hange. It’s probably the most felt thing in our lives. We can choose to embrace it, protest and drag our feet, or pretend it’s not there, but change will happen no matter what. Times of change are often stressful for us as individuals, and, if we’re not careful, that stress can easily get transferred to the wrong people and places. Probably the most frequent receivers of this misplaced stress are our spouses. It’s not a good thing, but thankfully there are a few easy steps we can take to help the situation.
Realize the stress
Know it’s okay and allow yourself to feel it
Talk about it
Be quick to realize you may be taking something out on them
Have compassion and be quick to forgive
Your spouse feels your stress
It’s okay that you can’t fix it
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is realize that we’re feeling stressed about something. Whether it’s a new responsibility at work, too many projects at home, or a life change that you weren’t expecting, sometimes we can get so focused on the issue that we forget to check in with ourselves about how it makes us feel.
As humans, we crave stability and predictability, and anything that threatens to shake up our world brings a bit of fear, and also a response to that fear. Usually, those responses are to run away, to fight, or to freeze. That’s okay, but when we fail to realize WHY we’re feeling what we’re feeling, we can start misplacing the fear and start fighting our spouse instead of a situation.
Our landlord recently told Jess and I that he would be selling the house we’ve been renting for four years, so we have to move. He’s been a pleasure to work with, and he gave us plenty of time, but moving is one of the most stressful things you can do. It shakes up your world, and if you’re a homebody like me, that’s really stressful. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m feeling stressed about needing to move and that those feelings put me on edge and make it easier for me to be snappy in a conversation with Jess.
Stress is a response to uncertainty or unfavorable situations. It’s not a bad or a good thing, but what we choose to do with it is what matters. Allow yourself to feel the stress–it’s not good to bottle it up. That’ll only make it worse. Check in with yourself and try to identify why you’re feeling stressed. Write it in a journal or say it out loud. Name the feelings.
For me, it’s “I’m feeling stressed about needing to move, overwhelmed about all the work it involves, and nervous about not yet knowing where our new place is or if it will be peaceful.”
Share the fears and uncertainty with your spouse. What you wrote or said in the previous step is a great starting point. Letting them in helps them understand and know it’s not them that’s causing you the negative feelings.
As we’re working on moving, Jess and I keep checking in with each other. We want to be aware of all of the stress and feelings we have. We’re both feeling the stress, but talking about it together helps us to feel better. It brings us together as a team, lets us know we’re not alone, and helps us to feel like everything will be okay even in the midst of the chaos.
Everything feels bigger, scarier, and more offensive when we’re under pressure. We’re the only ones that can own our behaviors, but we’re not the only ones we can hurt with them.
I’m really bad at this one. I tend to feel chaos but not realize the source until I’m snapping at Jess over something tiny. It’s not her fault. I don’t want to be snappy, and she certainly doesn’t deserve it. It’s easier to avoid this when we’ve talked about the stress I (or we) have been feeling.
Sometimes our spouses can have a reaction bigger than makes sense for a situation. If you do something seemingly small and it causes your spouse to initiate World War 3, there might be other things causing them to react so strongly. Once you realize that they might be taking something else out on you, love them through the stress. Be quick to apologize and quick to forgive. Ephesians 4:32 tells us to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” It’s no fun being on either side, but a little compassion can be really helpful here.
When Jess knows I’m feeling really stressed about something and I get upset about something, she might say to me, “I don’t want to dismiss what you’re feeling, and I know you’re feeling a lot of stress right now–is there anything else going on here?” This helps me to stop to check in with myself and realize if there is something else at play. When the roles are reversed I’ll ask Jess the same thing. We’ve found that it helps us to avoid a fight when we can just process through things and share our fears with each other as we described in step 3.
Whether you share your feelings or not, your spouse probably knows you well enough to know if something is wrong. Not sharing what you’re feeling could become a source of stress for them, and that might leave you both on a short fuse. That’s definitely not a good thing. Whether or not it’s easy for you to share, it can be hard on your spouse if you don’t. Whether it’s fear of layoffs at work, stress about money, or something else, the best thing you can do is share your worries and fears. Being open and honest helps us and our spouse to focus on the problem as a team, and that brings us closer together instead of pushing us apart.
Some problems are just out of our control. That’s okay. God is in control. We may not be able to change financial struggles. We may not be able to help our spouse avoid a layoff. We’re supposed to lift each other up in marriage and carry each other’s burdens. That doesn’t mean we have to fix them, just to share the emotional weight, have compassion, and love each other no matter what.
Do you have a stressful situation in your life right now? How are you working through it? Share with us in the comments below…