Most of us enter marriage with the expectation that our marriage will last. Yet, many marriages end within the first five years. While we don’t know all the reasons why this happens so frequently, we do know that many couples are surprised by the almost immediate experience of stress they encounter after walking down the aisle.
Facing stress together as a couple can be discouraging, but recent research suggests that experiencing stress may be one way to help increase our chances of long-lasting happiness. In one recent study, Lisa Neff and Elizabeth Broady at the University of Texas at Austin compared experiencing minor stress in a relationship to working out at the gym and we loved the metaphor!
Building Muscle Strength
We work our muscles to put stress on them, which causes tearing–thereby weakening our muscles temporarily. But we’re going for strength, not weakness, so the key lies in how our muscles recover from the stress. The scar tissue that heals the wear and tear makes our muscles bigger and tougher, which allows them to handle greater amounts of stress in the future.
Just like muscles, when our relationships experience minor stress, they may be weakened temporarily in the moment, but when we successfully handle the stress together, we strengthen each other and our relationship. We are then more prepared and able to handle new stress that comes more effectively.
Discomfort and Fatigue
One of the most common reasons people give up on working out is the discomfort and fatigue they experience after initial exercise. We may often be tempted to give up and stop working out because it seems too difficult or too painful. But any personal trainer will tell you that pain is a necessary part of the process. We have all heard the saying “pain is weakness leaving the body.”
Similarly, stress in relationships may decrease our satisfaction with the relationship temporarily and we may be tempted to jump ship and break off the relationship. But if we adopt this mentality, then we will never have a long-lasting, happy relationship because all relationships experience stress. When we stick together in times of stress, the pain we feel is part of the process of change and encourages us to rely on each other, building trust and understanding.
Practice Makes Perfect
The other key to a successful workout is repetition, increase, and consistency. In other words, we do not start with the heavy weights of body building competitions. If we start too high, we could seriously injure ourselves. To build up our strength we have to start small, with frequent repetition. Then as our muscles strengthen, we need to increase the weight to strengthen them further.
Like the strongest muscles, the healthiest relationships in times of stress are those which have experienced multiple instances of minor stress at the beginning of the relationship, learned healthy responses, and then utilized those practices in times of heavier stress. In the study, for example, those couples which had experienced a number of minor stressors early in their marriage were more successful in navigating the transition to parenthood, one of the most stressful events in marriages.
We Cannot Stop
The final key to muscle strength is to not stop. Once we achieve our desired strength, we have to continue to work out to maintain it. Otherwise, our muscles will atrophy. Keeping active is the key to staying fit.
As much as we like to envision the perfect relationship as one with no stress or problems, the truth is that experiencing stress as a couple throughout our life together may actually serve as part of the glue which holds our relationships together. It may even be that those couples who never experience stress are actually avoiding their issues and therefore weakening the relationship. When we experience stress in our relationships, instead of avoiding the problems, we need to use what we’ve learned in the past as a couple and continue to strengthen each other to keep our love strong.
It can be easy to feel discouraged about bumps in the road, but the next time you and your partner have to work through something painful, think of it as an opportunity for growth and closeness, rather than an opportunity to abandon ship. Or get a head start by taking the RELATE Assessment with your partner to find the areas where you can grow together as a couple!
Written by: Dallin
Read the original article here.