Unfortunately, marriage does not occur in a vacuum. Outside stresses, such as problems at work or school, can creep into your subconscious and cause problems within your marriage. Often, you feel like no matter how you handle these problems within the marriage, you are in the wrong. If you try to minimize these problems and keep them out of the marriage, you feel like you are hiding something. If you vent about these problems to your spouse, you feel like you are burdening him or her.
However, stressful situations can have a profound effect on your ability to interact with your spouse in a healthy manner. Here are some of the effects stress can have on your marriage:
Stress can create a feeling of powerlessness in your life. A bad boss, a demanding professor, deadbeat customers, or other negative situations can cause frustration. Without some outlet, this frustration can lead to mood swings and even anger, causing you to lash out at easy targets such as your spouse. In other cases, this frustration will cause you to isolate yourself, afraid that your negative emotions will propagate through the marriage. Under either of these circumstances, the underlying cause of these emotional swings may not even be apparent until couples counseling identifies it and devises techniques that are personalized to you and your spouse for relieving those outside stresses before they cause marriage problems.
Stress is a reaction to fear that is rooted in our natural instinct for “fight or flight” in the face of danger. In response to fear, the brain triggers a cascade of hormones, including epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), which causes the heart to race and blood pressure to rise in anticipation of fighting or fleeing. Long term exposure to stressful situations can lead to aches, pains, hypertension, headaches, stomach ulcers, and low immunity to infections and diseases. These health problems can create problems within a marriage by reducing the quantity and quality of time spent together. Severe health problems can strain finances and impose a fear of losing the spouse. Again, finding a way to cope with the physical effects of stress can have positive effects on your marriage.
As mentioned above, stress can cause a person to isolate himself or herself in an attempt to cope with its emotional effects. Moreover, depression can result, causing a person to turn inward. These emotional effects, combined with the physical effects, can lead to a loss of sexual desire and the ability to express affection.
The rush of hormones triggered by anxiety and stress can affect the brain just as they affect the body. The increased alertness from the epinephrine can lead to nervousness and an inability to focus. Conversations may become difficult. Procrastination of routine tasks, like balancing the checkbook or making the grocery shopping list, may occur. Worse yet, judgment can be affected in a myriad of ways leading to bad judgments and increased risk taking.
Perhaps the most disruptive effects of stress are the behavioral changes that may occur. People coping with stress sometimes try to self medicate to feel better. These people attempt to escape through drugs, alcohol, and extramarital affairs to chase after their feelings of happiness. Unfortunately, these behaviors bring even more negative emotions, such as shame and guilt, as well as negative consequences, such as the harm caused to the spouse. These can also lead to health problems, financial problems, marriage problems, and legal problems that snowball. Faced with these outcomes, couples therapy can not only save your marriage, but can save your life and the lives of many others, from spiraling out of control.
Marriage counseling may not be the most natural place to seek help for coping with stress. However, stress can have a profound effect on the emotional, physical, sexual, cognitive, and behavioral health of you, your spouse, and your marriage. Finding ways to cope with stress and head off these potential problems is a key part of successful marriage counseling. In fact, an American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists survey of couples who underwent couples therapy revealed that over 98% reported they received good or excellent help and over 97% reported they received the help they needed.