by John Hart, PhD, LCMFT

Thursday May 6th, 2021
Over the last year, the pandemic has impacted our well-being and the well-being of our loved ones. One of the underlying reasons for the high levels of stress endured over the last year can be attributed to transitions. Transitions are defined as the process of changing from one state or condition to another. The reason that therapists work closely with couples to focus on their transitions in the therapeutic process is because transitions are stressful (Note: even the positive events such as school graduation, purchasing a home, wedding planning, etc.). Remember, when we are stressed, some of our unhealthy habits, tendencies and behaviors start to resurface. As this pandemic continues, there is a good chance that many more transitions will come our way. It is critical for couples to keep these three skills in mind and work together to reduce relationship strain:

  1. Identify Stress Triggers: It would be helpful for you and your partner to open up and honestly identify recent triggers that have caused stress. Sharing this information prevents each partner from feeling alone when trying to manage stressors. Your partner becomes aware of how the stress is affecting you emotionally. As for the triggers that may relate to the relationship and/or parenting, when identifying your triggers, share them in a non-judgmental way, express how the trigger is impacting you by using descriptive feeling words, and share what you have been doing to cope. Trust me, that amount of information is helpful and allows your partner to empathize and work together with you. That’s teamwork!
  2. Use Stress Management Techniques: Even outside of couple therapy, both partners should take advantage and utilize the basic techniques of stress management. These techniques include: sleep hygiene, nutrition, exercise, deep breathing, meditation (and yoga), relaxing activities (e.g., reading, coloring, aromatherapy), etc. I know reading this, most folks are confused, as in “tell me something I don’t know.” I am not sharing these techniques to insult anyone’s intelligence, but basic techniques tend to be often overlooked. These techniques are sometimes more accessible and effective in stressful moments than trying to implement all-out clinical interventions.
  3. Implement Stress Check-In: This is an idea that I have stressed (no pun intended) when working with my couples. The idea of a stress check-in works similarly to a couple emotional check-in. A stress check-in during a transition allows you and your partner to gain insight as to where each partner may be on the stress scale. There is no uniform scale to use. Whatever method you want to use to identify your stress level during a check-in is fine (e.g., numbers, colors, weather reports, etc.). During a transition, check-in more often than not and make sure there is space for each person to identify where they are on their scale. Follow up by asking them “Is there anything I can do to help relieve stress?” Reply with something basic for your partner to do. It’s a win-win!

Handling abrupt and stressful transitions can be quite overwhelming. Especially during the pandemic, it is important for couples to have a plan for how they want to remain emotionally transparent with each other and handle the stress using a team-based approach. Let’s make handling our life transitions less stressful and lean on each other to make it happen.