It is not only intuitive but also supported by research that during difficult times relationships suffer. We know, for instance, that events such as a death, an illness, the loss of a job, relocation, financial problems and other major events cause a lot of stress and this stress gets displaced onto our primary relationship.
Whenever we are exposed to stress – either acute, or chronic, or both – it becomes harder to maintain inner emotional balance and separate what goes on around us from what happens within us.
The closer the relationship, unfortunately, the worse the negative effects because we tend to open up and reveal our inner thoughts and feelings in situations where we feel safewithout being afraid of reprisals. This is in most cases with our mates. Thus, they run the risk of becoming the punching bags that allow us to let steam out. We TRULY believe we are angry at them, without realizing, in most cases, that we are displacing our feelings from one situation to another.
In intimate relationships, under normal conditions, each partner is the caregiver and the care receiver in turn, according to what’s needed. Very seldom both partners are in the same emotional space, so when one is down, the other can be available for support, encouragement, empathy, soothing and this makes all the difference. However, when the stress affects both, like in any of the situations described above, each person feels the need to reach out to each other at the same time, but neither is available to provide what’s needed. So the system that works under ordinary circumstances ceases to provide the help needed under extraordinary ones.
What is there to do in such cases?
Couples need to:
- Remind themselves and each other that the problems they are facing are not between them. Both of them are affected by the problems, so if they ally and remind each other they are a team, they will build more strength and will be able to cope with the problems in a more effective way.
- Provide positive feedback and affirmation to each other for all the positive and strong elements in their relationship.
- Strategize on how to cope, both jointly and separately, with the external stressors in their lives, shifting focus from the two of them to the problems.
- Make a commitment to regularly take time out together to reconnect, relax, have fun and play and not talk about the problems that are causing stress.
- Provide consistent feedback to each other about how each is handling the stressful situation.