Every relationship, if it lasts long enough, has to survive periods of intense stress. While there are certain life events that cause a great deal of stress, like changing jobs or schools, getting married or divorced, having a child or having a child go away to school or the military, moving, a death in the family, and other significant life events, even the everyday stress of managing the budget, taking care of the kids, dealing with your boss, and trying to find ten minutes a day for yourself can add strain to the marriage.

My husband and I are not strangers to stress: we’ve moved cross-country three times, sent one son off to the Army who was immediately deployed to Iraq, are raising five kids, have lost jobs, worked for jobs we hated, had to deal with ex-spouses and custody issues, lost love ones, and simply had bad days. I can’t imagine many couples who haven’t experienced many of the same things.

Sometimes stress gets the best of us, and we end up snapping at each other, withdrawing from each other, and taking everything personally.  Sometimes, it just seems easier to shut down than to work through it…but as we survive each big life stress – we’ve raised three of our five kids into budding adults; our son came home from Iraq in one piece; we don’t have any plans to move for a while – we’ve learned how to help each other through stressful times rather than turn on each other.

We still get stressed – just not as often with each other! We have worked hard to minimize the effects of the stress on our relationship, to focus on how we want our family to live and what kind of example we want our kids to have of a positive relationship. If you and your partner are facing any kind of stress (whether it’s the daily “I hate my job” stress or the “Everything in my life has been upended” stress) there are things you can do to not only protect your relationship but to help you handle your stress more effectively, and when the two of you are strong together, nothing can challenge it – not even an angry stepchild!

The most important thing is to recognize that you are both affected by whatever is happening, and to TALK to each other. Take the time to share your concerns with your partner. Make time for each other. No matter how crazy things are, make dates at least a couple times a month. Hire a sitter, call in sick to work, unplug the phone – do whatever it is you have to do to get that time.

When things become overwhelming, let your partner know that you are having a particularly rough time. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. The more the two of you stay connected, the less impact the stress will have on your relationship. You’ll face it together instead of tearing each other apart to survive.

We’d love to hear your best tip for strengthening your marriage…please share with us!