Everyone experiences stress. Managing stress is a normal part of navigating life and marriage. Situations that bring major stress into our lives, however, usher in a multitude of challenges that can wreak havoc in our relationships.
Divorce is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. When divorce is considered during a time when other major life stresses are occurring, it can be extremely difficult to differentiate between the multiple causes of distress.
It can feel easier during these rough times to think that a change, such as a divorce, is the ‘thing’ that will make life better. But is this true? Waiting until difficult periods in our lives end can give us a much better perspective.
The Effect of Major Life Events on Marriage
Our lives and the world continuously change as time passes. Some of our experiences are less traumatic than others. The top five life events that are considered the most stressful are:
Death of a loved one
Divorce or marital separation
Moving to a new home
Major illness or injury
Job loss or change
Marriage is also considered a major life change. Individuals often experience an adjustment period after marriage, which involves balancing dual perceptions, expectations, needs, goals, and personalities, and figuring out how to set healthy habits and navigate conflict when it arises.
Life-changing events can fill us with grief, depression, anxiety, frustration, and hopelessness – even when we have a marital partner by our side whom we can share our struggles with. The mental effects of these challenges can stress even the best of relationships.
Stress can layer itself, one feeling or emotion on top of another, and it can cross over the line of ‘manageable’ and become a cycle. In a marriage, it can look like this:
Grief – My mother passed away and I feel as if I lost my best friend. My husband seems to have moved on already and he tells me that I shouldn’t be grieving as deeply as I am. I feel lonely even though I am living in the same space as him. He does not understand me…at all. I feel that our relationship is doomed. I cannot devote my life to someone that leaves me feeling this cold and empty. I am considering talking with him about divorce.
Major Illness – My wife’s chronic migraines have changed our lives. I feel overwhelmed – as if I am a single parent with no emotional encouragement. I have no time for social life and our support system is crumbling. I know I should not feel resentful, but it happens frequently. I feel like I have been abandoned, and divorce is on my mind.
Job Loss – The company that my husband worked for reduced their staff and his role was one of the management positions that they did away with. Our plans are broken and our finances are a mess. He had to have known that this was coming! Our marriage is suffering. This grouchy and lazy stranger that now lives on our home is not the same man that I married. I do not want to live with this person. I am thinking about divorce.
The heaviness of major stress in life can lead to sadness, doubt, insecurity, anger, frustration, and blame in marriage. These powerful emotions can lead individuals to feel as if divorce is the only solution, especially when more than one major stress has layered up.
How Stress Shifts Our Thinking
Stress can interfere with the balance between our rational thinking and emotions. Our response to stress is real, it is physical…it is in our brain. The release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, causes changes in the brain, which are typically short-term, reversible, and helpful to how our bodies handle stress.
But, with prolonged exposure to major stress, leading to the overproduction of stress hormones, the body may no longer respond as it once did. It can stop signaling us to relax. This overflow leads to mood changes, as well as disorders, including depression and anxiety, which affects how we navigate social situations, decision-making, and rational thinking in relationships (and more).
When stress reaches this point, intervention is required to shift people and relationships back to well-being. This can be accomplished through joint refocus, as well as through outside help, such as counseling.
Focus on Breaking the Stress Cycle in Your Marriage (Avoid Talking about Divorce)
The words “for better or for worse” are included in our marriage vows for a reason. The “worse” will inevitably happen in life, and it will always include stress and some conflict. With time and effort, a marriage can survive both.
Divorce is a dangerous word for any marriage, but thinking about it and talking about it are two different things.
Avoid talking about the big “D” word during extremely stressful times (especially when major life stresses have doubled up). Instead, talk about what you can do to help each other process the stress. It is critical to remember that no two people manage stress the exact same way.
During major life stresses, it becomes even more important to not take your partner for granted and to prioritize your marriage even when it feels too busy to be possible.
Related article: Making Marriage an Every Day Decision, Not an Afterthought
It is also crucial to appreciate the small things in your relationship. This can help you direct negative thoughts away that can drain your relationship – it can be healing.
Related article: Appreciating and Noticing the Small Things in a Marriage
Move Beyond the Stress and Bring Health Back to Your Relationship
If you feel that you have done all that you can do and you are struggling with the weight of life-changing stress in your relationship, it may be time to reach out for help.
Know that sometimes we all need a little help. We can navigate this together!
We want to help you and your partner develop a deeper connection, recognize and fight dysfunction, navigate away from the heavy load of intense stress, and heal your relationship.