While relationships can be a source of great joy in our lives, they can also create a lot of stress. From small arguments to major disputes, role changes to significant life transitions, it is simply unavoidable that from time to time, our relationships will stress us out. Below are three things to remember about relationships to help you maintain a healthy perspective, and keep your stress in check.
1. No relationship is perfect.
All relationships have their ups and downs. There will be moments of greatness balanced out by difficult times. If you go in expecting nonstop, perpetual bliss, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Accept from the beginning that things will not always be roses and romance, and instead learn to evaluate with an eye toward balance. Do the frustrations outweigh the happy times? Are the bad parts really damaging? Do they infect what is good and strong in your partnership and make the whole relationship unhealthy? Some couples survive infidelity, addiction, loss, and every difficult transition that life can throw at you. Others do not. No two couples are exactly the same. You have to decide for yourself what you can accept and move on from, and what will be a deal breaker. You have to ask yourself if there is enough good stuff in your relationship, enough happiness, enough love, to make it worth pushing on through the tough times to try to get back to that place of joy.
When I was growing up, I was constantly afraid that my parents would get divorced. People talked about divorce a lot in the 90’s. It felt like this specter hanging over everyone’s family. Whenever my parents would argue or I could sense some tension between them, I was convinced that the next day they would sit me and my siblings down and tell us that their marriage was over. They have been married for 42 years. They have had financial struggles, career changes, they raised three children. There have been physical health scares, difficult family illnesses and deaths, so many life changing moments and transitions. They have packed everything up and moved to new places, often all the way across the country, so many times that I cannot keep track anymore. I asked my mom once what the trick was to staying married as long as they have and she replied, “Your dad is really funny.”
We cannot control whether or not bad things happen. We can only control how we react to them. Accepting that life and love are never perfect and will sometimes be very hard is the first step to dealing with difficulties as they arise.
2. Do not compare relationships.
Do not compare your relationship to other people’s relationships. Do not compare your current relationship to your past relationships. Do not compare your relationship in the present to what that same relationship was like in the past. Everyone is different, and because of that, no two relationships are directly comparable. Furthermore, life moves on and people grow and change. What may have worked for you as a couple two, five, ten, twenty, forty years ago may not be realistic or feasible for your current life. You have to be able to look at your situation and ask what makes sense for your partnership in the here and now. Reach for a relationship ideal that is tenable for your current life. Have young kids at home? Do not go in with an expectation of having sex a few times each week. Maybe shoot for a couple of times a month and then pat yourselves on the back if you manage to do it even once without falling asleep halfway through. Do not think, “but we used to be so crazy about each other!” Well sure, but you used to be getting regular sleep and you had more energy, and you did not have the constant threat of little humans crying out and interrupting you. Life changes, roll with the punches. Be realistic about what your relationship should look like at the current stage of your life.
Ignore everything you see about other people’s relationships on social media. In fact, a good rule of thumb is just to ignore social media in general. No one is entirely genuine and forthcoming with public depictions of their private lives. So just let those nonsense comparisons go right now. It is not worth your time to compare your actual relationship to other people’s depictions of their relationships. Save yourself the irritation. As for real-life comparisons, remember that relationships ebb and flow. I have had moments where friends vent about their relationships to me at a time when my marriage feels absolutely wonderful. And I have had moments where I am the one doing the venting and my friends seem to have no complaints about their partners. Life is not about seeing who has it better at every single turn. The problem with comparing yourself to other people is that other people may want and need different things than you do. We are all different. Evaluate your life and your partnership on its own merits, not in comparison to others.
3. Relationships should be safe.
It is true that no relationship is perfect, but all relationships should be safe, healthy spaces for both partners. Abuse and violence in a relationship are never okay, even if they feel balanced out by good times and happy moments. You do not always have to like your partner. At times, you may feel like you hate each other. You may be angry, disappointed, frustrated, hurt. It is okay to feel that way. But is never okay to be violent or abusive toward each other. There is no mistake a person can make, nothing they can say or do that warrants abusive behavior. You should not expect to always be blissfully happy in your relationship, but you should always feel safe to express yourself and articulate your needs and desires without fear of violence. If you cannot do that, then this is not a relationship you should be in. Visit the Domestic Violence Network website for more information on getting help, and putting an end to domestic violence. We all deserve to be in relationships that are healthy and safe.