How Can You Deal With Stress In A Relationship? Leaning On Close Friends Makes It Easier, Study Finds
Even the happiest, healthiest relationships aren't always smooth sailing: every long-term couple will go through periods of conflict and experience relationship stress from time to time. It's not always easy, but if you want to make it through the tough times with your relationship intact, you have to learn how to manage relationship stress. The good news? There's more than one way to deal with relationship-induced stress, and a new study has revealed one "trick" that's about as simple as it gets: when your relationship feels rocky, call your BFFs and lean on them for support.
For the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, 105 newlywed couples reported occurrences of marital conflict in a daily diary and provided morning and evening saliva samples, which researchers tested for cortisol, a measure of the body's physiological stress response. The couples also completed questionnaires about the number, quality and characteristics of their connections with friends and family to see what impact our social networks might have on our ability to navigate relationship strife.
They found that those who reported having close connections with friends and family — people they knew they could depend on during times of relationship conflict — actually experienced their marital conflict as less physiologically stressful. So when you meet your friend for coffee to vent about your relationship woes, you're actually literally, physically de-stressing your body, which might make it easier for you to process and resolve whatever conflict you're going through. Interestingly, newlyweds with large (but not necessarily close-knit) support networks did not experience the same relief of the physiological signs of stress that those with tight-knit crews did — meaning that when it comes to friendship, quality always beats quantity.
"It is essential to have family and friends [you can] lean on and vent to [to] help you in your relationship, as they can provide the love and sensitivity right when you may need it, perspectives that you may not have previously considered, help you balance the intensity of your thoughts, fears, and feelings, support you in honoring and expressing your thoughts and feelings, and even guide you in recognizing the ways that you may be contributing to the challenges," Anahid Lisa Derbabian, Licensed Professional Counselor and Life Coach, tells Bustle.
You probably didn't need an excuse to call your BFF and tell them how much you appreciate them, but now you have one, because they've almost definitely played a part in alleviating your stress at some point. As easy as it is, chatting with friends and family isn't the only thing that can help you feel better when your relationship gets tough. Here are seven other ways to manage relationship stress and deal with conflict when your love life hands you lemons.
1. Practice Better Communication
Learning how to communicate with your partner in a compassionate, effective way is crucial to the success of a relationship. If you're going through a stressful situation, you have to feel comfortable sharing your feelings, and then articulate them in a clear, mature way.
"Create an agreement with your significant other to share thoughts and feelings assertively, kindly and lovingly, and reduce the tendency to swallow/stuff your thoughts and feelings and then to explode when they become overwhelming," Derbabian says.
2. Find The Causes Of Your Stress
The best way to alleviate stress? By finding its cause, and pulling it up by the roots. You can't permanently get rid of every source of stress, but if you're proactive and attempt to stop your big stressors at the source, it'll make the small, day-to-day stress more manageable.
"Together, determine what are the most common areas of your relationship stress, and then brainstorm ideas in which to proactively remove or improve these areas," Derbabian says. "For example, sources of stress may be around money, not spending enough time together, or different viewpoints on your sex life."
3. Create A More Balanced Relationship
Every couple should have a strive to find a healthy balance of independence and togetherness in their relationship. Figure out how much alone time you each need, and carve out time to spend reconnecting and working on building intimacy.
"Integrate more balance into your relationship by ensuring that you have enough time to connect with one another, be out in nature, do activities that you each enjoy, relax at home, and that you each have time alone to decompress and reconnect with yourselves," Derbabian advises.
4. Exercise Or Meditate
If you want a tried-and-true way to physically de-stress, all you have to do is get moving. Exercise reduces stress hormones in your body — like cortisol and adrenaline — so you'll be able to clear your head and physically unwind. If exercise isn't your thing (*raises hand*), you can always try incorporating meditation into your daily routine as a way to relax when you're stressed.
"Start a meditation practice," Hershenson says. "Search guided meditation on YouTube or download a free app such as 10 Percent Happier, which teaches you meditation techniques."
5. Make A Daily Gratitude List
When you get stressed and overwhelmed, it's easy to fixate only on the negative things happening in your life — but it's unhealthy to let those thoughts take over. Remind yourself of the good things in your life to ground yourself and start thinking more positively.
"Make a daily gratitude list by writing down 10 things you are grateful for," Kimberley Hershenson, LMSW, tells Bustle. "Anything from your family, legs to walk on, or reality TV. Focusing on what is good in your life as opposed to what is going wrong with your relationship helps relieve anxiety around it."
6. Practice Acceptance
Even when you're doing all you can to be a good partner, things outside your control can cause unexpected turmoil in your relationship. Instead of feeling defeated, remind yourself that you can't control everything: you're only responsible for your own actions and words.
"Make a list of what you can't control regarding your relationship situation (your partner's family, your partner's work schedule) and what you can control (your behavior, taking care of yourself)," Hershenson says. "Focus on what you can control to make change and accept what you cannot control."
7. Get Professional Help If You Need It
Remember that it's never embarrassing to ask for help, whether you want to try couples counseling, individual therapy, or group therapy. When you're trying to process a lot of complicated, difficult feelings, it's so helpful to have an objective third party who can help you work through those emotions and give you tools to succeed.
"Seek out a professional relationship therapist to process through your relationship stresses and to help you create a stronger, more connected, and meaningful relationship," Derbabian suggests.
If you're going through a hard time in your relationship, know that you're not alone: every couple experiences difficulties, and it's totally possible to manage your relationship stress. Whether you're the type to commiserate over cocktails with your close friends or take a solo hiking trip to clear your head, all that matters is that you find a healthy outlet to release your stress — because everyone deserves to feel confident, supported, and happy in their relationship.