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  • Caleb Birkhoff

Managing Stress: How It Impacts Your Relationship and What You Can Do to Make it Better

Stress can be very overwhelming. It comes in different forms and can impact almost every aspect of our lives including our relationships. As a couple’s counselor, I often hear people express that their individual stress is affecting their relationships negatively. The good news is that it does not have to be detrimental. We can learn how to cope with it in order to minimize its impact on our relationships. With a therapist in San Francisco you can explore how stress affects relationships and some tips on how to manage it.

Impacts of Stress on Your Relationship

1. Communication breakdown:

One of the most common effects of stress on relationships is a communication breakdown. When we are stressed, our focus and emotional capacity become limited, making it difficult for us to express ourselves. We are much more prone to getting stuck in that negative interaction pattern that exists in your relationship. Moreover, in times of stress, we can be easily triggered by things that typically would not be a problem, as our distress tolerance is already being rested. This can make communication with our partner difficult and lead to misunderstandings. To combat this, it is important to practice active listening during conversations. Try to acknowledge your partner's feelings and perspective, even if you are struggling to manage your own stress.

2. Increased tension:

Stress can cause people to become short-tempered, moody, and irritable. In relationships, this can be amplified as one partner's stress can rub off on the other. Frequent arguments, tension, and conflict can lead to a significant impact on the emotional health of the relationship. To prevent this, it is important that both partners work together to deal with their stress. Try to take a break from issues that are causing stress or find ways to communicate them without causing agitation.

Stress can often heighten an individual's negative perceptions of their partner. This often plays out with an inability or significant struggle to notice positive attributes, interactions, or behaviors in a relationship; which can lead to disagreements, arguments, and fighting. Psychotherapy in San Francisco can help you individually manage your stress, which can enhance your relationship, or in couples therapy you can align with your partner(s) to address stress in the system.

3. Lack of intimacy:

Stress can impact our sex life in various ways. It can lead to a decrease in desire, difficulties in arousal, and even a lack of interest in sex entirely. While stress affects everyone differently, it is important to maintain physical intimacy in your relationship during these times. Implement self-care and other stress-busting exercises. Work together to create an environment that is conducive to physical intimacy.

Therapy can help you recognize the negative impact on our emotional intimacy that stress can play. Couples counseling can help you enhance vulnerability and connection, which can be stress relieving in and of itself. Time to feel close and be close is important in an intimate relationship, certainly worthy of your time and effort.

4. Isolation:

During times of stress, we tend to withdraw from others. This can cause one partner to feel neglected and unsupported, which can lead to feelings of loneliness, and isolation. To avoid this, you can plan fun activities together as a couple or with other couples. This way, you can remind each other that you are there for one another and that you are willing to find moments of joy amidst challenging circumstances.

5. Increase in anxiety:

In some instances, stress can lead to anxiety in relationships. Anxiety can take on many forms including fear of abandonment, fear of losing control, and even fear of falling out of love. While these feelings can be alarming, they do not have to control your relationship. Couples therapy can help you learn how to manage anxiety and learn effective communication techniques to work through stressful situations.

Time to Make a Difference

Here are some exercises or techniques that can be used to strengthen the perception of positive aspects in a relationship. Spend time together, and have it be meaningful. There's definitely a time and a place to unwind/relax, watch tv, scroll on the phone, etc. But relationships thrive on closeness, attachment, and intimacy. It's important to share your inner world with your partner. Engage in activities that have you sharing ideas, thoughts, and feelings. It's helpful to reflect on accomplishments from the past, and to share hopes and dreams for the future. Injecting gratitude, and it's practice/application in your relationship can go a long way. And as silly as it sounds, "thank you" and vocalized appreciation can be the validation that maintains connections.

It's not much of a hot take, but relationships are hard. The "good" ones and the "bad" ones (healthy and unhealthy) all require energy and attention, so why not focus on doing the things that enhance yours? Dealing with stress is going to be part of it, so patience and understanding make a big difference. Most partners want to be seen, heard, and validated. You won't always agree, but minimally your goal should be to understand how your partner arrived at their thought, feeling, behavior, or interpretation.

Beat the Stress and Unlock Success

Stress can be detrimental to our relationships, but it does not have to be. Taking the necessary steps to manage your stress levels is important, not only for your individual wellness but for your relationship's health as well. Remember, your partner is there to support you, lean on them, and work together to overcome stress. Couples therapy can be the space for you to ask for the support that you need, provide the support that is needed, and to reconnect. Let’s not lose sight of the importance of taking care of yourself, including individual therapy. Finding “therapy near me” is a brave move towards stress management.

Individual resilience can play an important role in coping with stress, and it can be strengthened to minimize the impact of stressful circumstances on the relationship. Individual resilience can be a real bonus when dealing with individual stress, there's a feeling of familiarity, a sense that stressful situations can work out, and an improved capacity to seek support and resources to address stressful situations. Communication and boundaries, two of therapists favorite things, can improve an individual's resilience when dealing with stress. Being able to ask for support, and be specific about what type of support one needs, can go a long way in mitigating the impact of stress. Being able to set boundaries with stressful situations, and feeling enough agency to maintain those boundaries, can allow one to negotiate stressors with less spillover into their relationship. Most relationships can manage stress, the problems tend to arise when we try to manage stressors on our own, ignoring that they impact our partner

Talk about stress! Ask for help, support, solution (if you're needing it). Stress and stressors do not get smaller on their own typically, and certainly don't as we ruminate about them on our own. It is often helpful to share with a partner, loved one, a therapist; to help organize thoughts and feelings and get a sense of the size and scope of the problem. Therapy can be a help, individual or couples, to build coping skills and strategizes, build support, and have a place to process and normalize your response.

I hope that this list helps you feel more confident to tackle therapy in San Francisco. If after reading all of the above, you’re still looking for answer feel free to call me at 415-990-1452 for a free 15-minute phone consultation and to get some questions answered. I would be happy to hear what is happening for you, what you’re looking for and provide some direction to finding the right therapist for you.

If you are seeking help with couples therapy, drugs and alcohol, life transitions, discovering yourself, or therapy for men’s issues, you can read more about how Caleb Birkhoff might be able to help by clicking here!

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