We often underestimate stress. Not the frenetic energy of the I-have-a-deadline-to-meet panic or the constant fear of how the bills are going to get paid this month.
But the other stress. The good stress. The stress that sneaks in alongside positive life events. The occurrences we hope for, pray for and plan for.
Only to be surprised when the desired event is served with an unwanted heaping side of stress.
And sometimes that stress can be even harder to bear than that which accompanies life’s rough times. It’s often a surprise, and so catches people unaware. It’s less likely to receive support and understanding from others than a corresponding negative event. Even worse, we often chastise ourselves for feeling stressed when life hands us a tall, cold glass of lemonade, believing that it is somehow wrong to feel that way when others are trying to juggle lemons.
But the reality is that stress accompanies any change. Even positive transformations. And a little prior knowledge, awareness and understanding can help to ensure that this stress – and its effects – are temporary.
Wedding planning and execution is an effective distraction from the very real stresses that can accompany a new marriage. Although not as common as it once was, this may be the first time you’re learning how to live as roommates with your new spouse. And the reality of the commitment can be daunting as you realize that you’ve promised to sleep next to this person for the rest of your life.
Add to this the questions and expectations thrown at the new couple, with the peanut gallery pushing for home-buying and child-making before the honeymoon bags have even been unpacked.
This is a stress of transition and one the newness has passed, the stress will fade as well.
When the celebratory dinner fades, the reality may begin to set in. The increase in position will most likely result in an increased workload, especially at first. This shift in work demands impacts the entire family, as others pick up the slack at home or act as a sounding board for the newly-promoted partner’s anxieties. A promotion also brings with it an increase in income, which requires new discussions around household finances and goals. There may be geographic constraints instituted by the new position, requiring anything from remaining in the same area to a move across the world. All of these changes requires discussion, negotiation and perhaps compromise.
And perhaps most importantly, a promotion can come with a host of expectations, from the brand of work attire worn to the right neighborhood to live in. In a culture where we so often define ourselves by what we do, a change in work status can easily bleed into other areas.I saw this with my ex, as he moved from skilled manual labor to design and management positions. He became more concerned with appearances and projecting the image of someone who is successful.
It’s important to continue to remember and tell the story of the earlier days of struggle. To emphasize the team nature of the marriage, even as the roles may shift. If you’re the partner moving up in the work world, make sure to also expend energy to nurture your family; they’re the soil that anchors your roots. If you’re the spouse whose partner has been promoted, support them and also make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
Whether it’s a lottery win or an unexpected inheritance from your great-aunt Gertrude, most of us dream of coming into a pile of money.
And most of us rarely entertain the downside of a sudden financial windfall.From the immediate, “What are we going to do with this money?” to the inevitable realization that no windfall is infinite in scope.
The sudden influx of cash can highlight any discrepancies in financial ideologies with the spender and the saver arguing over the best use of the funds. Sometimes the best decision is no decision, at least for a time. Let the money sit while you adjust to the idea of it and have time to engage in productive (rather than reactive) conversation with your partner.
In most major cities, many couples struggle with the decision to buy a smaller, older home closer to the city and to work or to instead look to the far-flung suburbs with its large homes and equally generous commutes. Each has its potential stressors – the city home may be too small to comfortably fit the family and the schools may not be desirable. The suburban home entices with its low-priced perfection, but a lengthy commute can drain a person (and the family) in time.
I worry about families who decide to trade time for house size. We have neighbors who are making this move themselves in a few short weeks. And the husband will spend at least four hours on the road every day while his wife, who also works full-time, will essentially be solely responsible for their two young children. They are getting a great house and great schools. I just hope the price isn’t also great.
And even once the stress of the move is over, there is often the additional burden of being house-poor, especially in the beginning when everything seems to demand being purchased and updated at once. But at the end of the day, it’s just a house. And no structure is worth damaging a family over.
This one is so prevalent, I wrote an entire post about it.
Birth of a Baby
Although I’m not a parent, I’ve had the opportunity to witness this one first hand, with a couple who negotiated quite well through that first, stressful year.
The addition of a new family member – a crying, screaming, needy family member – is a huge stressor on a couple. Because the reality is hard, even when growing the family had always been a shared dream.
Celebrate your new status as a parent while ensuring that you don’t forget who you are apart from being a parent. And love on that baby while making sure that you don’t neglect to love on your spouse as well.
“What do we even talk about now?” a friend confided in me after sending the youngest off to college. For most of her adult life, her marriage had been centered around child-rearing. And now with the children reared, the marriage was needing redefining. The stress of the transition caught her off guard, as she was eagerly looking forward to having more time and freedom.
Couples often come to rely on the energy and distraction of children to fill in the gaps in their own relationship. And when the children are gone, the fissures become clear and demand attention.
Brock and I have annual practice at this one. It’s always a rough transition when the school year concludes and he has to adapt to me being around the house (where his office is located) all day long. We have to renegotiate alone time and boundaries while also taking advantage of the increased opportunities for connection. And, after a couple weeks, we usually have it all worked out. I really hope that our repeated practice pays off when we get to the real deal:) Because from what I’ve heard from friends, it can be a doozy of a transition!
Nothing in life is all-good or all-bad. It is an endless swirl of both joy and tragedy, celebration and strain. The only certainty we are promised is change. And the best way to find happiness is to learn to accept what life has in store while adapting to what comes your way. Peace is found not in being stationary, but in being fluid.