There are many things that produce stress and tension in marriage.
Could be routine and schedules packed to the brim.
Could be the lack of passion.
Or there’s the miscommunications.
It could also be simply a look or reaction from your spouse.
A lot of our anxiety comes from our expectations and beliefs about relationships.
Many people fall victim to the “if you love me you’ll give up what you want and do what I want” dynamic. Others may fall into the give to get trap.
Regardless of whether or not these or other unhealthy dynamics are present in your marriage, the question is what will you do about it?
Self examination and self reflection in marriage can be difficult and painful.
It can produce agitation, short fuses, a low threshold for emotions. It can also lead to arguments, tension, and distance between you.
But, one of the best, and most loving things you can do in marriage is grow up. And a great step in the growing direction is learning how to quiet and calm yourself in the midst of difficulty and discomfort.
When you are more about to hold onto yourself you can then lean into the conflict in order to create something better … namely, a better you.
Here are some tips to help keep you focused during these times:
- Give your dilemma meaning. It’s amazing how much more pain and discomfort we can tolerate when give things and different meaning. Rather than seeing struggles in your relationship as something your spouse is doing to you, focus on trying to change your own life. Hopefully the belief that marriage is designed to grow us up into better people helps make better meanings of our struggles.
- If you can’t regulate your emotions, control your behavior. Stop talking. Concentrate on your breathing. Lower your heart rate. Lower your volume and relax your body. If you find yourself saying, “Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but …” take your own advice.
- Don’t take your spouse’s behavior (or lack of response) personal. No sense making things harder than they have to be. Focus on increasing a more solid sense of self.
- Calming down may mean you break contact. Taking a break is a successful strategy, provided it’s a break and not an avoidance. Take the time to self-soothe and recharge, not veg out and disengage completely. One thing that helps ensure it’s just a break is offer to schedule a time to reconnect when you break.
- Use time apart from your spouse effectively. Use time apart to replenish yourself. Exercise, read, create something, spend time in a hobby, do something productive. Outside interests can calm and refuel you, depending on how you use them. Note: Time spent apart commiserating about marital issues with friends isn’t really time apart from your spouse.
- Stop negative mental tapes. Humans are great at replaying thoughts from childhood and past experiences. Take a moment and break the pattern by focusing on your surroundings: you’re not a child anymore, you’re also not in the same state of relationship as before … truth is you’ve grow, matured, evolved. So has your spouse. Be present. Sort through your thoughts and emotions and breathe in and out.
Calming yourself and working through issues in marriage is the process of growth at work. Not every strategy will work in every situation. The point is, discover what helps you stay involved and connected.
Avoiding a situation in marriage and life is a terrible form of self-soothing. In the end, you end up less developed with less of a relationship.
Corey is the editor of Simple Marriage as well as a licensed marriage & family therapist. While he has a Ph.D. in Family Therapy, he only occasionally likes to be called doctor.