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  • Writer's pictureLauren Buckley

A Key to Building Emotional Intimacy in your Marriage: Stress Reducing Conversations

Stress reducing conversations are key to preventing outside stressors from spilling over into your relationship and also key in maintaining emotional attraction to your partner. Oftentimes, in couples therapy, we teach the importance of managing conflicts or communicating effectively about issues within the marriage. However, stress reducing conversations are a skill not related to a conflict or issue within the marriage, and instead meant to build up positive emotional attachment; something every marriage needs to thrive! Stress reducing conversations are a proactive way to keep your marriage strong by making deposits into your relationship’s emotional bank on a daily basis. 

Stress reducing conversations help couples talk about problems outside of the marriage that have the potential to spill into the marriage or create fuel for fights to escalate due to underlying stress. Couples who operate on a day-to-day basis with high levels of stress that they do not address, end up in emotionally detached relationships, where neither partner feels supported. Alternatively, couples who use these outside stressors as a way to connect emotionally by supporting each other and helping each other cope, keep their relationships strong and ultimately increase their emotional connection to each other. Emotional connection is key to a healthy, long-term relationship and can also increase physical connection. 

While a simple “how was your day?” might be sufficient enough to get this conversation started each evening, it is key to know how to manage these conversations so that no one ends up feeling frustrated with the other for not listening or bringing relationship problems into the stress reducing conversation. Before starting your stress reducing conversation, make sure the timing is conducive to not being interrupted, giving each partner enough time to unwind after work/kids, etc. and making sure you will have about 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted time to talk. Remember: what we are discussing during the stress reducing conversation is not related to our marriage! 

Tips for a Stress Reducing Conversation (based on the work of Gottman)

Take turns

Each partner should get the chance to be the person to talk about their stressors or current concern (outside of the marriage) for at least 15 minutes. 

Show genuine interest and compassion

This is key to active listening. Show interest by maintaining eye contact, turning physically toward your partner,  nodding along, paraphrasing or repeating for understanding, and generally just staying focused on your partner. 

Don’t give unsolicited advice

Let your partner know that you understand and empathize with the problem at hand. This isn’t a time to solve the problem for them; no matter how much you want to rescue them! It’s natural to want to fix the problems of the ones you love, but simply allow your partner to express their feelings and listen. Your only job is to listen to understand how they are feeling. 

Communicate your understanding 

Use words or phrases to let your partner know you genuinely understand and empathize with the problem. Some key phrases you can use are:

“I’d be stressed out, too.”

“I understand.”

“That sounds _______” (hard, terrible, sad, scary, infuriating, etc) 

“I’m on your side.”

“That would’ve made me feel _____, too” 

Take your partner’s side

This is a tough one because it involves taking your partner’s side even if you don’t necessarily agree with their perspective. Sometimes, couples get so caught up in playing “devil’s advocate” in their relationship, that they lose sight of the person sitting right in front of them and the feelings they are experiencing. Don’t back the opposition or justify why the problem might be happening. Your partner is seeking emotional support (not advice) and simply needs you to be present with how they are feeling about the situation. 

Express a “we against others” attitude

Many times, when we are struggling with a problem, we feel alone. This is a great time to remind your partner that you are, in fact, their partner! They are not alone in experiencing this and you will be there with them and for them in this matter. 

Show affection

This can be physical or verbal affection. Holding your partner’s hand, rubbing their back, putting your hand on their leg to let them know you care. It can also be saying words like “I love you” or “I’m here with you.”

Validate emotions

Let your partner know that their emotions and feelings make sense to you. You can use some of the phrases above in #4 or come up with new ones that reflect your understanding of their pain or hurt. 

A stress reducing conversation is meant to convey to your partner that “when you are in pain, the world stops and I listen” (Gottman). Stress reducing conversations build friendship, fondness and strong emotional connections in partners. Stress reducing conversations lead to happy, healthy and productive relationships where both partners feel safe, secure and genuinely cared for.

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