Couples who endure stressful times in their relationships and come out on the other side truly understand when the couple team really counts. How do couples keep together during stressful times? The concept “team” comes to mind. One of my mentor’s, Peter Pearson, Ph.D. at the Couples Institute says being in a committed relationship is like being in a three-legged potato sack race. If one of you falls, is your partner willing to help you out and carry the load, until you can get back on your feet.
Stressors in life can knock you off your feet from time to time. But if you have a solid team mate/partner, just knowing someone has your back and that you’re not alone can provide the support and connection to help make it through.
I remember when our daughter was a little girl and she was in the hospital for a condition that required surgery. Of course, our daughter was our main concern and we wanted to reassure her that everything was going to be just fine. We kept our calm when we were around her because that’s what parents do to reassure their children. However, my husband and I were so scared especially when she was being wheeled away to surgery.
I remember there were times when I was freaking out, and my husband gave me a big hug and calmed me. I also remember seeing him from across her gurney, as we were handing our daughter her favorite stuffed animal to take with her into surgery. My dear husband was dead silent. My husband usually isn’t quiet, so I knew he was silently freaking out. In my moment of strength I was able to soothe him and let him know that our daughter was going to be just fine and that she was in good hands. I was so grateful that we weren’t freaking out at the same time, and that we were able to really be there for our daughter and each other.
Our couple team was really put to the test, and I believe our ability to be there for each other during alternating periods of hope and fear helped us get through that very stressful time.
There are many times that couples are put to the test, especially under stressful conditions. Stressors can be positive and negative. Some positive stressors include: getting married, the birth of a child, buying a house, and a new job. Some negative stressors include: losing a job, aging parents, death of a family member, health problems, and divorce.
What happens to people when they are under stress? The latest findings in the field of neuroscience informs us what is going on in the brain when we are under stress and how can we learn to deal with stress more effectively. When someone is stressed a glimpse into their brain shows that the blood flow is temporarily not going to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for logic, reasoning, and rational thinking; instead all the blood flow is going to the amygdala. This is a very old part of our brain that helps us to know when we are in danger and may need to freeze, fight or flee. In those milliseconds, when someone feels they are in danger whether it’s real or imaginary, the amygdala kicks in to protective mode. The brain may even release adrenalin to help the body to fight or flee.
In a couple relationship, if you are in the fight or flight (self-protective) mode, your brain will kick in your defenses to protect you. Some typical defenses include shutting down, avoiding, blaming, yelling, and many others. When you notice yourself getting defensive, use this as a cue to take a time out and understand what’s underneath the defenses.
The couple team really counts when you are under stress and you may need to have each other’s back. Looking back, I am grateful that my husband and I could be there for each other during a very stressful time with our daughter. I know that it made us stronger as a couple. I know the same can be true for you.
Here’s to being a great team,
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Are you a parent with a young child or two? Then I bet you're feeling frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed with the never-ending To Do list that comes with growing a family. This "Date State" guide will help you feel closer and more connected in your marital/couple relationship!