Family and Relationship Stress

Family and Relationship Stress

Relationship stress is the emotional and mental strain that comes from sharing your life with another person. 

Family stress occurs when your family-related responsibilities are greater than your mental and physical capabilities. Parental stress is a form of family stress.

Learning how to cope with family and relationship stress can help prevent an increase in family conflict. 

Unmanaged family and relationship stress can have health-related consequences. Research shows that those in poor-quality relationships can experience high blood pressure and inflammation

Those who feel supported by their partner have fewer physical challenges and better overall self-reported health.

Who Experiences Family and Relationship Stress?

Anyone can experience family and relationship stress, but some are at higher risk than others. Parents of children with greater needs, such as those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), report having less support with caregiving responsibilities and greater parental stress.

What are the Causes of Family and Relationship Stress?

Family member conflicts/different communication styles

Everyone handles stress differently and communicates in different ways. Unfortunately, personality differences in relationships can lead to lower levels of relationship satisfaction.

The burden of caring for a child or unwell family member

Caring for children, especially young children, is a demanding task. It often requires hours of work every day. Young children keep you awake at night, further increasing stress. The burden of helping children with schoolwork, or having children who are struggling in school can also add to your stress.

Much like caring for a child, caring for an unwell family member is taxing. Those caring for people with dementia experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Financial challenges/job loss

Worrying about finances limits your ability to focus on your loved ones. During the pandemic, parents who lost a job or experienced a shift in employment were more likely to have conflicts with their children. 

Partners who deal with financial hardship are more likely to have challenging relationships and an increase in mental health problems. Financial hardship has been shown to be long-lasting, having negative effects on physical health many years later.

Work demands

Balancing your family and relationship responsibilities alongside a career can make you feel like you have two full-time jobs. Individuals who are both employed and identify as the main family caregiver are more likely to experience high stress. 

Familial/partner abuse

Family and partner stressors may be external (e.g. bills, health problems, job stress, living situation, etc.). They may also be internal (e.g. unhealthy interaction styles, struggles with parenting, work-life balance, etc.).

Sometimes, the stress in families goes beyond arguments. Sadly, those who are stressed are more likely to be aggressive. If you or a family member are in an abusive relationship, help is available. Your coach can provide support and resources.

If you are in immediate danger, call your local emergency number.

What Can You Do?

Develop a support system

Ask your partner and family members for extra help during times of high stress. Family caregivers who have support with their responsibilities also experience lower levels of stress.

Offer opportunities for open and warm communication

Regular open conversations with your loved ones can help prevent conflicts from getting worse. A good way to create this space is to regularly share meals with your family. 

Having meals as a family promotes higher levels of emotional well-being for parents and greater family connection for children. This also creates a sense of routine, which can improve overall well-being. 

Additionally, children are less likely to be negatively impacted by stressful situations and less likely to have conflicts with their parents if their parents show warmth. This decrease in conflict, in turn, increases parental well-being.

In order to create an environment of open communication, here are some tips:

  • Try to listen without judgment. 

  • Use Nonviolent Communication, a style of communication designed to resolve conflict peacefully. 

  • Use affirmations like “I still care about you, even when we disagree” to show love through challenging conversations.

  • Practice open body language, including smiling when appropriate.

  • Write down your thoughts before having hard conversations. This can give you the time to practice what you would like to say, and lessen any heightened emotions.

  • Keep the conversation focused while discussing a conflict. Avoid bringing up past conflicts and instead handle the current one.

  • Allow your loved ones to talk to you in private, without others listening.

Initiate Communication

Asking for help is difficult. Challenges such as anxiety, depression, other forms of mental health concerns, shame and guilt can prevent us from reaching out for support.

Communication is the first step to getting the support you need.

Seek professional help

Counseling services may be necessary if the tension between family members or your partner becomes elevated. 

You can find US resources through the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For Canadian residents, you can get support from Wellness Together Canada.

Find other resources

There are many resources available for you if you need help with family and relationship stress. For example, taking a caregiver training course if you have a family member with a chronic condition can lower your stress and increase your confidence in caring for your loved one. 

Here is a resource where you can be connected to caregiving assistance in the US: https://www.usa.gov/disability-caregiver

If you are in Canada, you can find help here: https://mentalhealthcommission.ca/caregiver-resources/ https://canadiancaregiving.org/caregivers/caregiver-resources/