Let's Talk about Stress
Urban Dictionary defines stress as “an unpleasant byproduct of life in modern society.”
Well, ain’t that the truth.
Your relationship can be healthy, your kids can be sleeping through the night and never whining about anything ever, you can love your job, your house can be clean and if you are a 21st century living human being, you will still experience stress. (Most notably when you wake up and realize that none of that is actually true.)
Our world is fast, and noisy, and chaotic. And even healthy relationships are bombarded regularly with the consequences of modern society’s flood of information, comparison, and propensity to rely on a quick jumble of letters, rather than an eyeball to eyeball conversation, to relay meaning and intent.
Julie is running late from work and texts her husband “On my way. We still need to chop the vegetables for dinner and vacuum the floor.” Trent responds “Ok! :)” Julie makes the 15 minute drive home and is floored when she finds Trent playing video games - vegetables uncapped, floor unswept. She is instantly overwhelmed by the tasks needing completed before their dinner guests arrive and can’t understand why her text didn’t communicate her need for help.
Brandon has to leave guys night a bit early to help get the kiddos down for bed. His friends start making snide comments… "That wife of yours can’t handle two kids on her own? Karen knows how much I need this time, she would never interrupt me during guys night.” And even though Brandon agreed to come home early because Cindy is newly pregnant and dealing with extreme nausea, he still enters the house with a chip on his shoulder because his relationship doesn’t seem quite as good as his buddy’s does.
Kyle and Shelby agreed to prioritize date night this year, and set aside Christmas money to pay for a sitter. When the furnace breaks in February, they have to spend that money to repair it, and now are trying to do "after kids are in bed dates.” But March has been full of the stomach flu and ear infections and they feel like they haven’t been able to connect meaningfully in weeks. Now they are bickering over the proper way to load the dishwasher because the sexual tension has gotten too high.
In each of these examples, nothing is majorly wrong. Julie and Trent share household chores. Brandon helps with the kids sacrificially to care for his pregnant wife. Kyle and Shelby made a good goal, then something unexpected got in the way. But text-over-voice communication, comparison, and financial emergencies will add stress to a relationship every time.
Maybe you find yourself in a situation similar to one of these, or a combination of all three. Or, you might have a different example of how stress has affected your romantic relationship. Overseas deployment. Jail time. Swing shift. Needy in-laws. In these moments, what can we do to minimize the chaos and prioritize the intimacy?
Get eyeball to eyeball daily
Vocabulary makes up 7% of communication, which means that the other 93% is physical - tone of voice, facial expression, speed of conversation, etc. Text and instant messaging are great modern platforms for quick communication, but when the stress is rising and your cortisol production mirrors a Hershey’s chocolate factory before Valentine’s Day, it’s time to minimize the distraction and talk face to face. Even if you feel like you’re passing each other in all the crazy, pick a 10 minute window to have a predetermined conversation daily. If it’s a set time, it becomes routine, and if you decide ahead of time what you’re going to talk about the conversation can be efficient and non-confrontational.
For Paul and I, this is normally the 10 minutes following getting the kids settled for the night. A few years back we used this window to ask each other what our highs and lows of the day were, and how we felt about the day. Short and sweet, but allowed us to connect in meaningful ways. This summer has been a little hectic, so a few weeks back we decided to re-institute this practice. Then we went on vacation, and didn’t need it so much. Just yesterday we found ourselves misreading each other’s intentions in the midst of the crazy, so we decided we had to get back on the wagon, but with tailored questions that helped us connect during this particular season of life. Our new questions are: What were your high and low points? What is the Spirit saying to you now? And then we have one unique question each: I ask Paul what his leadership vision was today and he asks me how I’m feeling.
Choose a vision for this season
We often get overwhelmed trying to do too much at one time, and I’m finding more often than not, a good chunk of my perceived to-dos are self inflicted. 98% of the time I have to feed my family, keep my house clean-ish, write lesson plans, buy pull ups, and take my kids to the park. But… I do not have to plan themed birthday parties, or deep clean my refrigerator, or try new complicated meals every month. Paul and I need to have meaningful conversations, but we don’t have to plan elaborate in home date nights when Pitch Perfect and foot rubs will get the job done.
What do you and your partner need most right now? Is simplicity the game you should be playing? Intentionality? Partnership? During some busy seasons, I need us to eat real food on paper plates to save on clean up. Other times, I need us to just go grab Applebee’s and let someone else clean up. And other times, because feeling lonely and overwhelmed is never good for me, I need Paul and I to partner on all the tasks. I help to him with data entry for the ministry so he can help me cook dinner. Not every season is the same, but choosing a theme to focus on during your current one might answer some questions before they ever get asked.
Pray for each other daily
In prayer we unite our spirit with Jesus’ spirit. When we pray for our spouse, we strengthen that 3 stranded cord of spirits. It helps us feel closer, keeps our thumb on the pulse of our spouse’s emotional and spiritual health, and Jesus often offers insight we need to make helpful, healthy decisions with regards to our spouse. Pray together as often as possible, but when things are crazy, pray for each other daily.
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