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Personal Relationships and Stress

Arleen Fitzgerald

Written by Arleen Fitzgerald, L.I.C.S.W., Behavioral Health Consultant (biography, blog)

Work, finances, exercise. eating right, parenting, in-laws and family dynamics. All of these stressors can affect your significant relationships. The degree to which you are affected is strongly influenced by your temperament, perception of stress and the coping skills you have to deal with the stresses that come your way.

In dealing with stress, perception is reality. What you perceive to be stressful may not be the same as that of your partner/spouse. The amount of thought you put into a particular stressor will also influence how that stressor affects you and your relationships.

Our thoughts have a great deal of power and influence over our lives. Think about how you react when someone says "don't even think about the weather". Where do your thoughts go? To the weather! You've just given that thought power and control over your life.

Another major factor in relationships is the difference between how men and women deal with stress. Women tend to befriend others and talk out their feelings. This befriending process raises her hormone level of oxytocin. These are the "feel good" hormones that are released when women feel their needs are being met and also when they meet the needs of others. In the face of stress, men tend to shut down, retreat into themselves and find a solution to the problem. These activities raise their testosterone levels which strongly influence their "feel good" emotions.

Unfortunately, couples often have the opposite approach to managing stress and often collide when they try to solve an issue in their relationship.

Our expectation of how much the other person in our relationship is to be the source of our happiness can also be the source of stress and conflict. The only one that can make you truly happy is yourself, but we often get the message that our happiness comes from our spouse/partner. This can lead to hurtful feelings, being disappointed and unhappy in the relationship. Most recent studies have found that in a healthy relationship, the expectation is that your significant other supplies 10% of your need for happiness. That means that the other 90% comes from within you.

So, how can men show women that they care and are supportive? Do more activities that are oxytocin-producing such as make her coffee in the morning, slip an "I'm thinking about you today" note into her purse, plan some sort of surprise, do household chores without being asked and give her the time for her befriending activities. Women need to provide 90% of their own oxytocin-producing activities such as exercise, get a massage or schedule lunch with a friend.

How can women show men that they understand their need for testosterone-producing activities? Look for the things he does right and tell him how much she appreciates him. Men tend to focus on their success and achievement and look for solutions as ways to lower their stress levels. Accept that at the end of the day, women may feel the need to talk where men may need to rest and recuperate before he can focus on making his spouse/partner feel happy and satisfied. Men also need to adhere to providing 90% of their own happiness by doing more testosterone-producing activities such as scheduling a fishing or hunting trip with their buddies or coach Little League where they can focus on success and competition.

Try these different ways of approaching stress in your relationship by putting yourself in the mind-set of the other person. It will probably feel uncomfortable at first, but with more practice, your significant other will appreciate the efforts you are putting into helping them lower their stress levels.

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