Are You Aware Of These 10 Relationship Stressors?

By Susan Heitler, Ph.D.

Stressful life circumstances such as not enough money to pay the bills, family members with health problems or figuring out who will do what of the too-much work of running a home clearly can create stress in relationships.At the same time, how a couple talks over these stressful problems either reduces or magnifies the tensions caused by the initial problem.Marriage arguments are the last thing you need when you’re already trying to deal with a tough situation.  Stress in relationships zooms up ifthe way you talk with each other raises any of the following concerns:1.    Will the relationship continue? 

Survival of relationships, like personal survival, is a paramount concern.

2.    Does my partner like me or not?

As the song says so well, just about everyone wants R-E-S-P-E-C-T. The opposite of respect and affection is conveyed by criticism, sarcasm or judgmental voice tones.

3.    Do I have equal power here?

Power balance means that both of you have a voice and that you regard the input of each of you as having equal importance.  The opposite would be if one of you experiences the other as controlling.

4.    Do I have autonomy?

Paradoxically, people need independence as well as connection. Losing your identity is too high a price to pay for partnership.

Psychologist Andras Agyal articulated this paradox brilliantly in his 1965 book Neurosis and Treatment.  Freedom to be an autonomous person is vital simultaneously with a sense of belonging.

The “Incredible String Band” similarly expresses this paradox in the lyrics of one of their songs:  “What is it that I am?  And what am I a part of?”

5.  Is this a safe place?

Bad behavior is behavior that makes you feel unsafe, emotionally, physically or economically, in a relationship.

Communication skill-glitches when couples talk together increase stress.

Skills enable basketball players to become a winning team.  Insufficient skills increase stress on the team because the players then trip each other up, anger each other by not passing appropriately or shooting effectively, and can’t accomplish the job of scoring points and winning,

Couples with insufficient skills inadvertently antagonize each other by triggering the five concerns listed above.  At the same time, they increase stress in their relationship by being less able to come up with good solutions to the problems they face.

The following five skill deficits are especially likely to compound relationship stress when couples face tough situations.

6.  You-Messages

In my book and online skill-building program called Power of Two I refer to sentences that start with the word you as “crossovers.”  That’s because when someone starts a sentence with the word you, the sentence crosses over the boundary that defines the other person’s space.  The crossing may be to criticize, to tell the other what to do, to guess what the other person is thinking or feeling.  In all these cases, invading another person’s personal space feels threatening, and all the more so if the content is negative.

What concerns are evoked by you-messages?  All of the five listed above.

7.  Listening to disparage or discard the data instead of listening to understand and digest it.

If you listen for what’s wrong in what you hear and immediately point that out, the person who just tried to share information with you is going to feel stressed. Your communication pipeline is leaking information like a pipe that has a crack in it.  Broken communication pipelines trigger all of the five concerns listed above.

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