, rather than downplaying or minimizing whatever they're complimenting, or shaming them for not noticing you sooner,” she says. “Try to see your partner's behaviors through the lens of how they're trying to connect with you, rather than what they're doing wrong. Oftentimes our partner's behaviors are rooted in trying to help, connect, or be loving, but if the act itself isn't delivered the way we want it to be, that message gets lost,” she says. Don’t lose the message.
“In the beginning, a part of your brain called the amygdala is sounding the alarm a lot,” Dawn Maslar, a.k.a. “the Love Biologist,” tells Bustle about relationships. “This can make you feel nervous and stressed, but you can do something to reduce the about of anxiety.” If you’re open to spending some quiet time alone, you might find yourself a lot calmer in your relationship— and your life.
“Researchers have discovered that meditation actually shrinks the mass of the amygdala,” she says. “With a few minutes of meditation each day, you can may turn your five-alarm fire into a quiet little chirp every now and then.”
4. Be Yourself
“An individual must learn to exhibit ‘self’ within a relationship,” Texas-based psychotherapist Richard E. Toney tells Bustle. “When a person is being his or herself within the relationship, there is less stress due not worrying about the hassle of attempting to satisfy their partner with an image they will not be able to maintain.” If you feel stress in your relationship, just be authentic, and don’t try to be something or someone you’re not.
“This is especially true if you are already in the relationship,” he says. “You have already won them over, so just be yourself.” If you let go of fronting, you’ll be a lot happier — and calmer.
5. Focus On Your Own Life
“Put some of that love and attention back on yourself,” Darren Pierre, educator, speaker and author of The Invitation to Love: Recognizing the Gift Despite Pain, Fear, and Resistance , tells Bustle. “Take inventory of your life—what are the practices that you are engaging in that are working for you, and what are those that are not? Figure out those things in your life you have control over that you are being asked to respond to, and then get about the business of working on them.”
You’ll reduce stress that has nothing to do with your relationship, which’ll make the relationship itself easier. “While the temptation is always to look to the relationship to ease stress, stress reduction starts from within.” From there, you can figure out what’s really causing undue stress — and let it go.
“Stress in a relationship usually results from lack of communication,” author, life strategist and speaker Carey Yazeed tells Bustle. “The first step in reducing stress in a relationship is to start by addressing why you are feeling stressful.” Whether it’s your job, your best friend, or your partner, getting clear on the cause will help to address it.
"The second step is to work as a team to develop and implement solutions that will help to decrease or reduce the stress in the relationship,” she says. If you feel stressed that your partner is working 60-hour weeks, try to find solutions to the worry and anxiety you feel by talking about it.
7. Hit The Pause Button
“First, pause and take some time to reflect, alone,” Tiya Cunningham-Sumter, certified life and love coach and author of A Conversation Piece , tells Bustle. “There is power in pausing. Next, understand the source of your stress and be specific. Don’t just say it’s your partner. Name the specific behavior or action that’s causing the stress.” If you’re upset because your partner never compliments you, try exploring why that upsets you so much, and what it brings up for you.
“Determine why it is having the impact it’s having on you,” she says. “Once you have that complete understanding of the what and the why, you’ll be able to effectively communicate with your partner your concerns and possible solutions.”
8. Make The Decision To Bond
“Most relationship stress comes from outside circumstances, and often those circumstances are out of our control,” dating coach and licensed marriage and family therapist Pella Weisman tells Bustle. “What you can do is decide that you and your partner are going to cleave together during hard times,” she says.
It’s easy to be happy when times are good, but what about when things get rocky? “It takes commitment to turn towards each other when things are stressful, but that's what it takes to keep outside stressors from damaging your relationship,” she says. “When you turn towards each other, you recognize when the other person is stressed or sad, and you offer them your support.” In this support, you’ll find calm.
9. Be Consistent—And Kind
“Lack of communication is the biggest stressor in a relationship,” spiritual empath Tracee Dunblazier tells Bustle. “Adding consistency, honesty, and kindness to your connection habits is important.” Every day, be sure to do one super-sweet thing for your partner. “Also, responding to your lover's bids for attention with honesty can make all the difference,” she adds.
If your partner needs more than you can give, tell them. Passive-aggressive behavior will get you nowhere, but honesty—and consistency—will get you everywhere.
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