When you’re overwhelmed by job stress, your personal relationships can seem like another demand or obligation. And you can unwittingly shift your most important connections to the back burner.
You might even feel like shipping your loved ones off to relatives, disappearing into a federal witness protection program just to get time for yourself. An American Psychological Association poll shows that 54% of Americans say stress causes them to fight with relatives, and one in four says that stress has alienated them from family and friends. Relationships are not easy; they require time and attention.
But the effort you put into them pays off in the long run. Just as your favorite potted plant needs water, fertilizer, and sunlight to thrive, your relationships need tending if they are to remain vital. Under stress, relationship neglect and misunderstanding can lead to communication gridlock. Your stress can come out sideways and get displaced on the people you care about the most.
Psychologist John Gottman pinpoints four red flags that indicate stress is driving a relationship south and a breakup is imminent: criticism, defensiveness, withdrawal and contempt. These four warning signs signal terminal relationship gridlock, usually the result of poor listening and speaking skills.
Gridlock occurs when you’re stuck in your own point of view, unwilling to see a problem from another party’s vantage point. You communicate your feelings as facts, refuse to entertain another perspective and turn a deaf ear to another person’s thoughts and feelings because you’ve already make up your mind that you’re right and the other person is wrong.
You’re determined to force your point of view by commanding, finger pointing, criticizing and negativity. Gridlock leads each party to defensiveness, criticism, withdrawal and contempt—signs of a complete breakdown of the relationship. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to nurture and cultivate a stress-resistant relationship.
Do you finish other people’s sentences to rush through a conversation? Are you so intent on getting your point across that you don’t hear the other person? Or are you in your head back at your desk finishing that email you left hanging? You can reduce interpersonal stress by paying attention to how you give and receive information. Deep listening—versus passive listening—actively engages you in what another person says and feels. Instead of thinking of what you want to say next or hijacking the conversation to your point of view, try fully engaging in what another person says and feels. You might nod your head or lean forward with interest. You use direct eye contact and listen with empathy without giving advice unless it is asked for.
Empathetic listening liberates you from your own narrow perspective and helps you see the big picture and refrain from snap judgments. Using empathy by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes temporarily suspends your viewpoint and sharpens your deep listening skills. It gives you a clearer understanding of another person’s perspective without needing to agree. Plus, being more mindful of your reactions can give you a sober awareness of how you’re perceived by others. Staying mentally attuned in the present moment to someone’s point of view—instead of mentally going back to your workstation—increases your understanding and compassion. Plus, it deepens your ability to connect with someone you care about and neutralizes stress and resentment and helps you remain calm.
Are you managing your most important investments? Think of your special relationships as a bank account. Then compare your recent deposits with the withdrawals. As with a bank account, relationships require periodic deposits—time, attention, support, understanding, heart-to-heart talks, encouragement and forgiveness to stay solvent.
Your deposits offset withdrawals—demands, stress, criticism, miscommunications, disagreements and blame—that occur in most relationships. Consider making a special effort to keep your interactions vital by creating special moments to connect by email, text message, phone or in the old fashioned way: face-to-face. It’s good economics to ask yourself each day what you’ve deposited into your most important relationships.
Making just one daily deposit gives you a stress-proof return on your investment. Studies show that when couples talk 15 minutes a day, they create solidarity against outside pressures. Preparing meals jointly and having pleasant mealtime conversations provide a platform for supportive communication. Or creating fun pastimes that you share as a couple such as tennis, golf or working out at the gym.
Whatever your approach, studies show that when couples take an active interest in each other’s life and share their daily ups and downs, they are happier and more connected and harmonious.
The key to keeping your connections vital starts with good communication. Stress-free relationships flow freely and have the following five qualities. How do you measure up?
1. Both parties are committed to making the relationship a priority and intentional about making time for each other—motivated by affection, not obligation.
2. Each person is willing to communicate about problems and concerns and to make it safe for the other to do the same.
3. Neither party is interested in conflict, judging, criticism or in interpreting each other’s actions.
4. Both parties strive for a harmonious connection through empathy and respect for the other’s point of view without criticism, only love and compassion.
5. Overwhelming episodes of appreciation are frequent, and both partners are susceptible to receiving love and have an uncontrollable urge to extend it.
By: Bryan Robinson