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Coping with Relationship Stress

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

We live in a busy, fast-paced world where balancing work and life can be difficult. Each person has their own "stress triggers" and a satisfactory approach to problem solving may be completely different from that of their partner/spouse.

One of the new schools of thought on how to build stress resiliency and deal with stress in our relationships is the approach called "mindfulness."

Each of us can easily get wound up in our daily stressors if we let them. How you think about stress in your relationship will impact the feelings of happiness and contentment you have in your relationship. We can often worry about current stressors and how they not only affect us currently, but also that of our future.

In the mindfulness approach, you focus on the present moment. Letting go of worries about the future can enable you to enjoy the present moment and what you are grateful for.

For example, if you had a fight with your significant other this morning, you have control over how that fight will affect your day. If you spend the day focused on all the problems in your relationship, you will probably come home in a negative mood.

Don't try to solve problems when either of you is in a low mood. Call a "time out" to get your mood under control before coming back together to resolve the issue.

To do this, you may need to slow down your pace of life and how you think. Focus on the present moment, what joys it brings you and how it contributes to the overall big picture of your life.

If this same person had the same fight, but they focused on their work activities, being productive, getting things done and the positives of their relationship, the level of stress experienced in the relationship would be vastly different. Same couple? same fight? same issues, but a different outcome.

You can come home with your energies focused on present day experiences, how they contribute to your happiness and approach your spouse/partner in a completely different way than if you focused your entire day on the fight you had, what you're not getting out of the relationship and how unhappy you are in life.

In long-term relationships, what we found exciting about our significant other in the beginning can be the same things that we now find burdensome, draining and a source of conflict. It's easy to act on and openly express these thoughts to our loved ones. Have you noticed that you are often more respectful and appreciative of your friends than those close to you?

To put it into perspective, try to focus on the 5:1 ratio in your relationship. That means for every criticism you have, it should be backed up by five positive things you have said to them. No need to "keep score," but each person in the relationship should feel their positive attributes are noticed far more often than those areas in which they are criticized.

Try applying this 5:1 ratio in your relationship and see what a difference it will make.

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