Article on Relationship Stress

Five Tips to De-Stress Relationships

by Aila Accad, RN, MSN

The most difficult stressor for most of us is other people. We often blame other people for our feelings, thoughts and choices we feel forced to make. The truth is other people are not responsible for any of these things.

When you give others control over your feelings, thoughts and choices, you feel powerless. That loss of control is the cause of stress.

The natural response to loss of control is fight, flight or freeze. It's no surprise that as more people feel out of control in their lives rage (fight), depression (flight) and chronic illness (freeze) are increasing.

The number one key to de-stressing your relationships is keeping in mind what you control and what the other person controls. You control everything within you - what you think, feel, and choose. Other people, including your children, have complete control over what they think, feel and choose. You have no control over their inner experience. You can influence others through the way that you communicate with them verbally and nonverbally.

Interpersonal communication is too complex a subject to cover fully in a brief article. The focus of this article is to provide a few tips that can help you immediately de-stress any relationship.

Take responsibility for you
When you find yourself reacting to what someone says or does take a moment to take a deep breath and reflect on where the reaction is coming from. In what way are you feeling a loss of control?

The other person's behavior may remind you of a parent. In this case you can feel like a powerless child. Remind yourself that you are an adult. You have the right to think, feel and choose according to your beliefs and desires. If there are consequences for your choice, recognize those, assess your options and choose accordingly.

On the other hand, the person's stance may be more like an irresponsible child who's expecting you to take responsibility for their feelings and behavior. Clarifying both of your positions as equal adults and separating the responsibility appropriately can reduce your stress.

Caution: if the other person is not willing to take responsibility for their behavior, this approach can actually increase their stress. Assess your options and choose your response wisely.

Keep in mind de-stressing is not dependent on what you choose to do. De-stressing is in understanding that your choice is in your control.

Let go of controlling the other.
Acknowledge and respect the other person's right and responsibility to think, feel and act according to their beliefs and desires. Acknowledging the other person's control and responsibility for themselves does not mean that you have to agree with them.

Being open to listening and understanding differences creates an environment for dialogue and opens the possibilities for new views and new choices. When people are not feeling controlled, they are less stressed and more open to being influenced and persuaded to see things from another perspective.

Take charge of your position
Reduce your stress by taking charge of your physical, nonverbal power in the relationship.

Make sure you are at a level physical position with the other person. If they are standing either invite them to sit or you stand up. Stand up straight, feet about shoulder width apart and breathe deeply into the base of your pelvis. Maintain direct, open, non-glaring eye contact.

When you want to have a collaborative conversation, sit at an angle beside the other person. If possible, eliminate any barriers like desks between you.

If you anticipate a conversation will be stressful, pick a location that will reduce the stress, as taking a walk in nature, a neutral or living room-like setting, or a space that is open, comfortable and light.

Use ‘I’ Statements
Take responsibility by using ‘I’ statements - I think, I feel, I prefer. Instead of blaming or accusing the other person for making you feel a certain way, communicate how you feel based on what has happened and how you would like it to be different in the future. This can enhance communication by giving the other person information about what is important to you. The other person then can consider this information in the future. Of course, you have no control over that. You can only control sharing your side of the communication.

Request feedback.
It's important to realize that everyone has a different perspective and interpretation of what they see and hear. Even though you may both speak the same language, two people will not hear things the same way. Assuming people see things the way you do or that they "should" creates stress.

It's important to understand that there are as many ways to view a situation or experience as there are people involved. Requesting feedback with curiosity and an open attitude is an important way to increase clarity and reduce the stress of misunderstanding.

Putting it together
When you understand that everyone has the equal right to think, feel and act according to their own judgment and that everyone has a unique perspective, you realize that trying to control another person is futile.

At the same time, taking power and control over your rightful responsibility for yourself and your message can not only reduce your stress, it can open the door to satisfying, happy relationships.

In de-stressing a relationship, you are not only concerned about your stress, but also the stress of the other person. You want to reduce the fear of loss of control on both sides of the relationship. Standing in your power to control your side of the relationship is your right and responsibility. At the same time, creating an environment where the other person knows you are respecting their right and responsibility for their unique side of the communication has the potential to reduce their stress as well.

You do not have the power to control another. You do have the power to influence and persuade others with an attitude of confidence and openness. The power to de-stress your relationships is in your hands.

© 2008 Aila Accad

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