Managing Feelings — 23 July 2007
Do Not allow your personal stress to affect your relationship

Life blesses us with many challenges some of which are very stressful. Whether the stress is about difficulties or special events, it is important to solicit your partner’s support rather than have him/her be the brunt of your frustrations.

Stress is a mental and/or emotional strain. Everyone experiences some stress in his/her life. Ongoing stress tends to impact our functioning, health and well-being and even the stability of our relationship.

Research indicates that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, heart disease, impairs the immune system and makes people more prone to infections, digestive disorders, insulin resistance, exacerbation of pain, headaches, sleeping and eating disorders, memory and concentration problems, alcohol and drug abuse, among many other detrimental health hazards.

Some personality styles are more prone to have chronic stress. For example: perfectionists, pessimists as well as people who suffer from anxiety and depression. Chronic stress contributes to anxiety and depression and vice versa.

Stresses can be external such as: Accidents, trauma, work hardships, family or personal health issues, money struggles, or relationship difficulties, or they can be internally produced by: self demands, excessive expectations, self-reprimand, self-loathing and low personal regard.

When an individual experience non-remitting stress, not only does his body begins to react, but his behavior is also altered. Partners of the stressed individual report that their mate is: agitated, short tempered, angry, impatient, unavailable and even hostile. He/she contaminates the home atmosphere with negativity, hostility and disdain of those that are credited with causing the stress as well as anyone else who is around at the time.

The stressed individual must vent his/her frustrations in a safe place, which often is at home. Initially, the mate is understanding and helpful in validating the sufferer’s views and emotions. It is only when the rage, anger, fowl language and even destruction of objects ensues, that fear arises for the helpless observer who feels impotent in providing a calming effect for the angrily wild mate.

When a stressed individual takes his/her wrath on the spouse or the children, it creates an intolerable and hazardous situation for all. Self-respecting spouses are willing to be kind, understanding, supportive and soothing, but are unlikely to tolerate becoming the stressed partner’s emotional punching bag. As these stress reactions persist, the partner may opt to separate from the stressed mate to preserve his/her integrity.

The highly stressed mate often suffers greatly. He/she feels helpless in affecting a change that will reduce the stress. Much of the upsetting and overwhelming issues may be out of the control of the stressed individual. Some feel such deep disempowerment that they regress to childish temper tantrums. Their infantile logic causes them to wish that others close to them would feel the pain they are experiencing and thus the personal attacks and assaults on the partner. It is as though the mate is the unhelpful parent who deliberately withholds the calming remedy from the suffering child.

Later, the stressed party is often very sorry and regretful about his/her conduct and pleads for forgiveness. The partner may be initially forgiving but is not likely to tolerate the personal insults and harsh words on an ongoing basis.

If you are excessively stressed:

• Determine what frustrates you and what is changeable. Take steps to affect the changes that are within your control. If your stress producing situation is unalterable, such as a harsh boss, a chronic illness, or a legal problem, – realign your thinking about it to reduce your helplessness.
• Create positive scenarios that reduce your emotional intensity.
• Remember that your partner is your best friend and is on your team. He/she loves you and wants to help you. Recruit your spouse as your loving ally to help you rethink about the stress in a more empowering way.
• Attacking your partner is both abusive and self-defeating. You may end up with the chronic problem and alone.
• Consider your love relationship as your safe haven and the core of your strength and esteem.

• Find and practice stress reduction techniques. Consult a professional if you need help learning healthy ways to balance your frustrations.

• If you are a mate of a stressed individual:

• Be supportive, understanding and loyal to your partner.
• Disallow him/her to attack you. Excusing this behavior only reinforces it.

• Firm boundaries often help your mate stay centered on the problem rather than on the inappropriate release of his/her hostility, and feel protected and loved.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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