The Secret To Handling Stress That Only The Happiest Couples Know

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Loving couple with balloons

Could things in your life be any more stressful than they are right now? We all need some help to deal with the overwhelming amount of fear, pain, disappointment, dread, fatigue and stress in the world now. It is hard to know where to start.

When feeling overwhelmed, the most important first step is to reach out for help and support. It is a difficult time in life nowadays. For one, you may not know where to reach out. It may seem easier to be alone or withdraw from everything than to actively engage the world around you. Everyone needs support.

It is not a sign of weakness but of strength.

But what if there already was a nearly automatic place to go for support?  Maybe there is: your relationship partner. After all, you are partners in many things — love, intimacy, and parenting. Why not in stress management?  

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The 10 stress-reducing habits happy couples use to get through everyday challenges together: 

Many couples tell us that they function best when they are challenged the most. That can be true here as well if you have regular practices or rituals to deal with it. Here are some you might consider.

1. Acknowledge the stress

If stress affects one of you, it really impacts you both. Develop a habit of sharing your feelings at the end of your day. Even if all you have is a few minutes, stop and listen to each other. You don’t have to fix anything — just let your partner know they have been heard. Here are some exercises to help you do that.

2. Try the 'Five and Five' ritual

A quick exercise you might try that may become a regular daily ritual is what we call a “Five and Five”. It involves you and your partner spending ten minutes listening to each other without interrupting or reacting in any way verbally or nonverbally. You each get up to five minutes to share your feelings about the stresses–or accomplishments–of the day. After doing this, you may notice that you feel more relaxed and ready to listen to each other. No need to process or analyze the conversation.

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3. Seek helpful feedback

Instead of or in addition to the “Five and Five” exercise, you can simply request that your partner listen to you with full awareness, without judging or analyzing what you say. Your partner then repeats what you said as best they can.

Keep going until you both agree that the communication is complete and that you feel heard. Making this a ritual of your couple's communication can be healing in and of itself and may stave off an argument or conflict later on.

4. Check it out with your partner

Often you can sense that your partner is feeling a lot of stress that they are not sharing with you. They may be reluctant to “burden” you with their concerns, not realizing that it can help you both to know what the other is feeling.

What affects one person in a couple impacts both of you.

This exercise, which we call “Mind Checking,” enables you to check out what your partner is feeling or thinking in a non-threatening way. You may think that you know, but no matter how long you have been together, mind reading rarely works! 

Start by asking your partner if you can check out the stress you think they may be feeling. Tell your partner what you think and ask what percentage of that is correct between 0 and 100 percent.

Ask to get the full story and then provide feedback on what you heard, as in the “Feedback Exercise” described above. Keep going until you both feel complete and understood. 

You can make Mind Checking a regular ritual that you both use to get clarity and resolution. You can request that your partner do a Mind Check with you if you think they are misreading your feelings or thoughts or if you just want to be heard.

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5. Create a proclamation or a mantra 

You may want to create a daily ritual of saying something together that helps you deal with your stress. In our book Lifelong Love, we describe how to create a statement that you say every day that affirms the positive vision you have for your couple. You state it in the present tense as if it is happening now — especially in the midst of stress. 

For example, in the midst of selling our home and moving to a new house, we created the proclamation, “We are rounding third and heading home!” We say it every day, especially when we feel overwhelmed, anxious or worried. It really helps to keep us going and on track.

We will change our proclamation to deal with the next step of our journey as it unfolds.

You may want to create a proclamation to deal with your current stress, post it around your home and say it every day. It is like a magic wand that you can use whenever you need to!

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6. Acknowledge each other

No matter how much you are struggling with stress, be sure to make it a regular practice or ritual to acknowledge each other every day for what you have each done to deal with the stress in positive ways. Acknowledgments, even more than expressions of love, have been shown to have the most impact on the other person as Frank Barron wrote in the Nature of Creativity. They don’t cost much, and yet they are extremely valuable. Don’t be stingy with them!

Andrew was feeling very stressed after receiving a negative evaluation at work that day. When his wife Beth acknowledged him for how hard he works and the contribution he makes, he was able to feel more positive and less stressed about his situation. They were then able to talk about alternatives that he might consider for other job opportunities.

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7. Reframe negatives as positives

Another way to deal with stress is to use the power of language to rename or reframe the negative situation as a positive possibility. It’s the classic seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty. Rather than focusing on what’s wrong, you can look at what’s possible. Just as Andrew and Beth did in acknowledging the stress at work, they could begin to see it as an opportunity to look for new job possibilities.

You might make it a ritual to rename all your negatives to something positive, like calling the house cleaning stress “House Beautiful” and taking on each room from that perspective. You might even have fun with it then!

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8. Use humor and laughter

Finally, one of the best ways to deal with stress is to find the humor in a situation and laugh together about it. If we take ourselves too seriously, we run the risk of getting stuck in our stress. 

Make it a habit or ritual to tell each other a joke every day. Take some time out to watch a humorous television show together. 

We still laugh at the time we were on a diet together, and Peter came home late with the broccoli which was the only food on the menu for that night’s dinner. Phyllis ended up throwing the broccoli at Peter who then threw the phone book at her. After it fell in the dog bowl and the dogs started barking, we began to laugh at ourselves and the situation.

We hugged each other and vowed to find another way to meet our nutritional goals!

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9. Reach out to your community

Going back to where we started, reaching out to others is perhaps the most important thing you can do for yourself and your couple. There is only so much you can do alone. Think of other couples, friends or family members you can call on for support.

The power of community cannot be over-emphasized. Without this outside support, you might end up feeling isolated or overwhelmed. You might then end up seeking help separately outside your relationship, which could end up driving you further apart. Work together as a team with others to manage your stress.

Make it a habit or ritual to share and get together with others.

The stress associated with the recent school shooting massacres in our country has tragically demonstrated the power of community support. Losing a child is perhaps the most difficult stress for anyone to face. Just dealing with the grief as a couple is not enough. 

Outside support in such times is crucial for healing and survival. Fortunately, so many people from the communities where shootings have occurred have come forward to support the grieving parents. We need to make this kind of support a ritual in good times and bad.

10. Seek professional help & guidance as necessary

It is also wise to seek out professional consultation or help from caregivers in your community and online when you are under stress. It is not either/or — all kinds of support are needed to get through times of stress.

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Drs. Peter Sheras and Phyllis Koch-Sheras are clinical psychologists who have enjoyed studying and working with couples for more than three decades and have been happily married to each other for just as long. Visit their website for more information.