Are relationships supposed to be stressful? Fairy tales always finish with ‘happily ever after’ – but what happens when happily ever after turns into hard work? Is it normal to feel drained by your partner? How much stress is too much?
In the early stages of a relationship, it’s easy to think that things will be perfect forever. But life throws up obstacles, and how you and your partner tackle these challenges – both separately and together – can cause stress within your relationship. It can be lonely when no one talks about the stressful aspects of their love lives, but you’re not alone.
How people react to stress can itself cause tension within the relationship. If you’re someone who needs silence and introspection to work through a problem, this might be misinterpreted as sulking; if you find yourself snapping at your partner, displacing your feelings onto them, they will be hurt.
It’s important to discuss how you both deal with stress and what you need from the other person when life is hard.
You need to be honest with yourself about whether the stress is an internal or external factor.
- Internal stress factor: Your partner is jealous, neglectful, or does not contribute equally to the household.
- External stress factor: Something that’s happening to you, a change in financial situation, a house move, and so on.
If you’re finding your relationship stressful because you’re the one doing the majority of the housework, work together to create a chores list and stick to it: it might be that one of you hates a task that the other one finds relaxing!
And it’s not just housework that counts as chores: there’s also the imbalance of what psychologists call ‘invisible labour’ – time-consuming but often thankless tasks that keep a family running, like remembering family birthdays and booking dental appointments. More often than not, this falls to women, and usually contribute to one partner feeling overwhelmed and unappreciated.
If you feel like this is causing you stress, mention it to your partner: they might not realize how much you do and take responsibility for more of the household. The list might also show that it is more equal than you realize. It’s easy to feel like we’re the ones shouldering most of the work if we don’t talk about it.
- The mere act of communicating your stress with your partner will alleviate it.
- Putting the issue out in the open lets you two deal with it together, as opposed to you alone carrying the burden and feeling bad because of it.
- This advice is beneficial even when you feel like your relationship is running smoothly, you might discover uncommunicated stress from your partner, and if you discover you are already well balanced – then it’s a great cause for a love high-five!
Finding the Root of the Problem in Your Relationship
Why is Your Partner Behaving the Way They Are?
This is an important first step to take, ask yourself this question. If they’re jealous, the root cause might be that they’re insecure. If they’re irritable, is there something going on that is making them anxious, and they’re displacing onto you?
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Rather than react to them straight away, take a step back and put yourself in their shoes. After all, this might be a response to their hard day at work or their lack of sleep. Remain calm and try and focus on the underlying issue rather than their current attitude.
Be Mindful of the Words You Use
It’s all too easy to let emotions get the better of you, making a tough situation worse. Take a breath, and make sure you avoid accusations. Try not to use phrases like “you always…” or “you never…” but remain specific and clear.
Try and Think Objectively About Your Relationship
One technique is to ask yourself what advice you’d give to a friend if they described your relationship as their own – would you encourage your friend to leave, or to see their partner’s point of view? We are better at giving advice to others than taking it ourselves.
Be Direct and Honest
Ultimately being honest with each other about what you want from the relationship will lead to greater understanding in the long run. There will be areas where you can both compromise, but until you discuss this, you’re both groping in the dark.
This will be the time to decide whether the love you feel for each other is worth the stress – there’s no wrong answer, and there’s no shame in wanting different things.
When Life Gets in the Way of Your Relationship
Moving house, getting married, changing jobs – all of these are likely to cause stress. When there are big life changes happening, many things might feel out of your control, which leads to a feeling of powerlessness.
This can be disorientating and it’s easy to take it out on your partner: try and remember that you are a partnership and that you’re on a journey together.
If you do not feel supported by your partner – ask yourself honestly, whether you have clearly asked for what you need. Do not expect them to be mind-readers! Writing a ‘to do’ list of tasks together will help with this.
Remember that working through a stressful period together will make you closer, creating a tighter bond: a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.
Stress can take a physical as well as mental toll. Take time out together to create a list of anti-stressors, and when life gets tough remind each other that you need to practice self-care.
- A long bath or massage (especially with candles and soothing music)
- A run or gym session (yoga is especially good for creating feelings of calm)
- Meditation (there are free tutorials on YouTube if you’re not confident meditating by yourself)
- Distraction (watch a movie or read a book to ‘reset’ your mind)
- Cooking a special meal (for example, studies have shown that spicy food can actually release endorphins)
Sometimes there will be stressful challenges that it can be impossible to emotionally prepare for – the illness or death of a parent, for example, or infertility. These periods of grief can be emotionally taxing for both parties, and whilst it’s important to lean on each other, it’s also necessary to remember that it is not a weakness to ask for help.
Whether this is professional counselling or a trusted friend, sometimes the best option is to find support together.
One of Liane Moriarty’s novels has a wise old grandmother proclaiming that “Love is a choice.” Relationships do require work from both sides: communicate clearly and honestly with each other. It might not be happily ever after every day, but it will be a strong partnership.
Are relationships supposed to be stressful? In short, yes, but it’d be a mistake to expect otherwise. Stress is natural, and will come up in almost any kind of a situation. It’s all about you and your partner using simple tools to help each other alleviate and deal with stress at hand.
Continue reading about this topic by finding out does too much stress in your relationship mean you need a break?
Writer based in Yorkshire, UK. Seven years of experience working in - and writing about - recruitment across temporary and permanent markets, and a range of sectors. Copywriter and proofreader for a decade. Passionate about cats, booze and origami!