Healthy, satisfying, mutually supportive relationships are on everybody's 'want' list.
Given how desirable that state of affairs is, it's no wonder people try so many different strategies to
bring them about.
It would be easy to think that the best strategy for relationship success
would be keeping stress out of the relationship, but
alas, that's pretty near next to impossible. Of course, relationships with constant high stress
levels are bound to suffer, so it certainly does pay to keep stress levels as low as possible. But to
try to keep stress out entirely - well, good luck with that!
So, given there's no avoiding some stress, even in a healthy
relationship, what are the strategies that work the best for handling it when it does happen?
The key to not only keeping your relationship healthy, but also improving it
at the same time, is to learn how to reduce the stress as much as possible, and to handle relationship
stress well when it does occur.
The following strategy is one that tops the list for effectiveness, both for
reducing stress and for handling it well when it happens. To grasp it well and be able to use it when the
chips are down is to reduce the occurrence of relationship issues by a large magnitude. To convey what it
is, here are some examples of exactly the opposite, the better to contrast it with what works:
* Person A has a hard time at
work and comes home and criticizes Person B.
* Person A is running late on some projects and reneges on an
important obligation to Person B without the adequate prior notice that would allow Person B to make other
* Person A feels pressure to get Person B to see her point of view. As
the two of them converse, Person A interrupts person B and won't let her finish a sentence, instead
overriding everything Person B starts to say in response.
* Person A is flush with success owing to
completion of a project and lords it over Person B, inferring that Person B is inferior by
* Person A is in the mood to play and relax but Person B is attempting
to meet a deadline. Person A blithely continues chit-chatting about fun things to do together, ignoring
Person B's deadline situation and demanding B's undivided attention.
What's going on in these situations? Is there
something they each have in common, despite their different particulars?
In short, yes. In each situation, instead of owning their stress, Person A is
passing it to Person B. This is such a significant way to sabotage relationships that it has an official
name - passing a hot potato. In fact, to further become aware of it when it's going on, it's helpful to
actually imagine this invisible passing-on-of-stress as a literal hot potato - one you can actually see.
Doing so makes it easier to address.
So, when you're experiencing stress in your relationships, and since you
can't control other people (big surprise!) the best approach is to ask yourself if you're doing anything to
pass your stress onto the other person. And of course, since you may not be aware of doing it, you can ask
the other person what their experience is.
The point is not to beat yourself up about it, but to find things that you
need to own and address rather than passing them on, whether out of your awareness or not.
To underscore then, how to reduce your relationship
stress and improve it at the same time use this rule of thumb:
Don't pass it. Own it
Using the examples above, here's what that looks like:
* Person A has a hard time at work and comes home and tells Person B, then
asks for help in figuring out how to address it.
* Person A is running late on some projects and lets person B know as soon
as possible that it may not work to keep an important obligation to Person B and asking to work together to
come up with a better plan that works for them both.
* Person A feels pressure to get Person B to see her point of view. As the
two of them converse, Person A states how important it is to know her point of view has been received, and
therefore asks Person B to repeat back what she's hearing Person A say.
* Person A is flush with success owing to completion of a project
and asks Person B if he's willing to listen to Person A talk about it a bit and celebrate this success
* Person A is in the mood to play and relax but Person B is
attempting to meet a deadline. Person A expresses her disappointment, asks if Person B is willing to do any
fun things together at all, and offers to provide some support to Person B in meeting the
In each of these situations, the stress of each party in the relationship is
owned and identified instead of passed to the other partner.
Make this a strategy you use consistently, and you'll likely be amazed at the
difference it makes.
Pamela Levin is
an R.N. and a Teaching and Supervising Transactional Analyst in private practice 42 years. She has taught and
trained professional and lay audiences internationally on creating better health and greater well-being of
body, mind, spirit, emotions and
Learn how to
create the healthy emotional life at the foundation of healthy relationships at
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