The Toxic Type Of Stress That Threatens Great Relationships (& How To Shut It Down)

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How To Manage Relationship Stress
Love, Self

We've all been there, the trick is not getting stuck!

According to The New Zealand Herald, a new study says "getting irritated about the small things in life is just as bad for your health as eating a poor diet or failing to exercise."

I see couples who stress out about things, large and small, in their relationships. People get upset about not having dirty clothes in the hamper, their partner not keeping their car neater/cleaner, how their partners spend their money, sex, and how they discipline the children.

I do a little tweaking to the well-known Serenity Prayer that when followed, can change a couple's experience of stress in their relationship. It goes like this: God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change; Courage to change the one I can; And the wisdom to know that person is me.

If couples were able to live this prayer, their stress levels would be lower, their satisfaction in their relationship higher, and according to this article, their mental health secured.

Stressors + Perception = Stress

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The only factor in that equation people have any control over is their perception. If stressors were perceived differently, stress could be reduced and in some cases, even avoided. So is it easy to change one’s perception? It's as easy as changing one's mind, with practice.

Often, couples make up stories or perceptions about each other and why they do the things they do. If these stories are kind to the other person and supportive of the relationship, then there is minimal stress. If, however, the stories assign sinister motives to the other person and say negative things about the relationship, then stress increases.

So how can couples learn how to deal with stress in relationships?

How we perceive things is a choice. We are making up the stories (perceptions) we tell ourselves. We don't really know why anyone does anything. If we are going to make up stories, why not make up stories that serve us instead of hurt us so we can contain our levels of stress?

Another problem with stress is that we choose to expend time and energy trying to change things over which we have no control instead of seriously contemplating changing the one thing we can change: ourselves.

In relationships, we often put a lot of energy into trying to change each other. We do it by complaining, blaming, criticizing, nagging, threatening, punishing and bribing our loved one. (See more in my book, Secrets of Happy Couples.)

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We have a clear picture of what we want our partners to do and how we want them to be. When they aren’t matching our desires, we go on a mission to change the other person. When we aren't successful, our stress level rises and even on those occasions when our efforts do work, stress levels also rise because we are damaging our relationship. 

In order to decrease stress, you can't just "pretend" not to be upset by something while inwardly seething about the unfairness of the situation. You must actually develop the ability to be stress-free during challenging situations. This is what requires practice.

I tell my clients that in every frustration, there is an equally positive lesson, gift, or opportunity. The problem is while we are focused on the frustration, we can't see the benefit.

The technique to lower stress is to take the emotion of stress, often experienced as anger, frustration, depression, anxiety, helplessness, and use that as your signal to start looking for the lesson, gift, or opportunity within the stressor.

This is more than just viewing the proverbial glass as half-full instead of half-empty. It involves actually finding how the previously perceived "stressful" situation benefits you.

This doesn't mean you will be dancing for joy but when you can find the positive value to the situation, then the "stressful" experience will be neutralized. You will be able to see both sides and it won't carry nearly the same stress level.

Practice this exercise and you will be able to not sweat the little, and the big things in your relationship and your life! 

RELATED: Stress Isn't The Reason Your Marriage Is Unhappy (But How You Handle It May Be)

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Kim Olver is an author, speaker, and presenter. If you are struggling with any relationship problem, whether it’s a relationship at home, at work or that all-important relationship with yourself, The Relationship Center is your answer!

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