Another term for stress is pressure. It’s the pressure we feel when we have too much to do and too little time in which to do it. It’s the pressure of expectations to fulfill, deadlines to meet, budgets to balance. Usually pressure is directly tied to time. Time pressure causes stress. Pressure can also result from a toxic relationship, a relationship in which we walk around on eggshells never knowing what will trigger the anger of another. Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley write profoundly about stress in their premarital text, “Ready to Wed” (2015, Focus on the Family). Before I write about how to deal with stress and actually grow stronger through it, let me list all the unhealthy ways couples deal with marital stress that according to Greg and Erin don’t work:
- Minimizing or normalizing it –explain away stress as temporary (“I just have a million things going on right now”), see it as a integral part of your life (“things are always crazy around here”), or blame it on your personality (“I’m a type A person, that’s all”).
- Ignoring it
- Obsessing about it
- Withdrawing from others, activities
- Taking it out on others (angry outbursts, physical violence)
- Over or under eating
- Zoning out through video games, TV, or computer
- “Retail Therapy”
- Escapism or avoiding problems through excessive busyness
- Shutting down
- Drugs, legal or illegal
“Stress creates exhausted people who are empty inside--drained physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually” (Smalley, p. 236).
So, how can we deal with the inevitable stressors of life in a healthy way? Here are some thoughts by the Smalleys on how to turn negative stressors which could reek havoc on your marriage into positive marriage builders:
- Recognize the warning signs of stress on your life: Tension in back, shoulders, neck, anxiety and fear, clenched fists, depression, headaches, insomnia, and more.
- Take time to ask yourself “why” you’re stressed: job tension, rebellious children, arguments with spouse, money problems, parent or in-law conflict. Often the small stressors of life, the daily commute, holidays, household chores, can add to your stress level and become the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
- Do great self-care. Make a list and offload all the stressors in your life. Add back only the stressors which are essential and let the rest go. Slow down the pace of your life. Life is not a race and there are no trophies for the one who accomplishes the most. Set boundaries and practice saying “no” to requests that would push you over your limits. Laugh together a lot! The Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
Finally, remember you and your spouse are a team. You can face anything if you face it together.
Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God and the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus(Philippians 4:,6, 7).