Saturday, March 22, 2003
T A K I N G   N O T E 

Survive stress to sustain marriage
V. K. Kapoor

LOVE loses its lustre after some time. After some years of marriage, couples don’t live together, they just live side by side. Many marriages end in divorce. In the USA, the divorce rate is as high as 50-60 per cent. In spite of an increasing number of divorces, the institution of marriage hasn’t lost its sheen. The desire to marry and maintain a close relationship with one’s partner is strong in human beings. The dissolution of a marriage is tragic, though 20 per cent of the divorced people regard divorce as ‘happy liberation.’ Among divorcees, the risks of psychic and psychosomatic disorders, disturbed sleep, sexual problems, alcohol abuse, consumption of drugs and suicide, are high. The effect of divorce on children is traumatic.

One of the main reasons for marital discord is stress. Stress can make many couples think that their relationship is at an end. Suddenly the endearing personality differences that at one time fascinated and intrigued them, became irritating and intolerable. A good sexual relationship becomes impossible when one is trying to avoid sensory stimulation. Negativity pervades the psyche of a stressed couple.


Modern living makes marriages more prone to stress. One of the main difficulties that couples face is that of expectations. Each person in the relationship has expectations — explicit expectations, implicit expectations and unrealistic expectations. When these expectations come in conflict with the other person’s expectations and with the realities of life, it leads to stress. During the course of the relationship, each partner may have varied experiences such as the death of a parent, the loss of a job or physical illness. The couple may go through relocation, birth of a child or change of a job. All these events have an impact on the relationship and produce stress.

Wives of professionals may also have to deal with the possibility of their husbands having affairs, particularly during trips abroad. How they handle their fears and stress varies and may depend on their faith in their partners.

Modern husbands who believe that marriages are equal partnerships, feel shocked and betrayed when their wives respond to their emotional despondency not with sympathetic encouragement but with stinging insults. Many marriages break up because wives can’t tolerate failure in their husbands. In such a situation, wives may resort to taunting their husbands with exhortations like, "Why can’t you be a man?"

There are four sources of couple stress: family, marriage, work and negative thinking and attitude. Family is a complex network of interactions. Each family is a system and hence each interaction and each personality affects the system.

Psychologists and sociologists studying marital stress have tried to identify factors which could lead to greater marital satisfaction. The higher the stress, the more vulnerable the couple is to psychological and emotional problems. Stress encourages the fault-finding tendency in couples. Stress influences interaction only when it is inadequately managed. Satisfied couples try to manage stress jointly. They also offer more emotional assistance to each other and react positively to signals of stress from their partners.

Marital stress can be reduced in several ways. These include the following:

*Plan ahead. Set measurable goals as a couple for, say, a year or five years from now.

*Clearly communicate realistic expectations.

*Use ‘I’ statements more often than ‘you’ statements.

*Be flexible in your roles and attitudes. Let your partner do the things you usually do and relax your high standards. This can reduce pressure.

*Negotiate. When problems arise, schedule time for the two of you to tackle them. Weigh the costs and benefits of each solution. Arrive at a solution that is acceptable to both of you.

*Take a moment to inquire how your spouse is feeling. Look for and reflect early indications of stress — a furrowed brow, a tenser voice.

*To keep your marriage alive, take a break from work and children. If it helps, make it a rule to only talk about you as a couple. Get in touch with each other. Hold hands, hug each other, show affection. Physical contact helps relieve stress.

*Laugh at yourself. Remember, always being serious is crazy. Celebrate anniversaries and birthdays. Take time to relax together.

*Listen to your partner, control your own stress, get a clinical evaluation of the stress situation and make an effort to find solutions together.

*Do things together to strengthen the marital bond. Sometimes, one is unaware of the importance of communication. Effective communication means understanding each other’s intentions and reactions. Learn to dream together.

*Adopt a low-stress lifestyle. The first key principle of leading a low-stress lifestyle is balance — a proper balance between work and play, stress and relaxation, working hard and taking it easy, companionship and solitude, discipline and self-indulgence. The second key principle is learning to take things in one’s stride, observing what is happening and reacting maturely. One should not get provoked easily, and should be able to relax physically and unwind easily. A low-stress lifestyle needn’t be boring. Boredom actually induces anxiety in an individual when it is prolonged.

One’s lifestyle is a matter of choice and although quite a few people would like to believe that their lives are being controlled by external forces, the key to adopting a low-stress lifestyle is accepting responsibility for one’s life.

In the ultimate analysis, a happy marriage brings stability into one’s life and is also an effective stressbuster.