Work overload, feeling that you are not reaching everything, your own health problems or those of close people, economic difficulties… Situations like these make stress stalk and assault us. Almost without realizing it, we suddenly spend weeks or months in that state in which everything overwhelms us and in which we become more susceptible and irritable, something that will also affect how we relate to the people around us. If one is in a relationship, this continued stress can be experienced as a tidal wave from which one does not always emerge unscathed.

“In general, things will impact the relationship depending on how the couple is. If we have a solid relationship, even if it is threatened by different impacts, it will have more chances of resolution,” says clinical psychologist and couples therapist Maria Pilar Berzosa Grande, professor of the Psychology degree at the International University of La Rioja (UNIR). ), where she is also a researcher for the PSICOFAM group: Health, Family and Couple Psychology. This group is precisely investigating how the pandemic affected relationships, a study that they hope to be able to publish next year. Berzosa Grande already anticipates that one of the things they are seeing is that, when assessing how and how much this stress will affect, different factors must be taken into account, such as whether the couple has children and their age, How long have they been living together or how is the link between the two. “If a couple has children, for example, they are going to have less time and chance to stop and give themselves that space for communication”, she explains.

Stress, says the scientific literature, fills us up until it overwhelms us, and that extra spills over onto the people close to us. According to a study published in 2012 by the American Psychological Association, on those days when we are especially stressed, we lose a bit of our ability to self-regulate and tend to behave worse with our partner and, in general, value the relationship less. Another study this year focused not on how we behave, but on what things we notice about the other person in those stages of stress: they analyzed 79 newly married couples, in the middle of their honeymoon phase, in which the usual thing is see only the good in the other, and discovered that, with stress, they tended to notice more the defects of their companions. As an optimistic pill, they also continued to notice the virtues.

Berzosa Grande explains that it is very important to distinguish between the sources of stress. “Health problems, the loss of a job… The closer in time and space the problem that causes the stress is, the greater the affectation will be,” she indicates. Also, it matters how destabilizing that particular issue is for the couple’s situation. “If the source of the stress is, for example, that a member of the couple has become unemployed, which is something that many couples may be experiencing right now, it will affect the mood and the relationship. But if that, in addition, is influencing the quality of life because you had commitments that you cannot pay, for example, the affectation will be greater ”, she points out.

The same is true of external sources of stress, such as inflation, instability from war, or wear and tear from the pandemic. It matters how much the situation affects them, the bond of the couple and the personality of each one, among other factors. In fact, according to Berzosa Grande, there are couples to whom all this can unite them more because they “share together”.

Along the same lines, a study published in June 2021 concluded that during the coronavirus health crisis, many couples managed to survive precisely because the culprit behind their stress was clear: it was not that person with whom they shared their lives, but the situation. The stress was maintained and also the part of behaving worse and seeing the relationship in a more negative light, but it spilled over less towards the other. The fault lies with the covid-19, something that the media constantly reminded of. Knowing it, being aware that this stress exists and what its source is, can help couples to better cope with it, concludes this research.

Communication, key so that the storm does not take you ahead

In order to get to the other side disheveled, but still together, being able to stop and communicate is key. Ana Garcia Manas, director of the Expert in Sexual and Couples Therapy at the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), breaks down the strategies that can help address the crisis “without worsening the situation.” In the first place, she indicates that it is necessary to “increase the level of consciousness about emotions and the situation”, that is, that each one recognizes and takes into account her needs, as well as those of the other. Give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling, express it harmlessly, and ask for what is needed.

In addition, he points out: “Although when we are up to our necks in water it is very difficult for us to visualize a way out, it is important to think that the situation will not always continue like this.” Therefore, thinking about short, medium and long-term strategies can help. “Everything changes, and we can agree on deadlines to make the changes that we consider necessary. Thus, we give the couple time so that they can organize themselves and adapt to the new situation ”, she assures.

On the other hand, it indicates that it is also key not to fall into what studies say we tend to do when we are stressed: blame and judge the other. “We must remember that the couple are two different people, who act according to their own values, emotions, history… and that we cannot change it. What we can choose is with which partner we want to share the path and what limits we put in order to be in that relationship. And we can do this out of love and respect both for the other person and for our own needs”, explains Garcia Manas. Finally, when nothing works, going to therapy is also a useful resource, he says.

Maria Pilar Berzosa Grande also recommends couples therapy, but adds that prevention is very important. “Couples go to therapy when they are on their last legs, almost to the limit, nothing has been prevented. A car is taken care of more than a relationship, ”she says.

For that communication that is highly recommended and that, many times, immersed in the whirlwind of everyday life, seems impossible, the expert indicates that one option is to take advantage of technology. “Technoference [the interference of technology in our daily lives] is detrimental, but studies also indicate that, if technology is used appropriately, it can cheer up a couple. For example, if you are not going to see each other until dinner time, stimulating WhatsApp messages can help. Knowing how to use technologies in favor of the relationship can help us to be connected ”, she explains.

In short, it is a question of spending time and, when there is very little, trying to make it quality. “We have to find a time to resolve the conflicts generated by the discrepancy, which will always exist. And you also have to know how to have moments of tenderness, in addition to knowing how to handle coexistence. These are things that may be very basic, but our hectic lifestyle is preventing us from doing so. If we have stages as convulsive as these last ones, the couple enters a maelstrom of stress and may not realize that satisfying these things is basic. They pass off as inconsequential,” she explains.

Both experts insist that the circumstances and personalities of each couple will cause the way in which stress affects and the strategies to manage it to vary. “Currently, there are many couple models. Those couples who do not care in common, do not live together or who do not share income or erotic exclusivity may be less vulnerable to some of these sources of stress”, Ana Garcia Manas gives as an example. However, Berzosa Grande indicates that there is an essential starting point: “You have to want the couple to meet again. From there and putting communication in the center, there will be more chances of surviving the earthquake”.

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