If I asked, “what is causing stress in your marriage?”, what would you say?
Most people would rhyme off typical marriage problems–he doesn’t understand me; he doesn’t spend enough time with me; she’s not having sex with me enough; we’re not connecting.
And all of these things may be true.
But what I’d like to talk about this month is something slightly different.
What if the reason that you and your husband feel stress in your marriage is not primarily about your marriage at all, but instead about your life?
On the Wednesdays of each month I like to choose one topic and build a series out of it, and this month we’ll be looking at what is causing stress in marriage, and how we can reduce stress and anxiety in marriage.
And thanks so much to the Get Your Marriage On app for sponsoring this series, too! It’s a wonderful tool (that you’ll hear about in a moment).
But here’s what I mean:
Limiting and minimizing stress and anxiety in our lives is a huge topic of conversation these days because people are understanding how dangerous stress is long-term. And all of that is great. What is not so great is that often the way people deal with anxiety is to just try to make it go away, not deal with the root cause.
Anxiety and stress are symptoms of a bigger problem–they’re warning signs that something in our lives isn’t right.
Sometimes, it’s a warning sign that there’s just something in our brain chemistry that’s off and we need medication for a time or a lot of counselling. But many times stress and anxiety are a result of things we have put into our lives that are not healthy.
For example, if you’re living outside your means and are consistently living paycheck to paycheck without assurance you can pay the electricity bills, you’re going to feel a lot of stress. But the stress is not the problem; the financial habits are! To really deal with this problem, there are big changes that need to be made in terms of living expenses. Maybe it’s time to sell the big house and downsize to a condo or an apartment for a time until you can build up your savings again. Maybe it’s time to take the kids out of so many activities and sports and get on a strict budget. The anxiety isn’t actually the problem–it’s just the warning sign that there is a problem.
Too often I think we try to get rid of the anxiety or the stress without actually asking, “Why am I stressed/anxious?”
For Connor and Rebecca early in their marriage it meant making the decision to put Rebecca’s academic plans on hold because school was making her have panic attacks and it just wasn’t healthy for them at the time. If she had just pushed through and gone on to her PhD like she wanted, they simply would not have as good of a marriage as they do right now because it wasn’t a good fit for her at that time.
We were created to be beings with margins. God gave us a Sabbath day of rest and orders us to take one! But often we make choices that take away all of our margins. We buy huge houses when we could live in smaller ones and so our bills stack up and the time spent cleaning becomes unreasonable. We put our kids in so many activities that we don’t have any time to just sit down and do nothing as a family. We allow friends, family, and even (at times) our church communities to walk all over us because we can’t seem to say “no” to anything. All of these things mean that we become people who aren’t living the way we were created to live–with breathing room.
And then sometimes we feel stressed or anxious not because our schedules are necessarily too busy, but because we’re not spending the time we do have well. We never think about what to make for dinner until it’s 5:30 and we put on the spaghetti and brown the meat and then realize we have no spaghetti sauce. We don’t remember to make the kids’ lunches until minutes before the school bus comes. We don’t like cleaning, so the house is always a mess. Living with disorganization can also be a huge source of stress–but again, that stress is simply a warning sign that something deeper is wrong.
Or what if we’re super stressed because our children don’t behave? Or don’t eat well? Or don’t sleep? Sometimes there’s honestly nothing you can do about that, but often there are strategies that can help kids eat better, sleep better, and behave better, but we don’t know them, haven’t tried them, or don’t believe they’ll work. So instead we live in constant exhaustion, frustration, and chaos. That’s going to cause stress, too!
And when we’re stressed, we tend to take it out on our spouse.
When you feel stress and anxiety, you’ll often lash out at the person closest to you. Because of that, you’ll start feeling as if you have a marriage problem. We’re not getting along! We’re not having sex. We’re always fighting. But again, what if the root problem isn’t a marriage one at all? What if that relational problem is another warning sign that there’s something else wrong?
So how about an exercise to help you identify the sources of stress and anxiety in your marriage?
Every week I want to give you a Bare Marriage marriage challenge–something super quick that you can do as a couple that can help bring you closer together. Today I’m going to give you both a challenge and a tool to help you with that challenge! This week’s challenge is about figuring out where you need to pare down so you can find some of that breathing room again:
Your Weekly TLHV Marriage Challenge
Identify sources of annoyance, frustration, anger, or stress over the last week–and brainstorm ways to reduce it!
On your own, jot down different things that have stressed you out in the past week, rating them from 1-5, with 1 being only a little bit stressful to 5 being really bad.
Now compare lists, and together, give each of these items a second score based on how easy they are to do something about, with 1 being hardest and 5 being easiest. Add up your scores, and choose the 1-2 items with the highest score. Brainstorm ways to address this together.
Basically, in this challenge I’m asking you to have a marriage meeting–to sit down, talk about something, and make a plan to do something about that.
Well, I’ve just discovered a new app that can help you have those very marriage meetings–plus a whole lot more!
I’ve been talking for over a year about the absolutely amazing Ultimate Intimacy app, an app for married couples to help them work on their sex life. As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s the app I would have designed if I had ever gotten around to it, but now I don’t have to because they’ve already done it! And I keep getting emails and comments out of the blue! One woman said:
“We burst out the Ultimate Intimacy App. (Thank you for that suggestion! We we’re both very surprised and very pleased at how much fun it is, and it wasn’t awkward!)”
Well, now the same people who designed that app have designed another one, geared at growing your marriage. Get Your Marriage On is like a marriage toolbox for those who don’t have time to go to marriage counseling, but who want a fun way to connect, work on their relationship, brainstorm, get on the same page, and grow together.
Daniel, who created it, told me, “If we had a tag line, it would be: The Marriage Counseling App that is Fast, Fun and NEVER BORING!”
Frankly, we could all use a tune up time to time. And this app aims to make working on your marriage NOT BORING and lots of fun!
It’s very different than the Ultimate Intimacy app. The UI app is primarily designed to make lovemaking fun. The Get Your Marriage On! app is about teaching the principles that make marriage work in a fun and interactive format. The app covers topics such as communication, in-laws, resolving conflict, understanding love languages, and of course sex & intimacy.
There are quizzes and games and you can sync it with your spouse for the tools that are built in, such as marriage meeting planners, a shared vision board, and so on…. and best of all, it’s 100% video based (over 60), taught by experts in their fields.
When I was exploring their app, I listened to the video introducing the concept of “Marriage Meetings”, and started laughing, because he was saying all the things that we were putting in this post!
When they do surveys, they find one consistent theme: Everybody says they want peace, but everyone says they feel stressed.
Life is too busy. It’s too complicated. And when that happens, it’s all too easy to drift into roommate status, where you live together & pay the bills together, but that’s it.
But you didn’t get married to settle for that! You want deep connection, romance, to be attracted to each other. You want all of that amidst the stress.
So the app helps you walk through what a quick Marriage Meeting can look like–the kind of meeting where you can do this challenge. Short videos teach you how the Marriage Meeting part of the app works, and why you need a marriage meeting.
Then you can plan your own agenda, sync with your spouse, and have that meeting! They’ve even got pre-made meetings on a variety of topics:
You can each grab the app and sync it to each other, so you can make notes that the other can see (you can even do this challenge in the app!). And the app has a vision board that will help you clarify what it is that you’re working towards, too, so that it’s easier to leave behind the things that are causing you stress.
Of course, the app also helps you discover each other’s love languages, figure out your sex issues, and even walks you through difficult conversations so you can resolve conflict.
Play Strip Battleship! Learn foreplay techniques. Take a love language quiz. And it’s got some awesome conversation starters, too.
There’s a free version of the app, but the paid version lets you sync with your spouse, gets access to a lot more videos, and more.
Explore the Get Your Marriage On app, and even use it for this challenge! Walk through the marriage meeting ideas, and learn how to plan frequent but short meetings to address real issues, so that you CAN reduce the stress in your marriage.
It’s time to Get Your Marriage On! And keep the stress and anxiety at bay.
Using something like Get Your Marriage On can ensure that you keep those lines of communication open, and that you have those conversations you need to have.
So I encourage you: Take the challenge this week. Identify your sources of stress. And then make plans to deal with them. Because it’s not always a marriage issue! Sometimes life is just tough, and we need to tackle it in a different way.
What do you think? Does outside stress contribute to your marriage stress? What are some of the big things causing you stress and anxiety? Let’s talk in the comments!
I will readily admit that the biggest source of stress in my life is my crazy (in a toxic way, not in a cute and fun away) family. That’s why I started establishing boundaries when we got engaged, and have fought to the death for those boundaries since then.
I simply cannot function when the people who claim to love me are telling me that I’m a horrible, awful person who is a bad Christian for not wanting my abuser in my life. (That’s just the start of the emotional abuse they heap on me.) It’s just a nightmare, and when you’re married, there’s no “his stress” and “her stress” – it affects both spouses.
I’m so sorry that’s happening to you, Jane! It’s a shame that you have people in your family that equate being “a good Christian” with endless tolerance of abuse or other trust-destroying behavior.
Just like you have to prune dead or diseased branches for the health of the tree, you sometimes have to minimize your exposure to toxic people, or cut them out of your life altogether. You are not wrong for recognizing and doing that! If your family is stressing you to that extent, they may fall under that heading, too.
I have people in my family whom I love, but have found it best to avoid as much as possible. You can’t change people, so sometimes you just have to put limits on their opportunities to hurt you. Good luck to you!
I have pre diabetes. My wife insists on packing the house with foods i cant eat but have had problems resisting in the past. Her diabetes is even worse but she refuses to even test her sugars while adamantly declaring i am responsible for her eating problems.
Its been a challenge but i finally used constant blood testing to help myself stop eating bad food. Now i can reward myself for eating well by my good test results.
Sometimes abuse is subtle.
Oh, that’s horrible, LH! I’m so sorry. Can you tell her that you don’t want that food in the house, and that you’d like to be part of the grocery shopping?
Jane, I’m so sorry that people dump that on you. Abuse, of any kind, should never be acceptable, and it’s very sad that many of us still have the attitude that people (especially women) should just put up with such things, likely because they believe that the image of marriage is more important than your well being.
I try to avoid being snarky on this site, but my guess is that they criticize YOU for not tolerating the abuse, but they never criticize the abuser for causing the problem in the first place.
You’re right, though, that boundaries are a good thing, and stress affects both in a marriage.
I think this is a GREAT post.
So often we let life push us around, instead of living the life we want, and is right there in front of us. We just don’t see it for all the clutter.
Thankfully, it only took me about 55 years to figure it out. I still have stressors that are beyond my ability to influence them, but I tend to try not to pick any up that I don’t have to, and lay them down as quickly as I can when I have no choice.
Making time for each other has become the priority, and everything else should support that goal, not take away from it.
Excellent post, Sheila! Isn’t stress one of the top killers of intimacy in marriage?
Thanks for mentioning the Get Your Marriage On! app and marriage meetings. We use that app and love it. My husband and I started doing a weekly marriage meeting about three months ago. Next to a weekly date night, these “business meetings” have done wonders for our marriage and our busy lives. We make them fun with some ritual around it. We’re now able to openly and effectively handle things that used to stress us, such as finances, parenting, future plans, differences within our relationship, etc.
This is so true! One of the toughest times in our marriage, and for me personally, was when we were remodeling our kitchen (while living in the house with a bunch of kids). Hubby’s job was crazy at the time too and we were all a wreck. I am thankful though because it led me to look a lot deeper at WHY I was getting upset about certain things, so we could get to the root. It was a lot of emotional work, and not fun, but we learned a lot about ourselves through the process! It really helps us to take a step back, lost all the things we are responsible for, and say wow, this is actually super hard and it makes sense that we are stressed/exhausted. I think when you’re in the midst of raising kids & building a career, you just get used to that level of crazy. But it still takes a toll! I need my mom sometimes (who lives alone now) to remind me that it won’t always be this chaotic, and to give myself a break (and a good cry and a glass of wine lol) once in a while.
Health issues can also be a big source of stress… And then there isn’t much that can be done. And intimacy can suffer a lot from that, too.
Absolutely! That’s actually one of the Wednesdays in the series this month–taking a look at what we can do about our health, and what we can’t.
Yup. Stress is the worst. And I’m definitely an angry mom and wife when stressed or when the sleepless nights accumulate. I feel like this last year the stress has been healthy for us, though, because it’s forced us together. It’s forced me to lean on both God and my husband and learn some messiness about myself. Trying to remember that makes me a bit grateful but mostly I’m still just irritated and tired (because,seriously, why do kids get so many teeth all in the span of 1.5 years? Why? )
Full-time college student, full-time homeschooling mom of four, living in a fifth wheel travel trailer. My husband works a very physically demanding job, and I am currently trying desperately to lose weight (and I have a lot to lose). I just have to keep my head down and keep moving because if I ever stop to think about what’s on my plate I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack. Needless to say, hubby and I are struggling to have ANYTHING left in the tank for each other. It’s really tough when there isn’t any major stressor that you feel like can be let go. 😣
Oh, that’s so tough, Lindsey! Sometimes we all go through periods of our lives that are intense and difficult, but there’s an end in sight. I hope there’s an end in sight for you. When there is, it does seem easier to deal with!
Just about two more years. But winter is coming, and the shorter days always make for a more restful season because my husband is home much earlier and my kids are sleeping much sooner. 😉
Two more years. Wow. I remember those days, though! Keith was in residency for four years, working 120 hours a week, and I had 3 babies in that time (including my son who passed away). I think what kept us going was knowing there was an end in sight. I hope the winter makes it easier!