Dealing with Stress in your Marriage

Everyone knows that stress can cause a lot of problems, so it should be no surprise that too much stress can harm your marriage. To protect your marriage from stress, first, you have to figure out what is causing the stress. This can be tricky, as spouses often get caught up assigning blame and passing judgement. A neutral third party, like a marital mediator, can help you identify the stressor(s) in your marriage: time-based stress, strain-based stress, and behavior-based stress. With the source of the stress identified, a marital mediator will help you and your spouse create a plan of action to improve your marriage.

Most often, couples experience time-based stress – the feeling that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. It is usually recognized as the struggle to achieve work-life balance. But spouses experience time-based stress in other areas. Consider all of the limitations there are on the amount of quality time you have to spend with your spouse. Housework, hobbies, obligations to extended family and friends, and the demands of parenting all create time conflicts. When there is a high amount of time-based stress, spouses tend to get swept up in the day’s responsibilities instead of taking time to nurture their marriage.

We all undertake countless roles and responsibilities in the different areas of our lives – spouse, parent, child, employee, and friend, just to name a few. Strain-based stress occurs when these roles conflict with one another, either due to actual responsibilities or the way we define our responsibilities. Consider the various obligations you have to others: Whether it’s spending holidays a certain way with extended family, meeting friends every week, or always covering shifts for a co-worker. These routines may be part of a definition of what it means to be a good child, a good friend, or a good co-worker. They may also have little to do with what it means to be a good spouse, thus creating conflict.

Sometimes strain-based stress occurs when there is a lack of spousal support. When we refuse to be flexible, understanding, and forgiving, we set ourselves up to experience conflict with our spouse. Both spouses need to recognize each other’s roles and the associated obligations. When we support our spouses in all of their roles, we help them become well-rounded people who ultimately have more to give to the marriage.

Other times, the various roles we assume are so drastically different that the expected behavior of one role is unacceptable in another role, which can lead to behavior-based strain. This is most obviously seen when a person has a high amount of authority or autonomy in one area of life, usually work. That spouse may then have difficulty engaging in the joint decision making and compromise required in marriage. Behavior-based strain can also arise when spouses have very different views about marital roles. Each person enters marriage with certain beliefs and expectations. When your beliefs don’t match your spouse’s, there is an obvious conflict.

Identifying and eliminating stressors is an important part of marital happiness. Each type of stress can cause a spouse to feel as if his or her needs are not being met. It can also cause a spouse to feel as if the marriage is not as important as other relationships and responsibilities. Spouses under stress can feel less satisfied with their lives, and when the marital stress is prolonged, it can ultimately result in divorce.

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