Every small step brings you closer to your goals.
It’s through relationships that we discover who we are and learn to understand others. You can enhance that by a journaling practice that’s focussed on reflecting your relationship behaviours. What’s worked and what’s not worked in your marriage.
Let’s go down memory lane. Think of the first date with your partner. If you are single, think of your ideal first date. Just thinking about first dates is exciting. In the early stages of love aka the honeymoon period, we feel exhilarated. As time goes by, personal baggage begins to creep in and we can find ourselves in muddy waters of hurt loops, emotional distress, intense conflicts, unsatisfactory coping techniques and absolute boredom.
Having healthy and happy relationships is hard.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of complexity to relationships. It’s created a whirlwind in the muddy waters. According to theories of stress spillover, external sources of stressors such as work stress and financial uncertainty, often cripple the quality of our relationships.
Each of us is different. We react to stressors differently. Individual factors make us susceptible to stress spillover or crossover. For instance, the way I react to stressors is very different from my husband. The majority of the time my reactions are emotional while he is pragmatic. I can get anxious when I am stressed which can be very uncomfortable for people around me. When I became aware of this behavioural trait I started designing a way to change this. I have a process set to control stress spill over into my relationships.
When I am stressed I first resort to silence. I take a deep breath and move away from the cause of stress (whenever possible). It doesn’t have to be physical. It can be a mental shift too. This gives me some space to look at the cause of stress objectively. I do a session of reflective journaling. I have prompts designed to help me with stress. I reflect and write what I feel about the stress. I come back to it after a break (could be few hours or a day) to see if I still feel the same way. I might re-write how I feel. After 2-3 revisions, I begin to notice my writing becoming less emotional, more objective. This is my cue that it’s now a good time to engage with the cause of my stress. I am also better equipped to clearly communicate with my partner, family or friends what’s stressing me. I’ve noticed a significant drop in stress spillover into my relationships.
On COVID-19 and stress spillovers into a relationship.
The mandatory stay-at-home orders during the pandemic required us to abruptly restructure our day-to-day lives. Overnight we were facing new stressful situations like working remotely, being pregnant in a pandemic, handling homeschooling responsibilities, social distancing, and financial uncertainty. Coping with stressful situations often takes a toll on couples’ relationships.
The myriad of stressful life circumstances created by the pandemic might suggest an increased tension between partners and reduce relationship happiness. However, in some cases, stressful circumstances can affirm relational bonds between partners. I have witnessed this happening with my parents. The financial crisis they experienced due to a change in government regulation in 2007-2008 brought them closer to each other.
Not all stressors are alike.
This study suggests that when stressors are highly salient, affect large numbers of people, and are relatively uncontrollable, individuals can more easily attribute their problems to stressful circumstances, which renders their relationship more resilient to the harmful effects of that stress.
The study argues how major stressors e.g., severe illness, natural disasters can ameliorate relationship quality compared to the effects of minor stressors e.g., difficult workday, getting stuck in traffic. Minor stresses (often unconscious) negatively paint our partner’s thoughts and behaviours within the relationship. Whereas, major stressors are so noticeable (highly salient) that we tend to marshal coping and support efforts between ourselves and our partner. We are more likely to consider major stress events as uncontrollable stressors for which neither our partner nor we are to be blamed. We see that happening within romantic relationships where blaming the pandemic for one’s problems might mitigate stress spillover within a relationship.
Whether it’s an everyday, recurring stressor that’s bothering your relationship or a major stressful event like the pandemic, you can promote proactive coping by emotion regulation.
On emotion regulation in romantic relationships
Research shows that emotional regulation is important in romantic relationships. We need to consider our general ability (or difficulty) to regulate our emotions. But first, let’s dive into what is emotion regulation.
Emotion regulation has been defined as the process by which individuals manage the occurrence, experience, and expression of emotions. It’s our general capacity for recognising and regulating emotions for desired outcomes, or difficulties in modulating emotions with effective strategies.
The well-being of our romantic relationship is dependent on how we can regulate our emotions. There’s scientific evidence that difficulties in emotion regulation caused by minor stressors are associated with harmful behaviours in relationships.
You’ve had a bad day at work. Do you find yourself snapping at your partner?
Have you been at the receiving end of such behaviour? Your partner is constantly irritated with you or disengaged with you?
A spat with a waiter and it ruins date night?
Our actions in response to our experience of stress or our partner’s experience of stress could potentially elevate the shared experience of stress, such as relationship stress. If relationship stress frequents your life, it could lead to aggression and relationship breakdown.
There are two ways of emotion regulation
Intrinsic emotion regulation
Where an individual is interested in regulating his or her own emotions. For example, you can regulate emotional hopelessness by maintaining a gratitude journal or take my example of using reflective journaling to manage stress spillover into my relationships.
Extrinsic emotion regulation
Where an individual is interested in regulating another person’s emotions. For example, you can seem interested in your partner’s conversation than you really are to regulate their emotions of insecurity.
Sometimes a single action can have both intrinsic and extrinsic regulatory functions. For example, I compose silly songs to soothe crying Noah and get him to eat, sleep and have a bath. It also keeps me from snapping at him.
Emotions powerfully shape our romantic relationships. It influences how we communicate, interact and respond to our partner. Sometimes our emotions serve us very well. At other times, our emotions can lead us astray.
To thrive in romantic relationships you must put mechanisms in place for Emotion Regulation. Invest in strategies, tools and processes to influence your emotions in ways you think will increase the chance to help your relationships rather than harm them.
Intrinsic emotion regulation
You can regulate emotional hopelessness by maintaining a gratitude journal or take my example of using reflective journaling to manage stress spillover into my relationships.
Extrinsic emotion regulation
You can seem interested in your partner’s conversation than you really are to regulate their emotions of insecurity.
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