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The top 4 sources of relationship stress and how to deal with them

By Lea Rose Emery

Relationship stress can not only be excruciating to navigate, it can be a lonely, isolated place. We are often far too reticent to air our issues and it’s easy to feel like you’re the only couple who’s struggling — whether your problems feel mundane or larger than life. But the truth is, there are relationship problems that come up again and again — issues that affect almost all of us. Some relationship issues are almost frustratingly common. So you don’t ever need to feel embarrassed.

Although every relationship is different, recognizing that other couples share the same stresses you do can be a cathartic experience — and it can also help you figure out how to deal with them. Because so many people face the same stressors, there is a wealth of resources, of coping mechanisms, of plain old trial-and-error to help you cope.

So, here are the main sources of relationship stress — and how you can deal with them.

1. Money

That’s right — when it comes to relationship stress, you can’t avoid the money topic. Study after survey after study after survey says that money issues are the biggest source of arguments, the top source of stress, and a cause of breakups — no matter what angle you slice it from, the money issue is big. So, what can you do about it?

The most basic and important thing you can do is to talk about it — early and often. Get used to talking about your financial history, your spending habits and styles, any insecurities you have about money. My partner and I come from very different backgrounds and have very different attitudes toward money — so we had to have some tough conversations to get on the same page. But the more you talk about it, the easier it gets.

From a practical point of view, it also helps to have a budget and a game plan. Now, sometimes there is just not enough money — that is incredibly stressful and may not be anyone’s fault. Inequality is rife and you don't need to feel guilty for struggling. But being aware is always a good thing. Create a budget and work out what distribution of bills, spending, and saving works best for you — if you have money to save, that is. A lot of couples find that having a joint account for shared expenses and separate accounts for your own spending is a good mix of being connected financially but also still feeling like you each get to be your own person.

2. Household chores 

It’s a sad truth that something as banal as household chores can wreck so much havoc on a relationship — but it’s definitely the case. The issue is so serious, in fact, that a working paper from Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia points out that 25 percent of divorcees in America cited housework disagreements as part of the reason for the split. Yikes.

The most obvious solution? Share your housework. This is mostly directed at straight men, who have long been able to dodge housework and leave women with the infamous (and exhausting) second shift — but it's also true in any couple. If you feel like your partner isn’t doing their fair share, don't try to cover for them — it’s not sustainable. Explain the stress it creates for you, the time you put in. Most importantly, explain that sharing the housework doesn’t just mean doing what you're told — because being forced to mentally manage a household and delegate roles is its own type of stress. You should both be preempting the household needs and taking the initiative, without having to be told.

If you have some extra cash, you might want to go one step further. Research has shown that your relationship can improve if you outsource your housework. It’s obviously not an option for everyone, but if you can throw some money at the problem you might want to consider it — for the sake of your relationship.

3. Work stress

Sometimes, life gets in the way of your relationship. According to The Happiness Index from eHarmony, work stress was the number one cause of relationship stress. When one of you is struggling to handle your office life, it’s really easy to bring that home with you. If both of you are struggling, then things become really complicated.

When it comes to work stress, there are a lot of different ways you can handle it. Firstly, try to work out if this is a chronic problem or a temporary one. If it’s a chronic issue and your work is really making you unhappy in a permanent sense, you may want to consider whether or not this is the right job for you. If it’s a temporary problem, you can start to look for other ways to cope. You may find that work stress means you need more self-care or that you need to give your partner more space. You may want to put a limit on how much you talk about work when you’re at home — venting can be good, but it also can take over and just compound your stress, so sometimes you need to cut it off. The most important thing is that you keep the communication going and try to come up with some coping strategies that work for both of you.

4. Sex

We knew it had to be in there somewhere — the sex issue. Whether you’re too tired for it, one of you wants more than the other, it’s just not happening anymore, or any other mismatch between the two of you, sex can create a huge amount of relationship stress.

The best way to deal with this kind of stress is going to be down to you and your partner. Maybe you need to experiment more, maybe you need to give each other some space, maybe one of you needs to spend more time masturbating. Or it might be that one of you just has to communicate that your libido is low right now and you need some space — that’s OK too. The one thing that you cannot do is stop talking about it. We have an embarrassment and a reluctance when it comes to talking about sex — and that’s especially true when it comes to saying we’re not satisfied. But if you don't talk about it, a dry patch can become a permanently frozen tundra very quickly. So just keep addressing it, even if it's awkward and even if it's painful. And remember, every couple has ups and downs in their sex life.

Relationship stress can make us feel so vulnerable, so overwhelmed, that it's easy to assume we're the only people feeling it so deeply — but that's rarely the case. Talk to your friends, talk to your family, talk to a therapist — the answer to your stress may be more common than you think. But, most importantly, talk to your partner — that’s the one constant solution, no matter the stress. 


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