I often say that marriage doesn't bring out the best in us. It brings out the worst in us. We say things to our spouses that we would never say to someone we were mad at in a work environment. We tend to remove our filters with people we are close to. Having hostility and tension in a marital relationship can make you grumpy and create an environment that is less than healthy for all involved. How you manage yourself in a marriage is up to you. So instead of reaching for the Tums, take the initiative and learn how to improve the situation.
Marital stress can cause any of the following:
- Stomach upsets
- Severe headaches
- Anxiety attacks
- Sleep disturbance
- Overeating and/or under eating
- Back aches
- Teeth clenching
- Poor relationships with others
One of our therapists, Patti Allard, LMFT, LPC, is also a Registered Nurse. She believes that physical ailments can be warning signs that you need to work on your marital coping skills. According to Patti, "People usually have physical signs of stress that they often ignore. They think it is something they ate, or too much caffeine before going to bed. It's easier to think that the physical ailments are not related to marital stress." Of course it's important to have a physical exam conducted by your family physician to rule out other physical reasons for these symptoms as you work to eliminate them. Once physical reasons for the symptoms are ruled out, recognizing that marital stress is causing the problem means you have to deal with it.
Patti offers the following suggestions for couples who need to deal with marital tension:
- Learn to self soothe when tension is present. Many people think it is the other spouse's responsibility to make them feel better. In fact, it is important to be able to calm yourself down rather than needing your spouse to "do something" to make you feel better. Make yourself feel better and have a conversation with yourself to keep your cool.
- Focus on "repair attempts" rather than "resolving issues." Some issues are not resolvable. Let's face it. But agreeing to disagree just may not cut it. Work to "maintain a level of satisfaction despite your difference" to build a better marriage. Don't sacrifice your relationship in the name of being right or getting the last word. Click here to see my frequently requested handout on this subject.
- Maintain healthy behaviors even when life is stressful. Try and get at least 30 minutes of sustained exercise a day and eat healthy foods. Treating your body well will go a long way in helping you manage the stress of marital difficulties. Consider exercise and healthy foods a prescription for feeling better.
It's important to take responsibility for creating a tense environment when marriage makes you grumpy. We all have the opportunity to decrease tension by building an environment that reinforces optimism and happiness. While many couples can do this on their own, some may have difficulty without the help of a professional. Typically, people wait an average of 6 years after their marriage gets tough before they seek help. Confront the problems sooner and become an active participant in helping your marriage bring out the best in you.