By Sara Lindberg
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
September 21, 2022
Relationship stress—whether it’s related to romance or dating, conflict at work, or issues with friends and family—may be an inevitable part of life.
“Most of us enjoy connecting with our friends, family, and romantic partners, and as much as these relationships bring joy, laughter, and excitement, they can also bring frustration, disappointment, and stress,” says Jayne’ Green, a licensed professional counselor based in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
Being able to cope with stress in your personal and professional relationships is a valuable skill. That’s because relationships that endure unaddressed stress will inevitably result in conflict, says Colleen Wenner, licensed mental health counselor and founder and clinical director of New Heights Counseling and Consulting, in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. “If you want to have a happy relationship, you must learn how to deal with stress,” she says.
The good news? Learning how to prevent stress or de-stress different types of relationships can make a significant difference in your emotional health and well‑being. In fact, maintaining healthy, functional relationships can help you deal with stress—not add to it. Here’s how.
Benefits of De-Stressing Your Relationships
According to Wenner, reducing relationship stress can benefit several areas of your life:
It helps you feel more secure and confident about your life and relationships.
It can reduce worry and anxiety.
It can improve sleep quality.
It can boost energy levels.
It may allow you to be more productive at both work and home.
It can make you happier overall.
Overarchingly, Green says dealing with relationship stress can improve emotional health by allowing a person to feel more genuine to their true emotional self. “This feeling happens as a result of releasing intense emotions, rather than allowing them to bubble inside until the bubble of emotions erupts,” she says.
Releasing grievances and addressing stress early on can be helpful in several ways. Doing so may give you a sense of accomplishment and boost your confidence because you’re able to engage with others without additional emotional weight on your own shoulders, Green says.
For example, having a healthy relationship with your spouse could mean that you feel comfortable enough to discuss an issue—like a habit of making big purchases that weren’t discussed, or of leaving balled-up socks right next to the hamper—when that issue comes up, and that you won’t let it affect your mood while you’re at work or spending time with friends.
How to Manage Stress in Different Relationships
For managing stress in different types of relationships, try starting with the following steps.
1. Begin with Yourself and Your Boundaries
Lea Lis, M.D., board-certified adult and child psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor at New York Medical College, in Valhalla, says that if you’re constantly getting stressed by the same person or pattern of events, then it may be up to you to start by changing yourself.
A proactive change you can start yourself is to establish boundaries. “Tips for managing [relationship] stress are all about learning to set boundaries,” Lis says. A boundary is a limit you have in relationships or activities that is meant to help you protect your well‑being. The following are a few examples of boundaries in personal and professional relationships:
Taking time off for self-care
Not giving in to the hustle mindset
Letting go of the expectation that you need to accomplish everything yourself
Communicating when you need space
You don’t have to share your boundaries with others unless you want to. Even if you don’t inform other people of your boundaries, you can hold yourself accountable to them.
2. Use Positive Communication
One of Lis’ favorite techniques for preventing relationship stress is using the “I” statement, a practice from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This involves communicating feelings and concerns using statements that start with words like:
Using “I” statements can help you communicate more effectively when something is bothering you. For example, instead of saying, “You always show up late for our dinner reservations,” Lis says to try this instead: “I feel frustrated when I put forth the effort and it feels unappreciated. I want you to show up on time when I make plans for us.”
The first statement is accusatory and may polarize the interaction. On the other hand, the second statement may be more well received because it focuses on your feelings rather than on blame.
You can also incorporate what’s called a self-care statement, Lis says, which offers a way to enforce a boundary. It might go something like this: “If you keep showing up late, I will not make the reservations or commitments for you any longer.” This type of statement isn’t always needed, Lis says, but can be useful when you feel like you’re not being heard.
3. Know When to Shelve a Conversation for Later
It’s easy to lose control of your emotions when you’re stressed out. When this happens, it’s best to step back from the situation and calm down, Wenner says. Her go-to tip? Agree with your partner beforehand that if a discussion turns heated, either person can put the conversation on hold so as not to say or do anything that might damage the relationship.
This technique is not intended to avoid the issue. Rather, Wenner says, it offers a way to reduce excessive emotional reactions and convey to the other person, “I respect you too much to allow my emotional frustrations to damage our relationship.”
4. Work It Out
According to survey results from ComPsych and published by the American Institute of Stress, 62% of workers surveyed reported high stress levels, and 32% cited people issues as the leading cause of stress at work.
“So many of us struggle with finding the balance between managing work stress and navigating peer relationships that may ignite stress and impact work performance,” Green says.
Tips for managing work relationships are very similar to the ones recommended for managing personal relationships, says Green, who recommends the following steps when dealing with stress with a co-worker or supervisor:
If there’s an issue with a specific person, speak with them in a one-on-one situation after you have processed your emotions.
If there’s a struggle with a supervisor, speak with them the moment you need clarity so as not to allow feelings of frustration or irritability to brew.
Express what is working well before acknowledging your struggles or needs.
Offer suggestions for how to reduce the stress you’re experiencing, and also ask for feedback.
5. Ask for Help
If you’re feeling like your stress levels are unmanageable, or that the other tips are out of reach, it might be time to make an appointment with your primary care physician or a mental health professional. These experts can help evaluate your stress level and work with you to develop a plan for decreasing or coping with relationship stress so that you can feel better.