Are you keeping things to yourself? Is it difficult for your partner to understand what you are going through and provide the right levels of help and support? Do you find a busy day at work, a poorly child, frequent arguments, cooking and cleaning and an ever-growing to-do list are spilling over into your relationship? Are you struggling to spend quality time together and just feel exhausted most of the time? This may have led you to avoid physical and sexual contact because you just don’t have the time or the energy.
If this sounds familiar, it’s time to seek professional help to unravel the complexities of your life and learn how to take responsibility for your own issues, insecurities and shortcomings instead of blaming those closest to you.
Stress is a killer, it spills into our personal lives in many ways, affecting the quality of our close relationships causing us to become withdrawn, distracted and less affectionate. This in turn can lead to conflict, distress and alienation. When you are stressed, you are also more likely to notice negative behaviours in your partner and are less able to stop yourself from reacting badly to them. So, with your patience ebbing away, you become more irritable, angry, stop listening, lose basic communication skills and cannot show any interest and empathy. And the worrying thing is that it can test even the most healthy and stable of relationships.
Solve the right problem
Gone unchecked, stress can impact your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. Long term it can lead to serious stress related illnesses such as heart disease or stroke. Stress affects different people in different ways, just as the symptoms can manifest in a variety of
ways – everything from high blood pressure, lethargy and difficulty making decisions, to being short tempered, feeling overwhelmed or withdrawing from social settings. There are two main causes of stress:
- External factors – separation, affairs, conflict, house move, divorce, managing elderly parents, dealing with moody teenagers, mortgage issues, mounting bills or debts etc.
- Internal factors – negative thinking, being a perfectionist, low confidence or self-esteem, dealing with uncertainty or being unable to adapt to change easily.
How to take back control
The first step towards identifying the sources of your stress is to look at every area of your life – home, work, social and others. Mind maps (or life maps) are very helpful for dissecting information and bringing clarity to what may be causing the stress levels. When you hold all the information in your mind, it can give you the feeling of overload, confusion and this can ultimately cause stress. The life map helps you separate the issues that impact on your time.
I also recommend keeping a daily diary for between one and three months. This will help you to identify the areas that are causing you the most conflict and show you what they stressors are. Knowing the reasons why does not automatically make you feel better. You’ll still need to put some strategies in place to help and support you. Here are a few things that you could start to incorporate into your plans that will over time make a big difference:
- Include some exercise into your lifestyle, walking, cycling or going to the gym
- Engage in a hobby that you enjoy and which helps you to relax
- Take care of your physical wellbeing by eating healthily
- Take up mediation, yoga or a form of relaxation
- Spend time on something you enjoy doing – meeting up with friends, taking a long bath, having a massage
Pat and James
I see a lot of couples struggling with high stress levels rooted in lack of communication, constant conflict and especially tension about intimacy. To put this in context, I want to share Pat and James’ case study.
Pat was referred for stress management by her doctor after consulting him with a long-term sleep problem. Pat worked full-time, had two additional part-time jobs and was also doing a part-time degree. She had been married to her husband James for seven years and had no children. Pat and James spent little time together and had stopped socialising as all her time was taken up with work and study. Pat claimed she was stressed because of her sleep pattern – she would go to bed feeling exhausted, but would lie in bed for hours, occasionally drifting into short bursts of light sleep. At the time of seeing her, Pat was on the verge of mental and physical exhaustion.
As we explored the various aspects of her life, it became apparent that Pat was avoiding physical and sexual contact with her husband. She had been hiding behind work and study, gradually taking on more to avoid sex with James. As her workload increased, the stress levels rocketed and Pat became caught up in a cycle.
Although Pat became aware that her work levels were an avoidance strategy, she wasn’t willing to make changes. She claimed that if she weren’t married, she would be able to sleep well, cope better and have more time to get all her work done. She feared sexual intimacy, therefore avoided social contact with her husband in case it would lead to sex. We worked on her stress levels and on developing alternative ways of dealing with her fear of intimacy.
Reassess your behaviour
With so many people suffering with stress brought on by Covid, lockdown, financial concerns and many other reasons, it’s vitally important to seek help before levels escalate and it impacts on the people around you. Asking others for help is a vital first step. If you need professional support so you can evaluate your triggers, reassess your behaviour and save your relationship, call Carla Devereux on 0121 745 9044 to book an appointment.