How to Manage the Impacts of Stress in Relationships
Life throws us curve balls—learn how to weather the storms and preserve healthy, happy loving connections from relationship expert, Mark Groves.
If you had told me when I was younger that learning how to build relationships would be the single greatest and most important skill I could ever learn, I would’ve laughed and told you: “Relationships are simple—you find someone you groove with, you marry them by around age twenty-seven, then you stay in love forever.” Clearly I was watching too many romantic comedies and not paying attention to this thing called life.
Relationships are complex. Our bodies feel the impact of the intense emotions that relationships bring, both the good and the bad, and the painful severing of attachment that breakups bring. If only one of the math equations that we were taught in school, like the Pythagorean Theorem, could help us solve that magic dance that is required when two (or more) humans enter into a relationship together.
But alas, it’s up to us to learn how to love well.
Relationships matter. How we love matters. And in the context of stress and our health, the quality of our relationships (not just romantic) predicts the quality of our health and our lives as we age. Studies show that relationships that are high in conflict affect our microbiomes, making us more likely to develop leaky gut, inflammation, and in turn, disease.
But it’s not all bad, because just as unhealthy relationships can hurt us, healthy relationships are very healing. Our biology benefits from meaningful connections and having partners to lean on when times get tough. Read on for a few tips I have for creating healthy relationships that thrive even when life gets messy.
Don't Lose Yourself
The most important thing you can do is to retain your identity in your relationship. It’s very common for people to lose themselves in love— they don’t know how to hold on to who they are AND develop a loving relationship. In the throws of a relationship, many people stop taking care of themselves and honouring their own needs, dreams and passions. Yes, we can lean on our partners to support us during times of stress, but a solid relationship with yourself is key for navigating tricky times.
Create A Self-Love Practice
Diffuse your favourite blend, put on some music, take a bath or go for a walk in the fresh air. Carving time out for yourself should be a non-negotiable. If you don’t take care of you, you won’t be able to show up for your partner or the people you love. You set the standard for how others treat you, so why not treat yourself like gold?
Build Relational Awareness
Take the time to learn and own who you are, how you love and handle conflict. A strong sense of awareness of yourself in relationships can help turn stress or a disagreement into intimacy. Remember—it’s not that great couples don’t fight, it’s how they fight that matters. Learning how to fight in a healthy way will also have a significant impact on how your mind and body handles stress.
When conflict arises, the majority of individuals want to feel heard and understood. The strong desire to be right only serves to incite stress. A massive and beautiful shift you can make is to move from being against one another to standing side-by-side and facing the world. Support each other by making individual challenges, couple challenges.
Take a Moment
Retrain your nervous system by meditating, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour. There is nothing more important than the ability to observe your own thoughts and self-soothe. Meditation allows us to create space between triggers in relationships and our response to those triggers. There is always a moment in conflict where we get to decide to choose a different path. When we make a different choice, we create a different outcome and, in the end, a different life.
Remember, great relationships don’t just happen. We create them.