One of my greatest relational weaknesses is a knee-jerk reaction to place blame. It’s a quick reaction and thankfully one that’s rapidly subdued by logic and reason. Still, it's pretty nasty and completely unfair. Few situations rise to the level where blame is even remotely appropriate, but even in those circumstances acceptance of responsibility and devising a path forward are far more productive. The downside to this weakness of mine is the opportunity that it steals from my marriage. It leaves me feeling out of sync with Alison and, in turn, less happy than I would be otherwise.
Alison recently completed a very demanding rotation that required nearly all of her emotional energy and a substantial portion of her days. She’d leave the house shortly before 7am and, most days, would be home in the evening just long enough to eat dinner, relax for 90 minutes, and then go to bed. Her stress level was very high and, coincidently, so was mine. It wasn’t anything that she did, it was simply that the pressures that she had to undergo during work hours required a cooling off period and it just so happened to be the only time that we were together during the day.
A mere week into her next rotation, her stress levels were significantly reduced and I commented on how I felt more in sync with her. I was less agitated, she was more present, and all was well. We had a laugh when we realized that it was our mutual high levels of stress that came between us and, now that they had subsided, we were able to feel more connected and have more fun together as a family.
This lesson clearly illustrated for me the truly insidious nature of stress. Silently lurking in our days, it builds up like a pressure system, exerting its negative effects on our thinking, our decision making, and our daily lived experience. My relational deficiencies, like my tendency to place blame, combined with the other events of my day, build levels of stress that are harmful to my marriage. Alison’s job, the pressures that she’s under, and her daily interactions with people in very difficult situations, along with the pain of a mother being separated from her child, add stress into her life. When our high stress levels are combined, we all suffer.
I bring this up not to air dirty laundry, but because there’s an important lesson that I think we can all benefit from. Self-awareness is the greatest weapon we have in our arsenal to control our lives. Self-awareness tells us when we’re starting to trend towards sin, when we’re making bad decisions, and when we’re the problem in a relationship. Self-awareness gives us to the clarity to understand where we are, where we want to be, and the steps that we need to take in order to get to that destination of choice. When we’re aware of the subtle effects of stress and the profound impact they can have on our lives when compounded, we can understand the importance of stress management.
Exercise, meditation, prayer, and even date nights are all effective methods of stress management. Stress will take a toll on your physical health and your emotional health, so keeping it in check will yield tremendous benefit not only for you, but for your wife and for your children. We’re quick to cut stress management activities out of our schedules when times are tight, but nothing could be more injurious to our relationships. Control stress instead of being controlled by stress.