Couples are stressed out more than ever
It’s not easy being in a relationship these days. With so many competing stresses including managing your work, personal life, family, and relationship, it’s no wonder so many couples are stressed out.
And when you’re stressed out, it can negatively impact the connection between you and your partner over time.
How stress erodes your connection
One of the most common challenges in maintaining your couple connection is stress. Stress can show up in a range of different ways including, work stress, financial stress, difficulties dealing with family and in-laws, and raising children.
When you don’t adequately manage your stress, it can affect the mental, physical, and spiritual health of both you and your partners.
When you’re under stress, you have less resilience – your ability to respond well to life’s day-to-day challenges is compromised. This can also affect your communication and the ability to manage conflict in your relationship.
And you probably know that if you’ve been arguing or fighting in your relationship, this has a detrimental effect on your connection.
All couples fight at one time or another, but if you don’t have the skills to resolve your disagreements quickly and effectively, it can create a big rift between you and your partner.
Plus, arguing and fighting reduces the intimacy in your relationship. Not only do you not feel like having sex with your partner because of unresolved resentments, bitterness, or anger, but also you probably don’t have much inclination to be affectionate either.
Avoiding conflict leads to a distant relationship
Resolving conflict quickly and effectively is one of the hallmarks of effective couples. However, some couples think that by avoiding conflict they are going to improve their connection. This is a relationship myth because what often ends up happening is you end up in more conflict than you were originally trying to avoid.
If you’re a conflict-avoidant couple, it can be tempting to sometimes talk to other people – friends, family members, work colleagues – about your relationship problems.
You mistakenly believe that by offloading to people other than your partner it will help with your difficulties and you won’t have to address them head-on with your partner.
Of course, this doesn’t work because it doesn’t help you develop the skills you need to address issues directly and assertively with your partner. Raising and resolving issues with your primary partner will always be the best way to improve your connection and strengthen your relationship.
If you’re a conflict-avoidant couple, it can be challenging to start discussing issues. If you’ve been avoiding difficult conversations, it’s only natural that you will feel some apprehension or anxiety as you step out of your comfort zone.
However, there’s no way to get around this. You’ll feel tension and unease when you first start dealing with issues head-on. But the good news is over time it will get easier and, you will build tolerance for holding and managing the tension between you and your partner.
Here are my tips for improving your connection with your partner:
- Deal with conflict quickly
When it comes to dealing with conflict in a relationship, the strongest couples can resolve conflict swiftly by soothing each other and discussing the issue without blame or criticism.
When you’re able to quickly repair any ruptures between you and your partner you can let go of the issue and focus on restoring your connection with your partner.
So it’s helpful to have a policy to never leave unresolved conflict for too long – it’s like cancer that eats away at your relationship.
- Make a date for problem-free time
Set aside time at least once a week to connect with your partner and have ‘problem-free time’ where you can enjoy each other’s company.
Problem-free time can be as short as a 30-minute walk in the park together. However, during this time you don’t talk about problems, issues, or anything negative. Use this time to remember why you’re a couple. You can always discuss problems and housekeeping issues at another appropriate time.
- Schedule time for sex
If you’re a busy couple that has been together for a while, it’s also essential that you set aside time for sexual contact.
Once the honeymoon stage of your relationship is over (which generally lasts about 6 to 18 months) spontaneous desire for each other often reduces. This is a normal stage of couple development where spontaneous desire drops off as your relationship develops.
As a result, you need to make time to connect sexually so that you can maintain your physical intimacy and connection.
When you think about the top 10 things that you need to prioritise in your week, make sure that having sex is somewhere in that list. If it’s not in the list of your top 10 things to do, talk about what you could remove from your list of priorities to replace with sex. Attending to your physical connection is a vital part of any long-term relationship.
- Soothe your nervous systems
Reducing your stress can improve your overall connection with your partner.
Some of the ways you can cope with stress as an individual include anything that has a soothing effect on your nervous system. Stress-reducing activities might consist of going for a walk in the park, meditating quietly for 10 minutes, doing gentle exercise, attending a yoga class, focusing on diaphragmatic breathing, or listening to soothing and relaxing music.
- Share pleasurable experiences
As a couple, you can improve your connection by creating shared pleasurable experiences. For example, you could go for a walk in the park together, listen to your favourite music together, go to your favourite cafe to have a chat over coffee, or attend a new exhibition at an art gallery together.
- Be affectionate frequently
Display frequent physical affection with your partner such as gazing into each other’s eyes, touching your partner’s arm or shoulder, using a sweet and soothing voice when talking to your partner, hugging your partner when you come home at the end of the day, or holding hands when you walk down the street. All these physical gestures have a soothing effect on your nervous system, will calm your stress response, and help you feel more connected to each other.
Case study: Sally and Jake overcome their fear of conflict
Sally and Jake are a couple that have avoided conflict much of their relationship. They are both very positive people who love life and are very active in their community and with friends and family.
But Sally and Jake had a big problem. When it came to talking about difficult issues in their relationship, they both ran for the hills. They couldn’t tolerate any tension between them. They often changed the subject or brushed matters under the carpet. They didn’t make important decisions, and they were both feeling more and more miserable as time went on.
Sally and Jake needed to build internal resilience so they could tolerate tension in their relationship. I had them schedule a regular “state of the union meeting” where they would both sit down in a quiet space where they wouldn’t be interrupted and take turns in raising issues with each other.
Each of them would bring an agenda of at least one or two complaints or issues they had in the relationship since their last meeting.
Sally would raise her first issue and share her thoughts and feelings with Jake in an assertive way. While Jake was listening, he wasn’t to respond. Jake focused on reflecting, summarising, and understanding what Sally was saying. Jake’s active listening helped Sally feel understood and less threatened by the process of sharing complaints and issues with Jake. To end the process, Jake would focus on empathizing with Sally’s feelings.
The important thing here is Jake wouldn’t respond until he had fully understood, validated, and empathized with Sally’s concerns. It was only at this point that Jake would share his perspective on the issue Sally had raised.
The great thing about this strategy for Jake and Sally is it slowed down the process of communication and made them both feel very safe while having difficult discussions. They then started to build their confidence and tolerance for raising issues and working through them as a couple. Building their capacity to communicate assertively helped them feel closer and more connected.
For the modern day couple, there are many challenges to navigate. But to maintain your health and happiness as a couple, attend to your connection by dealing with stress, spending quality time together, resolving conflict quickly, and displaying frequent affection to one another. These are some of the most important things that will make your relationship a source of joy for years to come.
Read my original comments on this topic in the PsychCentral article: 3 Challenges That Chip Away at a Couple’s Connection—And What You Can Do
Do you need help with your relationship connection?
If you need help with your relationship, contact Clinton Power + Associates for a FREE 15-minute phone inquiry call to discuss your situation and find out how we can help. Call us now on 0412 241 410 or book your free phone consult online.
Clinton Power is a relationship counsellor and Gestalt therapist with over a decade of experience helping individuals and couples move out of relationship pain and create great relationships. Get Clinton’s FREE report: 10 Tips for Moving Out of Relationship Pain, by clicking the button below.