Relieving relationship stress
Feel better by converting your key relationships from stress-producers to stress-reducers
In the second installment of the EMS Burnout Repair Kit series, presented by EMS1 and sponsored by Zoll, Mike Taigman, MA; and Sascha Liebowitz, BA, JD, tackle re-entry tips for connecting with family after a difficult shift, the neuroscience of stress management, and strategies for making relationships work during challenging times. Watch the on-demand video.
By Sascha Liebowitz, JD; and Mike Taigman
Masking, not masking; the CDC’s new guidelines; schools are closed again or not; there’s an ice storm coming this weekend; our favorite restaurant went out of business.
Do we really have to quarantine?
When are we going to get back to normal?
What is normal anyhow?
Stress in our world is at an all-time high and it’s having an impact on our relationships. We are all suffering increased stress at home and at work, and our need to manage this stress in healthy, helpful ways is apparent. At the end of this article, download a guide to managing conflict in your relationships.
Alcohol and drug dependency rates are up. Divorce rates are up. Spouse and partner abuse rates are up. And, aside from these big, obvious markers of stress, if you just ask around, many people are just feeling generally less good than they used to more of the time. We’re taking it out on ourselves and each other in all kinds of not-so-healthy ways.
The importance of self-care
Converting our key relationships from stress-producers to stress-reducers can help us feel better more of the time. Science and experience show that when the people around us feel better, it has a positive ripple effect – and vice versa. We have the ability to give and receive this positive ripple effect by managing our own wellbeing.
Our first wedding vow was, “I promise to take care of myself so that I can take better care of you, our relationship, our family and our community.” Particularly in the helping professions, there is a bias towards taking care of other people before oneself. Taking care of ourselves is something we do for each other because we want to bring our fullest selves to our relationships.
View on-demand: Protecting family and relationship health
Join this discussion with real-life spouses Mike Taigman and Sascha Liebowitz, on how to repair burnout by reconnecting with loved ones and mitigating the impact of the job on your relationships.
How are you doing taking care of yourself? How are you? Too often, people answer this question with, “fine.” Which often stands for Foul, Insecure, Needy and Emotional – I’m FINE! How’s your sleep, exercise and nutrition? Do you take regular time to deeply relax and reset?
Many times in relationships, we get caught up in trying to be “good” for the other person at the expense of meeting our own needs. Other times, we might fall into the trap of begrudging our partner for doing what they need to do for their own wellbeing – especially if it’s something that seems to interfere with our own plans and desires or is inconvenient to us in some way.
When we recognize and take care of our own need for fulfilling work, play, connection with friends and activities apart from our partner/spouse, we can bring that energy home. The same principle applies at work – people who are taking care of their mind, body, and spirit are more effective workers and teammates.
Conflict resolution tips
Our second wedding vow was, “I promise to stay in the conversation with you as long as it takes for both of us to feel complete.” When we wrote this vow, we considered it the divorce-proofing not-so-fine print. We figured that as long as we were talking through a disagreement, we would still be working through it together.
When both people have agreed to keep going until – if not agreement – at least a feeling of completeness with the argument on both sides, it brings a different energy to the dynamic. Here are some of the secrets to making this vow work:
- Rest breaks are legal. Some conversations take a lot more time and energy than can be addressed in one sitting. Calling time-out when temperatures run high enough to risk saying something regrettable is also legal.
- The person who cares the most wins. For example, Sascha cares more about what temperature the house is than Mike does. Mike cares more about the kind of masks we wear than Sascha does.
When disagreements crop up, it helps to remember that our partner, coworker, spouse or boss is an important person in our life even though their preferences and desires sometimes conflict with ours. When it matters less to us than to them, let their choice win and groove on the increased harmony. When our preference gets implemented, appreciate the other person for their willingness to be flexible.
- Make requests. Sometimes, the most pro-relationship thing you can do is be willing to be the squeaky wheel. If something’s bugging you, it’s your job to let the other person know and keep letting them know in a way they can hear it – usually expressing an unfulfilled need or desire with a request.
“Would you be willing to ... ?” is better than a critique or rant: “Why don’t you ever ... ?” It’s important to set our partners up for success by making requests that are actionable rather than venting generalized dissatisfactions and expecting them to be mind-readers.
- Accept do-overs. We all say stuff we could have said better. One of the most useful tools in any relationship is the do-over. A pre-established agreement to allow asking for and receiving do-overs can help when everyone’s inner resources are low and someone has just stepped in it.
“I’m so sorry – can I please have a do-over?” is the way we activate this tool. No explanations, no justifications – just apologize and commit to try to do better in the future.
- Prospective forgiveness. This powerful relationship tool recognizes that at some point, we are all going to mess up and say something unintentionally hurtful or do something that disappoints, frustrates or displeases those we care about. Deciding ahead of time to forgive each other for minor or major transgressions is a game-changer.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “Forgiveness is nothing less than the way we heal the world. We heal the world by healing each and every one of our hearts. The process is simple, but not easy.”
During these crazy stressful times in our world, healthy relationships can be life-saving for anyone. Especially those whose lives are dedicated to helping others.
About the author
Sascha Liebowitz is a writer and author of www.livingeveryminuteofit.com, a blog on living each day with patience, tolerance, kindness and love towards oneself and others. A former New York lawyer, she now lives in California focused on family, writing and service. She holds a BA from Columbia College and a JD from New York University School of Law. Mike Taigman and she have been married since 2005. Their book, "Super-Charge Your Stress Management in the Age of Covid-19," is available at www.combatcovidstress.com and other booksellers.