Low stress relationships are the gold standard. They enrich our lives and bring us joy. But sometimes they seem impossible to acquire and maintain. These 9 tips will help you prevent and reduce stress in your relationships.
Many of the challenges we face in relationships boil down to poor communication. Expecting others to know what you need or want, or to know when you’re upset or struggling creates pressure and stress in the relationship. That means that not only do you have to know what matters to you but you also have to tell those you’re in relationship with. Typically this is a process, so don’t expect to have it all figured out or share it all immediately. It’s perfectly ok to figure things out as you go along and communicate more and more as the relationship deepens. It’s even ok to make changes to things you previously shared. But, it’s essential that there is open communication and that both people in the relationship heard.
2. Judgement Free Zone
The relationships that feel most comfortable and secure are those that are judgement free zones. Now, don’t get this twisted, that doesn’t mean that you don’t talk about issues or express concern about each other’s choices. What this means is that you aren’t evaluating each other, judging each other or comparing yourselves to each other. Being able to have a friend over for coffee when I need someone to talk to and not worrying that they’re going to judge my pajamas, messy house, or unwashed hair, is priceless. And not comparing myself to those I’m in relationships with allows me to cheer them on whole heartedly and to hold their hand with complete empathy when they’re struggling. Low stress relationships are judgement free zones where you can be who you are.
3. Go to the Source
It seems like there are always people who like to stir the pot, especially in the low stress relationships they see. Not everyone will want to be drama free, and not everyone will support it. So, make it a rule to always go to the source. If someone on the periphery of your relationship tells you something, don’t sit on it. In addition, if you think something has gone awry address it. Go straight to the source. Do not take someone else’s word for it. Do not ask for advice or support from someone outside the relationship (unless they are a coach, therapist or trusted and uninvolved party). I can’t tell you how many times there has been conflict in my family and friend groups because of either someone confiding that they’re upset with someone else and it getting back to them in a misrepresented way or someone spreading untrue rumors. Yes… I’m 51… and yes, this playground stuff still happens. I have a spoken agreement with those I’m closest with that we’ll always go to the source.
4. Be Present
I’m a problem solver by nature so this was particularly hard to learn, but much of the time people don’t want advice. They just want someone to be present and to hear them. Create low stress relationships that are safe spaces where vulnerability is valued. No matter how wise or well meaning your advice might be, in the moment it may sound or feel like judgement. Wait until you are asked to offer advice. Until then try saying what my daughter says: “I’m sorry that happened. I’m glad you feel like you can talk to me about this (or thank you for being vulnerable with me). I’m here for you.” Or you can use my go-to “I’m sorry you’re going through this. You’re not alone.”
5. Stop Keeping Score
Relationships aren’t ever 50/50. Sometimes you’ll be more equipped to give and sometimes you’ll need more. In low stress relationships there’s no need to keep track because you know that in the end it will all work out. In addition, it’s important to recognize that people need different things in relationship and have different preferences. The importance isn’t that everything is the same but that both parties need are being heard and met. If you need more than you’re getting… communicate that, without comparing to what you’re giving. And be open to hearing the person you care for needs more or something different from you as well. There’s nothing wrong with saying I’m giving all I’m comfortable or able to give, for any reason but it’s not effective to go tit for tat.
6. Choose Your Battles
You can decline the invitation to an argument. Even in low stress relationships there will be disagreements. And sometimes there will be irritability and baiting into disagreements. You don’t have to take the bait. You can calmly refuse and separate yourself. You can ask for time if you need to calm down. And you can choose not to have an argument over something you’re requesting, or not to start one over something that isn’t worthwhile. It takes two to argue. Choose what you choose to argue about and what’s ok and not ok in an argument.
7. Stop Trying to Win
Low stress relationships prioritize partnership not opposition. Since you aren’t opponents there’s no need to win. The real win in a relationship is to build vulnerability and intimacy. It’s not about the principal of the thing. It’s not about winning the other person over to your side. And it’s also not about trying to make them see your way. The most important thing is that each person feel heard and there’s collaboration to work toward finding common ground and partnership.
If you think you’ve missed it or have been told you did, apologize. Do so even when you haven’t been asked. Give apologies whole heartedly without excuses or blame.
Apologies are just as much for you as they are the other person. They are a way to clear your conscience and make amends and they need to be given freely if you’d like to create and maintain low stress relationships. No one is obliged to forgive or forget or get over it just because an apology was given.
9. The #1 Law With In-laws
For those of you who are hoping to make your marriages and in-law relationships low stress do yourself a favor and follow this law… let your partner handle it. Every family and family dynamic is different and they know their family better than you do. In addition they already have a history. The relationship you most need to concern yourself with is the one you have with your partner. You can certainly create boundaries related to their family or choose to create distance for yourself or your children but it’s better that you not be the one to communicate that. Let them handle it, or not, it doesn’t need to involve you.
Low stress relationships are possible but not with just anyone. Some people thrive on drama and some can’t help but bring it into every relationship. Invest in relationships with those who are aligned and also want low stress relationships. It’s always true that you can only control you in any relationship but typically, if you’re following these 9 tips you’ll find that people who want more drama won’t want to be in relationship with you anyway.