Relationships are constantly in flux. For every perfect moment you share with your significant other, there is probably a corresponding moment of molar-grinding frustration. It’s expected. Serious relationships are prone to the same ups and downs that come with living your life, multiplied by two.
Take this weekend.
I dragged my boyfriend upstate to my parents’ house for a long Thanksgiving vacation. Of course, no holiday is complete without 15 fawning family members, a key stuck in an ignition (not a metaphor), a raging case of PMS, and a table full of dark-meat-scarfing carnivores fighting over the last pig in a blanket. My boyfriend, of course, is a vegetarian. He was also glued to his iPhone all weekend, in a move I quickly dubbed The Awkward Boyfriend 2.0.
Of course, we came out of the weekend stronger. We came back to our tiny apartment in Manhattan, curled up with some Chinese delivery, took a nap and were back to being happy, awesome and mostly stress-free.
But an elephant never forgets … and neither do I (I ate a lot this weekend).
So here are some tips I gathered this weekend about dealing with stress in your relationship. If you’re as hormonally-challenged as I am, and bringing your boyfriend to meet your family on a big holiday, I recommend printing out a copy. And laminating it.
1. Communication is key, but like everything else, it’s best practiced in moderation. So when I told my boyfriend he needed to put down his iPhone, I didn’t need to tell him 20 times. He heard me the first time. The second time was a reminder. The final 18 or so were just obnoxious. I will quote one of my favorite movies about couples, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: “Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.”
2. Talk to someone else. After I vented to my older brother about my nagging family members, I felt like a weight had been lifted. While a good boyfriend should act as your support system, you cannot dump every problem and issue on one individual. Sometimes, it helps to take the stress and deal with it elsewhere.
3. Alone time is extremely important. Don’t forget that even under normal circumstances, people need some solitary space. During incredibly stressful occasions, we need it even more. Allow your significant other-and yourself-some room to breathe. Sometimes we have no idea we need to be alone until we’re finally alone.
4. Write it all down in an email and send it to yourself. It will feel therapeutic to get all the stress and tension out into words. If you’re not a natural writer, make a list. Just looking at whatever is upsetting you will ease your nerves.
5. Keep kissing. Somehow, kissing makes everything feel better. All the time. But you don’t need to make out to calm down. After spending so much time with my family, I learned that cheek-kissing is great, and so are forehead kisses. Hugs are wonderful too.
6. Ice cream is excellent. This weekend I preferred a caramel-chocolate blend. I particularly liked the flavor combination when it mixed with my salty tears; it was very complex.
7. This weekend, nothing beat a long bath, a copy of my favorite magazine, a few lit candles and a capful of Mr. Bubble. Instead of the bubble bath, you can substitute yoga, meditation, a long walk, a massage, or any other physical indulgence that relieves tension. The bath, though, is a good place to bring your chocolate caramel ice cream.
8. Remember everything that makes you happy. My boyfriend and I stayed awake one night playing “remember when,” and recalling memories from our favorite vacations. We tried to remember things that would make the other person laugh, or moments that the other had forgotten. When you’re stressed, close your eyes, take a deep breath and remember all of those good times you’ve shared.
9. Try to keep everything in perspective. At the end of my long, stressful weekend, I sat down with my lo mein and thought about how amazing my life was, and how much I love my family and my boyfriend. It was a silly thought, but it was true. It’s all good.
10. If you’re on the verge of a panic attack, stop, drop and roll. Stop freaking out, (temporarily) drop the subject, and roll with the punches. Don’t have a meltdown. You can always revisit the subjectlater. After the kissing, the bubble bath, the trip home, and the lo mein.
And remember, every relationship goes through stress. There is no such thing as a perfect couple. And crying into your ice cream can be a beautiful, flavorful, therapeutic thing.