A recent report about what makes couples happy versus unhappy leads to some commonsense advice about how to minimize stress and maximize your relationship happiness.
The report is based upon a survey conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by eHarmony. Respondents ranged from age 18 to over 65. Online interviews were conducted with 2,084 individuals in November to December of 2017. All of the respondents were self-identified as either married or in a committed relationship.
Although 15 different issues were identified as “key factors” in creating stress, four of those issues were most commonly reported as key causes of stress for couples. (As you can see by the percentage of respondents who identified each issue as “key,” many respondents did identify more than one key issue.)
1. Work-related stress was identified as a key factor in relationship conflicts by 35 percent of the respondents.
Part of the challenge of work-related stress is being able to identify it as such, and to see it for what it is, rather than as a sign of something else that’s wrong with ourselves or our lives. Once you accept it as a challenge to be dealt with, you might develop a habit of starting to unwind as soon as you get home from work. Depending upon the type of commute you have, you may even be able to de-stress on your way home. For some suggestions on coping with work-related stress, see this previous blog post.
2. Being too tired for sex was identified as a key factor by 33 percent of those who completed the interview.
Open and honest communication is important in dealing with this issue. If physical tiredness or mental exhaustion is the core problem, there are some simple behavioral solutions, such as scheduling time to be together for physical closeness. By doing so, you can plan times when you are least likely to be tired. If this strategy is not helpful, it is important to have further communication about other possible reasons, such as the next key issue.
3. Low sex drive was identified by 28 percent of respondents as a key cause of stress in their relationship.
Again, it is important to know the core problem when this is the complaint. One common underlying problem may be a negative body image due to self-perceived flaws. Having a negative view of one’s own body can easily prevent a person from feeling sexual. It can be very helpful to try different ways to boost your body image. For example, shift your thoughts and focus on what you like about yourself, rather than the flaws you perceive.
A second common cause of low sex drive is the expectation of pain or discomfort during sexual intimacy. This is something that should probably be discussed with a physician who is able to determine the cause and offer medical help.
There are numerous other reasons for low sex drive, including being depressed and having low energy. Libido is also affected by a number of frequently prescribed medications, including antidepressants, opioid painkillers, and anti-anxiety drugs.
4. Arguments about money were identified by 27 percent of the respondents as key to their distress as a couple.
An obvious, but not always easy, solution is to create a budget upon which you can both agree. Discuss priorities and compromise when there are conflicting priorities. Are you having trouble reaching compromises? Realize that at a deeper level of awareness, money equals power, and power means control. Evaluate your sense of power in the relationship and whether it is more or less equal for both of you. It is far healthier to equalize power than to use money in order to assert control over a partner.
An interesting result of this survey was that 8 of the 15 key issues related to matters of physical intimacy. These problems varied along a range from behavioral, such as infidelity (6 percent) and use of porn (8 percent), to those sexual difficulties that may be health-related, such as erectile dysfunction (14 percent). One of the most common of the problems with intimacy was “boring sex” (15 percent). Each of these issues is manageable with understanding, communication, and professional help as needed from therapists or physicians.
To sum up, the most commonly identified key factors for couples’ unhappiness were related to work, lack of sexual intimacy (due to tiredness or low libido), and money problems. While there are many possible causes for each of these problems, what they have in common is: They are all manageable. With commitment to each other and open-mindedness toward professional help, each of these stressors can be lessened in significant ways. You might even use this blog to begin a discussion with your partner about these common sources of stress. Very often, taking a step in the direction of solving a problem is itself stress-reducing. To paraphrase a part of the serenity prayer, may we each have the "Courage to change the things I can."