Head­case

Ways stress can lead to re­la­tion­ship growth.

Good - - CONTENTS - with Dr Alice Boyes Dr Alice Boyes is au­thor of the books The Healthy Mind Tool­kit (2018) and The Anx­i­ety Tool­kit (2015). al­ice­boyes.com

How stress can lead to closer re­la­tion­ships

While the pop-cul­ture concept of a good re­la­tion­ship tends to be about ro­mance, hav­ing a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship is mostly about emo­tional trust. Navigating dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ences to­gether can help you grow your trust and close­ness. Here are some ex­am­ples.

Take on a chal­lenge to­gether. There’s a fa­mous ex­per­i­ment in which part­ners were tied to­gether at the wrists and an­kles and had to crawl along a mat and over an ob­sta­cle, while push­ing a foam cylin­der with their heads. If they reached the fin­ish line within a time limit, they won a prize. The task was rigged so every­one nar­rowly missed win­ning on their first two tries and suc­ceeded on their third. Cou­ples re­ported an im­prove­ment in their re­la­tion­ship qual­ity af­ter do­ing the chal­lenge.

In one ver­sion, cou­ples com­pleted a struc­tured dis­cus­sion task af­ter the chal­lenge. They were asked to talk about how they’d each spend $15,000 for home ren­o­va­tions. Part­ners who had just done the phys­i­cal chal­lenge were more ac­cept­ing and sup­port­ive, and less neg­a­tive and hos­tile dur­ing their con­ver­sa­tion than those who’d done a boring task be­fore the dis­cus­sion.

The take-home mes­sage is that if you want to im­prove your re­la­tion­ship, try tak­ing on a chal­lenge with your part­ner that (a) is in­ter­est­ing and ex­cit­ing, (b) new to both of you, and (c) re­quires work­ing to­gether. Your chal­lenge could be as sim­ple as cook­ing a com­pli­cated new dish or creating a veg­etable gar­den.

Emo­tion­ally chal­leng­ing ac­tiv­i­ties can in­crease close­ness.

If you want an arm­chair ver­sion of a chal­leng­ing ac­tiv­ity, try this emo­tions-fo­cused chal­lenge.

There’s an­other fa­mous study in which sets of two cou­ples were asked to an­swer 36 per­sonal ques­tions. The ques­tions started out rel­a­tively mild, for ex­am­ple, “What would con­sti­tute a per­fect day for you?” and pro­gressed to­wards more in­tense ques­tions such as “Share with your part­ner an em­bar­rass­ing mo­ment in your life”. Cou­ples who com­pleted this chal­lenge re­ported greater feel­ings of pas­sion­ate love.

To repli­cate this study, you can eas­ily find the ques­tions on­line. Sim­ply, Google “Art Aron 36 Ques­tions”.

Do­ing this task with an­other cou­ple makes this ac­tiv­ity more novel and pro­vides ad­di­tional emo­tional sup­port (un­der­stand­ing, val­i­da­tion etc) rather than just hav­ing a dis­cus­sion your­selves.

Even ar­eas of ten­sion can bring cou­ples closer.

Suc­cess­ful cou­ples aren’t per­fectly re­spon­sive to each other all the time. Although large breaches of trust (like af­fairs) are clearly harm­ful, we be­come closer when we find ways to come back to­gether af­ter some type of schism.

To grow from your ten­sion, try these: (A) Ac­knowl­edge the valid points your part­ner makes even when you dis­agree. For ex­am­ple: you want to home­school your child and your part­ner is against it be­cause they don’t think home­school­ing is good for so­cial de­vel­op­ment. Ac­knowl­edge so­cial­is­ing is im­por­tant (leave it at that, no “but” at the end). (B) Com­mu­ni­cate any­thing you like/ad­mire about an as­pect of your part­ner that drives you nuts over­all. For ex­am­ple, you’re frus­trated they over­work but you ad­mire their stamina. (C) Lastly, try ask­ing your part­ner’s ad­vice in an area in which you have ten­sion. For ex­am­ple, you ar­gue about you be­ing too messy. Ask their ad­vice about a good way to or­gan­ise. All these strate­gies will help your part­ner feel un­der­stood and val­i­dated.

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