Relationship problems don’t always result from issues between the couple. It’s not uncommon for external stressors to put a strain on a relationship and cause problems between partners. The external stressor that one partner may be dealing with is difficult enough. Try topping that with a partner who blames and criticizes and you have a sure recipe for relationship tension.
Here’s what it looks like:
Charles and Julie have been married for over a decade. He has a successful business that he owns with 2 other partners. In a work meeting, he was scolded by his partners who were very displeased with how he managed a situation with a difficult customer. He comes home from work and shares with Julie how distressing the day was. He goes on to tell her about how he felt he was being unfairly characterized. His wife quickly panics and blames him for upsetting his colleagues. She expresses concern about the potential for deterioration of the relationship with his partners and begins to assign blame for how he handled the difficult customer. Charles feels that his wife is siding with the enemy and feels isolated and misunderstood. This creates some emotional distance and he begins to withdraw gradually from his wife.
Do you think Charles felt loved by his wife in this interaction? Probably not. Instead of providing a safe haven for her husband to de-stress and to be heard, she adds to his tension by criticizing and blaming him. For any relationship’s long-term success, partners must learn how to cope with external pressures and tensions that occur outside the relationship. Research shows that couples who cushion their relationship from outside stress maintain positive changes over time. We live in a word today where stress runs very high for many of us. It’s critical that couples create routines at home that help them to buffer their relationship from external stress.
Set aside protected time at the end of each day to have conversations about how the day went. This time should be strictly for discussing problems outside the relationship. Basically, anything that’s happening outside of the relationship (friends, work, family). This is not the time to discuss stress caused by your partner or the relationship.
What to Do
Decide on a protected time. Choose uninterrupted time that you can count at the end of each day for at least 20 minutes.
Take turns talking about your own stress with as much detail as possible while your partner listens.
Take cues from your partner. Offer advice or solutions only after it’s been requested.
Listen, show genuine interest and try to understand your partner’s feelings.
What Not To Do
Don’t get defensive.
Don’t ignore or stonewall your partner.
Don’t judge your partner’s emotions.
Don’t try to solve your partner’s problems (unless they want your help in doing so).
Having this stress reducing conversation daily can have a positive effect. Although these conversations have nothing to do with the relationship, it can directly improve it. How? It allows your partner to truly feel heard, understood and genuinely cared for.