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Relationship Stress: How It Feels, 38 Signs & Best Ways to Fix It as a Couple

Aren’t relationships supposed to be all fun and frolics, passion and ripping clothes off? Not always – relationship stress is a real thing.

Relationship Stress

Ever felt like you’re walking on eggshells in your own love story? Like, one wrong word could turn your romantic comedy into a thriller, but not the good kind? Well, you’re not alone, my friends. That tricky little villain is what we call relationship stress, and let us tell you, it’s as sneaky as a cat on a hot tin roof!

Recognizing and effectively addressing relationship stress is not just Relationship 101, it’s the advanced-level course you never knew you needed.

But worry not, as we’ll demystify this puzzling phenomenon and give you the tools you need for a happily-ever-after, minus the drama.

[Read: Walking on eggshells in your relationship? 18 signs and the fastest fixes]

What is Relationship Stress?

Relationship stress is that unsettling feeling or tension specific to your romantic relationship. Unlike general stress, which can be triggered by multiple sources like work, exams, or traffic jams, relationship stress revolves around the dynamics between you and your significant other.

Think of it as a software bug in your “LoveOS”, it interferes with the smooth functioning of the entire system.

To put it in psychological terms, the Psychological Stress Theory tells us that the perception of a threat can kickstart stress reactions. In a romantic relationship, the ‘threat’ may be to your emotional security or your sense of unity as a couple. Here are some common triggers:

1. Financial Concerns

Money talks, but sometimes it also argues. Whether it’s deciding who foots the bill on a date or planning a shared budget after moving in together, financial disparities or disagreements can be a breeding ground for relationship stress.

Often, these money matters are not just about dollars and cents; they bring into focus deeper issues of power dynamics and equality in the relationship. [Read: How to talk about money with your partner without fighting about it]

2. Trust Issues

The late-night buzz of a phone or a comment on social media from an unfamiliar name can ignite doubts about fidelity.

Trust issues don’t always stem from concrete evidence of betrayal; sometimes they are fueled by insecurities or past experiences.

When trust is frail, the entire relationship feels like a house of cards, ready to collapse at any moment. [Read: Trust issues in a relationship: 22 whys & ways to get over it together]

3. Communication Barriers

You might feel like you’re talking, but are you really communicating? Communication issues can range from simple misunderstandings to deep-seated patterns of avoiding important discussions.

The lack of constructive communication can exacerbate relationship stress as you both wander in a maze of unspoken thoughts and feelings.

4. Work-Life Balance

When 9-to-5 becomes 9-to-forever, the relationship can take a backseat. Stress from work can spill over into your love life, creating tension, reducing quality time, and fostering resentment.

The constant juggle between professional obligations and personal time can heighten relationship stress. [Read: How to balance your career, social life and dating life]

5. Sexual Dissatisfaction

Sexual compatibility is like the seasoning in the relationship stew—get it wrong, and the whole dish feels off.

Differences in libido, preferences, or issues like performance anxiety can lead to stress that’s hard to verbalize but easy to feel.

6. Family Dynamics

Whether it’s tension with the in-laws or differences in parenting styles for those with kids, family can add an extra layer of complexity to relationship stress.

These issues often bring to the forefront deep-rooted values and expectations that can be hard to navigate.

7. Individual Mental Health

Sometimes, personal battles with issues like anxiety or depression can infiltrate the relationship sphere.

When one partner is dealing with mental health challenges, the stress can become a shared experience, requiring both to adapt and support in new ways.

8. Long-Distance Challenges

Physical distance brings its own set of stressors like scheduling woes for calls, the absence of physical intimacy, and feelings of isolation or detachment. It’s like running a relationship on ‘hard mode.’

Now, let’s add another layer to this emotional cake: “Attachment Theory.” According to this theory, our early life experiences with caregivers shape how secure or insecure we feel in adult relationships.

So if you find yourself reacting strongly to certain triggers, like feeling abandoned when your partner wants a night out with friends, you might be experiencing an activation of your attachment system.

In other words, your past is waving at you, and not in a cute way! [Read: Long distance relationship boredom: 25 signs & secrets to spice the LDR up]

The Tell-Tale Signs That Relationship Stress is Playing Third Wheel in Your Love Life

Before things start to snowball, it’s crucial to spot the early signs that stress is putting a strain on your relationship.

It’s like catching a cold, the sooner you recognize the symptoms, the faster you can take action. Here’s a list of signs that relationship stress might be creeping into your love life:

1. Emotional Distance

If conversations start to feel like interviews and hugs feel like obligations, you’re probably experiencing emotional distance.

The warmth starts to fade, replaced by a clinical, almost robotic interaction between you and your partner.

2. Decreased Intimacy

When passionate kisses turn into pecks and cuddling becomes a rare occurrence, that’s a red flag. A decline in physical closeness often mirrors a deeper emotional rift. [Read: A lack of affection and intimacy in a relationship: Is it time to walk away?]

3. Increased Conflict

Arguments seem to pop up out of nowhere, and small issues become battlegrounds. If you’re suddenly fighting about how to squeeze the toothpaste tube, stress may be the hidden culprit.

4. Physiological Symptoms

Stress doesn’t just mess with your mind, it can also wreak havoc on your body.

Symptoms like headaches, stomach problems, and yes, even accelerated hair loss can signal that stress has infiltrated your relationship.

5. Change in Communication Patterns

If texts and calls start dwindling or becoming more frequent but less meaningful, that’s another sign. Communication is the heartbeat of any relationship, and any irregularities can indicate stress. [Read: 42 secrets to communicate better in a relationship and secrets to fix a lack of it]

6. Avoidance Behavior

You find yourself making plans that don’t involve your partner or avoiding conversations about the future. This can be a subconscious way to distance yourself due to relationship stress.

7. Emotional Contagion

Stress is not only self-contained, it can spread like a virus. If one partner is stressed, it’s quite common for the other to pick up on those emotions and start feeling stressed themselves.

It’s as if stress has a plus-one invitation to your relationship.

The Golden Tips on How to Deal With Relationship Stress

So you’ve spotted the signs and decided it’s time to evict stress from your love life. How do you go about it without making things even messier?

Here’s your cheat sheet for not just surviving but thriving in the face of relationship stress:

1. Open Communication & Active Listening

Talking is good; effective talking is golden. The “Transactional Model of Communication” tells us that communication is a two-way street with a sender, receiver, and feedback.

This isn’t the time for monologues. Listen to understand, not to reply. Address issues as they arise and offer constructive feedback. Your relationship isn’t a courtroom, and the goal is understanding, not winning.

2. Stress Management as a Duo

Tackling stress can be a team sport. Activities like couple’s yoga or engaging in “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” can turn stress management into quality time.

You’re not just reducing stress, you’re building resilience and deepening your connection.

3. Individual Self-Care

As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Take time for yourself to recharge.

Whether it’s a solo run, a spa day, or diving into a good book, individual well-being feeds into collective relationship well-being. When you feel good, your relationship feels good. [Read: Love yourself first: Where people go wrong, 36 whys & how to do this right]

4. Seek Professional Help

Sometimes, stress is too complex or deep-rooted to be resolved between the two of you. There’s no shame in consulting a relationship counselor or therapist.

Getting a third-party perspective can offer invaluable insights and coping strategies.

5. Set Boundaries

Whether it’s taking a timeout during heated discussions or having a ‘no phone during dinner’ rule, setting boundaries can help manage stress triggers.

Boundaries are not walls but are guidelines that promote respect and understanding. [Read: Boundaries in a relationship: 43 healthy dating rules you MUST set early on]

6. Embrace Flexibility

Change is the only constant, even in relationships. Be open to adapt your plans, your expectations, and even your communication styles to suit the evolving dynamics of your relationship.

Flexibility can be your greatest ally in reducing stress.

7. Celebrate the Small Wins

Every successfully resolved argument, every loving moment, every compromise—these are all victories against stress.

Acknowledge them and celebrate them. It’s a way to create positive reinforcement loops in your relationship.

8. Weekly Check-ins

Make it a habit to check in with each other weekly about the relationship. Discuss what went well and what didn’t, and set intentions for the week ahead.

This gives you an opportunity to nip issues in the bud before they snowball.

9. Use ‘I’ Statements

Expressing yourself in terms of your own feelings and needs helps prevent your partner from going on the defensive. Instead of saying, “You never listen to me,” try framing it as, “I feel unheard when you don’t pay attention.”

Using “I” statements fosters an environment of mutual respect and open dialogue. By focusing on your own emotional experience rather than accusing your partner, you invite them into a conversation rather than a confrontation.

It’s not just about airing grievances—it’s about creating a space where both parties can be heard and understood. [Read: 33 emotional needs in a relationship, signs it’s unmet and how to meet them]

10. PRACTICE Gratitude

Regularly remind each other of the good qualities or kind acts that you appreciate in your relationship. It’s easy to lose sight of these when stress mounts.

11. Resource Priming

Before tackling a stressful issue, remind yourselves of past challenges you’ve overcome together. This can serve as a motivational primer, reassuring you both of your capabilities as a team.

12. Positive Reinforcement

Reward each other when you successfully manage stress or conflicts. It could be words of affirmation, small gifts, or acts of service. Reinforcement can accelerate behavioral change and stress management.

13. Lean on Social Support

Don’t underestimate the power of a strong social network. Spend time with family and friends who reinforce your relationship, or seek advice from couples who’ve been through similar challenges.

14. Nonviolent Communication

This technique encourages compassionate communication and can be a lifesaver in stressful situations. It focuses on expressing needs clearly and empathetically, enabling better conflict resolution.

The essence of NVC lies in its ability to dismantle the barriers to effective communication like blame, judgment, or criticism.

By fostering a language of empathy and understanding, NVC opens the door to more meaningful, less confrontational dialogues.

It helps both partners feel valued and heard, transforming potential conflict into opportunities for connection and growth.

When to Seek Professional Help

It’s a misconception that seeking therapy is a sign of a failing relationship. On the contrary, it’s a proactive step toward better understanding and stronger bonding. So when should you switch from DIY remedies to professional assistance for dealing with relationship stress?

1. Chronic or Escalating Conflict

If arguments are more frequent than peaceful conversations, and neither of you can find a resolution, it’s time to seek external help.

A relationship therapist can provide neutral ground and effective conflict resolution techniques.

2. Severe Trust Issues

Trust, once broken, is notoriously hard to rebuild.

If issues like infidelity, lies, or breaches of trust are making it impossible to move forward, a professional can offer ways to either mend or make informed decisions about the relationship.

3. Emotional or Physical Abuse

If the relationship includes any form of abuse, professional intervention is crucial for both parties. Individual therapy, rather than couple’s therapy, is often advised in such cases. [Read: Am I in an abusive relationship? 66 early signs, effects & ways to get out]

4. Communication Breakdown

When it feels like you’re speaking different languages and even simple messages get lost in translation, a therapist can help reboot your communication skills.

5. Persistent Stress Symptoms

If you’ve tried stress management techniques but the physiological symptoms persist, individual therapy can help.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” is an evidence-based practice highly effective for stress management. It helps you understand the link between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, enabling you to manage stress more effectively.

6. Sexual Difficulties

If sexual issues become roadblocks in your relationship, it may be helpful to consult a sex therapist who can address these specific concerns.

7. Family Involvement

Sometimes the stress involves more than just the two of you. When family dynamics add stress to the relationship, a family therapist can offer coping strategies that include everyone affected. [Read: 18 foundations of a good relationship that separate the good and the bad ones]

8. Preventive Measures

Even if you’re not experiencing overt issues, “tune-up” sessions can be beneficial. They help identify potential stress points and give you tools to navigate them before they become problems.

9. Nothing Else Works

If you’ve tried all the DIY remedies, read all the self-help books, and still feel lost, then professional help might offer the fresh perspective you need.

Your Relationship Deserves to be a Sanctuary

In the grand scheme of things, stress is an inevitable part of life—like those awkward family gatherings you can’t avoid. But just as you wouldn’t let Uncle Bob’s inappropriate jokes ruin your family reunion, you shouldn’t let relationship stress define your love story.

[Read: 38 signs and traits of a happy, healthy relationship and what it should look like]

Grab the reins and take charge. Your relationship deserves to be a sanctuary, so don’t let relationship stress turn it into a battlefield. With actionable insights and a willingness to adapt, you can absolutely turn your relationship into a stress-free sanctuary now.

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Vinod Srinivas Serai
Vin Serai
Vin Serai is the founder of LovePanky.com, and has delved deep into the working of love and relationships for almost two decades. Having dipped his feet in almo...