Do you know that it’s Stress Awareness Month? Right, as if we need a reminder about how stressed out we are! I can attest that 2020 and, even 2021, have done a more than adequate job reminding me of this already. With the mounting stress that has accumulated over this past year and incoming stressors, how are you dealing with it all? Clearly much of the public feels similarly, with some of the biggest internet searches being, “How to cope with stress,” “How to handle stressful situations,” and “How to deal with a stressed out partner.”
But stress less, we’ve got you covered. While I can’t share you the secret to a stress-free life (wish I knew this myself), I can share
“a communication exercise backed by research that helps improve your stress level, helps you feel understood and seen, and increases positive feelings towards your partner”
You don’t have to change your diet, start a new exercise routine, or sleep for 8 hours. What I’m talking about is a strategy that is grounded in merely talking and listening. Any takers yet? Sign me up!
What is a Stress-Reducing Conversation?
A stress-reducing conversation is like an intentional venting session; it’s a conversation where you are encouraged to complain! Imagine saying to your partner, “Please complain to me – tell me everything terrible that you’re going through.” Now before roll your eyes and close this window, stick with me here and you’ll see why this is in fact helpful.
The Benefits of a Stress-Reducing Conversation
The goal is to be understood and to feel supported. It is not time to problem-solve or fix the problems or stressful situations that are shared. Once you feel heard and understood, it settles you and you feel seen. While the situation may not have changed by talking about it, the way you feel and how your body holds the stress may have improved.
How to have a Stress-Reducing Conversation
- Active listening skills. If you need help building listening skills, check out this article or, if you are a hands-on learner, sign up for one of our free relationship skills workshops.
- 30 minutes – distraction-free, technology-free. Ideally you should do this when your kids are in bed. You’ll want to limit all potential interruptions, as they can further compound frustration and switch the stress from something outside your relationship to something within the relationship.
Rules for the Speaker:
- Complain about something or someone outside of your relationship.
- Share how you feel (name an emotion). Use this free printable list to pinpoint the best adjective to describe how you feel.
- Be respectful of the listener. Although you may feel passionate about what is stressing you out, don’t take out the stress on your partner; if you do, the likelihood of them wanting to keep listening or listen in the future will significantly decrease.
Rules for the Listener:
- Be curious. If you had x-ray vision and could see through the topic of what your partner is sharing and understand their deeper need, could you guess what that is? Oftentimes, the feelings underneath an event have to do with needs like wanting to belong, settling an injustice, or rectifying a matter of fairness.
- Don’t side with the enemy. Even if your partner was in the wrong, the stress-reducing conversation is not the time to point that out. If you do, your partner could feel blamed and may either turn on you or withdraw.
- Use an empathic statement. We’ve found a list that you can draw from, which will help your partner feel understood.
Try a Stress-Reducing Conversation
- Take turns, set a timer for 15 minutes. Each partner has 15 minutes to share.
- When it is your turn to be the listener, ask your partner, “What is currently making you feel stressed?” Then wait, listen, allow your partner to share without interruption and without the pressure to do anything about the situation. Reminder: This is not the time to fix the problems!
- When it is your turn to be the speaker, think of something that is stressing you out (outside of your relationship). Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- A friendship
- How to reintegrate into the community
- Self Care practices
- Personal health
- When the timer goes off, as the listener, thank your partner for sharing and use an empathic statement to close the conversation, “Thank you for sharing–this sounds stressful and I’m here for you.”
- Switch roles. Go through steps 2-4.
Want additional support?
If you found this exercise to help helpful and could use more support, we’re here for you. If you started this exercise and it was a bit challenging or you found yourself more frustrated, don’t give up, instead get help. Having a stress-reducing conversation is like any other skill, it’s something you learn through practice and our licensed clinicians can help you master the art of listening and talking about stress.
When you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started. We offer virtual sessions only right now to accommodate the safety of our staff and clients during the time of COVID-19.