Adapting to stress as a couple

Handling stress is a huge key to a high quality of relationship with your partner, and a happier family life [1]. This may be somewhat obvious, as stress is never a good thing, and no couple thrives on stressful situations. Unless you do, in which case, please teach us your ways!

If you’ve never heard the term “locus of control” before, it refers to how individuals believe they can control their situation. In other words, how much control you THINK you have over any given situation in your life. Why are we telling you this? Well, your locus of control has been shown to directly impact the way you handle stress [2]. And as we’ve already established, how you handle stress is important for you, your relationships and your family. 

So where do you fall on the locus of control scale? Here’s how you work it out.

If you’re INTERNAL, you’re more likely to believe that events and circumstances are in your control.

If you’re EXTERNAL, you’re more likely to believe that external forces like luck and fate determine your outcomes.
 

These are two ends of the spectrum of course, and most of us fall somewhere in-between. But according to research, you’ll be better at handling stress if you’re more INTERNAL.

“Parental locus of control has also been recognized as an important component in influencing parental stress. Researchers have found that a family's perception of having internal control* over outcomes is related to reduced stress and greater positive adjustment in families of children with a disability [2].”

For those of you who need to adapt to incoming stress right now, shifting your mind to think more with an internal locus of control might serve you well. If you’re parents and you’re struggling with stress throughout the summer holidays, then this might be useful for you to try out.

How can you become more INTERNAL? Here are a few things you can do to get started:

1. Make a list of things you can control, and things you can’t.

For example, if you’re a parent and your kids have been really demanding and tiring over the summer holidays, what you CANNOT control is their energy levels. But what you CAN control is how you respond to that energy. You CANNOT control bad behaviour, but you CAN control how you manage that behaviour. (for more on this subject, have a read of Contact'sguide on understanding your child’s behaviour).

By doing this, you might begin to realise that you’re actually in a position of more influence and control than you first thought. If you can’t control certain situations, you CAN control your attitude to them, and you CAN control how you behave towards them. This might be worth doing with your partner so you can compare notes. Even just recognising the controls that you have can help you shift your mindset (you might find our information on mindfulness for parents of disabled children helpful).

2. Let your partner and others to help you

If you’re insisting on tackling difficult situations alone and you don’t like asking for help, then you’re actually less likely to feel in control, because you reach burnout point. You might feel in control in the short term, but it’s difficult to maintain it the long-term. With more energy, you’ll feel more in control and better rooted. So reach out, and draw on your partner, your friends and family for their support. If they’ve let you down in the past, maybe it’s time to give them another chance. If you don’t have friends or family nearby, or relationships are strained, see the links below for information on how to get in touch with people who may help.

3. Look back at situations that felt out of control, but turned out alright in the end.

It can be helpful to remind yourself that you’ve already come through so much, and you and your partner have survived to tell the tale.

Getting extra support


Please see the links below for information on how to get in touch with support, including other parents. These places should also have information on low cost or free things happening in your local area over the summer holidays:

Your local parent support group – search for yours at: https://contact.org.uk/supportgroups

In England

In Northern Ireland

Family Support Norther Ireland can tell you what services are available in your area. This includes information about play and leisure.

www.familysupportni.gov.uk/

You can also call Contact for more information about leisure and sports for children and young people in your area.

Contact Northern Ireland: 028 9262 7552

In Scotland

The Scottish Family Information Service can tell you what services are available in your area. This includes information about play and leisure.

www.scottishfamilies.gov.uk/ 

You can also call Contact for more information about leisure and sports for children and young people in your area.

Contact Scotland: 0131 659 2930

In Wales

Your local Family Information Service can tell you what services are available in your area. This includes information about play and leisure.

www.childreninwales.org.uk/in-your-area/family-information-services/

You can also call Contact for more information about leisure and sports for children and young people in your area.

Contact Cymru: 029 20 39 6624

For ideas and help with holiday activities see Contact's holidays, play and leisure guide.

References


[1] The role of stress on close relationships and marital satisfaction, Ashley K. Randall & Guy Bodenmann, 2008

[2] Hastings and Brown, 2002

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