How To Protect Your Relationship From The Effects Of News-Related Stress

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For many people, the events of the last year and what's happening in the here-and-now have triggered a great deal of stress, both physical and emotional.

Don’t let this get in the way of the love you have for your partner or your relationship.

To safeguard your relationship effectively, begin by defining the problem clearly and finish by outlining a simple, workable solution.

First things first, what is "stress" and how does it affect our relationships?

One definition includes emotional distress resulting from challenging, external circumstances.

The problem with stress is that it can spill over into relationships, damaging them. You may be angry about something—  and because you’re angry, you yell at your partner for no reason.

Likewise, your partner may be upset about something and jumps on you for an insignificant misstep.

While the news cycle may settle down soon, there will always be external stressors to consider and work through, together.

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How can you protect the well-being of your relationship during stressful times?

By creating and maintaining an agreement to do so and setting the ground rules of this agreement — and the first step starts with you.

Acknowledge what you’re feeling — good, bad, or indifferent — to yourself.

As Coronavirus season started last spring, a friend of mine was among the first patients hospitalized in mid-March. I believed that the world was ending, that anything I did or could accomplish was somehow pointless.

With the political events of January 6th, those feelings of helplessness and hopelessness returned.

But, my feelings were completely mistaken. The world didn’t end in March 2020 and it didn’t end in January of 2021.

Have you had similar feelings or experiences over the past year? Do you know how your partner is feeling or thinking about these times? Have you checked in with them or had any real conversations about this yet?

Don’t assume your partner shares your feelings — they may have quite different feelings about current events. Those feelings are as valid as your own.

Don’t bring judgment to this evaluation of your response — or your partner’s response — to current events.

There’s no "right" way to feel about what’s happening. There’s no "wrong" way, either. You’re feeling however you’re feeling.

Although everyone experiences stress differently, the experiences are very real for each of you.

So, bring a spirit of generosity to yourself, your partner, their feelings, and the relationship. Be compassionate, loving, and curious.

Speak to and listen carefully to your partner. Set aside time to have the first of many authentic, intimate conversations.

If you’re physically distant, then phone, Zoom, and/or Skype — whatever means you have of actually, physically hearing each other speak.

If you’re physically close, speak to each other face-to-face. Don’t text. Don’t email. Don’t wave newspaper articles and political commentary around like gigantic, bombastic confetti.

Talk to each other like people who love each other.

With these first two critical steps accomplished, you’re in a position to safeguard your relationship by explicitly agreeing to safeguard it with your partner.

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Try the following 4 steps: ask, offer, consider, and agree.

Ask your partner what they're feeling and thinking about current events and how they're reacting. This is an absolutely critical step — humans are not mindreaders.

Listen fully and, if you’re triggered by something you hear, notice that you’re being judgmental and put it aside for now. (Yeah. Really. Criticizing divides people and damages relationships.)

Offer what you’re feeling. Until feelings, thoughts, and emotions are put into words and spoken out loud, you can’t know what anyone, including yourself, is feeling.

Putting feelings into words clarifies things for both the speaker and the listener.

Ask your partner to identify troublesome issues — these could be areas of concern that are to be discussed or are to be avoided at any cost.

Don’t walk into the conversation expecting to know what your partner will say. Set aside the judgment and listen with compassion.

Offer your areas of concern in a similar fashion. Listen to yourself with compassion and don’t beat yourself up for what you’re feeling.

Consider the issues your partner is troubled by and what your partner wants or needs around those issues. Consider your own areas of distress in the same way.

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The key here is to keep in mind that one or more issues may be "crisis-level critical" for one or both of you while other issues may be on the level of "annoying and I can live with that because I love you."

Consider alternative solutions for all those issues and discuss the options. You’re looking for solutions that work for you both — only agreements that meet the needs of both can be maintained long-term.

If a solution works for you (or your partner) and doesn’t work for your partner (or you), it ain’t a solution: it’s a timebomb waiting to explode.

Agree to a comprehensive, fundamental "contract" with your partner about how and when you’ll talk about current events.

"We can talk about [insert issue]."

"We’re never going to talk about [insert issue]."

"I cannot talk about this right now."

"Something happened today and I’m angry and I’d like to talk about it now."

We’re living in unsettled, stressful times and the future seems uncertain.

By following the process of ask, offer, consider, and agree, you and your partner can safeguard your relationship and successfully navigate any roadblocks ahead.

Don’t stop there.

Bring this process to all areas of life and into the future. Give voice to your concerns and the concerns of your partner and negotiate agreements managing those concerns.

These tools can last a lifetime, too.

As a final thought, consider concluding all conversations with, "I am committed, 100 percent, to this relationship. I love you."

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Tony Vear is a relationship coach, specializing in personal development and business coaching. He strives to leave people better than he finds them by making relationships as simple as driving. Visit the Relationship Mastery Institute to sign up for Happily Ever After or any of our other courses.