Marriage counselling therapists meet couples all the time who are on the verge of, or have just come through, a major life event.
These are the major stressors for a relationship.
Your partner in marriage, or in long term relationship, ideally is the person that you are most emotionally connected to, who is your greatest emotional support.
Major life stressors change a person, from being emotionally available, stable and capable, to being stressed. When a major life event takes over our daily routine, we need to first of all examine how each partner deals with stress.
The nature of the major life event obviously will have an impact. If it’s a death, there are determined and difficult stages that will likely be travelled through by each partner.
If it’s a redundancy, there are likely to be societal and cultural implications for each partner. If children have recently left home, or you have moved house, or gone through something else that we may perceive as being a more benign major life stressor, the first thing that a therapist will do is spend time with a client couple identifying both that this event causes stress and that this stress needs space to be allowed. Sublimated stress has a host of implications and acknowledging how and why something is stressful is not only worthwhile, but is necessary for a healthy relationship with your partner.
Next, identifying how you and your partner process stress is a piece of work that takes not just time but also emotional energy. It might not be immediately obvious to us that we have increased a workload, or a physical fitness schedule or are drinking or eating much more in order to avoid difficult emotional content. Ironically, our partner is much more likely to notice these changes, even if they are doing so unconsciously. Asking them what has changed about us will likely elicit an initial understanding of changes that seem minor and inconsequential (‘you don’t bring out the bins anymore’ for example), but actually are a pathway into much deeper emotional content and allows both partners to acknowledge how small changes are often a consequence of emotional instability. Keep questioning. Ask what everything means. Ask how long its been going on. Ask how they feel, over and over, until you both understand each other’s emotional landscapes in a real and new way. This work can often feel unnecessary and trivial to a couple, particularly those who have been together for a long time. However, this work gives us an understanding of our partner that will allow us to know them much more deeply than ever. Further, it is a means to reconnect with a partner that may have had emotional shifts since we last spent time in the height of emotionality with them.
Allowing that major life events will unsettle us emotionally and more than this, allowing that we as a couple will continue to support each other during this unsettling is a great unifier. Knowing that our partner can accommodate the change in us when we do not feel like ourselves is a massive source of fundamental support. Knowing that we can expect reciprocal support allows the relationship to be secure and both partners to be secure within it. Operating from this secure basis gives us strength in the face of any storm that we need to weather as a couple.