Couldn’t everyone do with less stress in their relationships? Estimates in the U.S. still show a divorce rate of 40-50%, which goes up for second marriages. For unmarried couples in committed relationships, it's nearly impossible to say how many break up. Couples fight about money, kids, jobs, big decisions, little decisions. So how can we all get along better, and reduce stress in our relationships with minimalism?
Minimalism can reduce stress from the outside world.
Many minimalists embrace having less stuff, fewer commitments, less debt, and fewer toxic relationships. Other than fewer things, these are ideal goals for anyone to strive. You don't have to be a minimalist to recognize the value.
Relationships have enough stresses upon them because you have two people who are individuals trying to create a cohesive life. Applying a more minimalist approach to how you run your life lets you focus on important relationships with less chaos in the background.
Here are my articles about having less stuff and reducing toxic thoughts from your head. My free mini-guide has tips on simplifying your finances and schedule, and I'll have more information on that in upcoming posts as well.
Make time to take care of yourself.
Self-care is vital for reducing personal stress. If you're buried under negative emotions, your interactions in your relationship will suffer. Do what you need to do to get in exercise, healthy eating, meditation; whatever works for you, take better care of yourself. As my old boss used to say, "First, put the oxygen mask on yourself." Then you can work on your relationship.
Respect differences between yourself and your partner.
Minimalists are often attacked by mainstream society. Anything that goes against the cultural norm is often seen as a threat or criticism. Since western culture is primarily capitalist, I see very negative comments about minimalist concepts.
For example, my friend suggested in a post that people stop talking about how busy they are all the time. Someone immediately responded that she's a mother of three and therefore "busy" is at the center of her vocabulary. She seemed very defensive. My friend was not attacking her personally; she didn't even know her. But immediately, this person's mind went to the reasons why my friend's suggestion would not work for her.
Making a life with someone doesn't mean that you have to agree about everything, or that there are never fights. However, you must respect one another, even if you can't agree. Naturally, some fundamental differences will tear a relationship apart. But you needn't be carbon copies of each other.
Ryan and I went through a very stressful period in our relationship (you can read about all that happened to us in the About section of this blog). Minimalism gave us the freedom to eliminate so many of those stressful things: financial worries, jobs that drained our energy and happiness away, and unsatisfactory living conditions.
Living in a small space and traveling all the time is not for everyone. But for us, it only made our relationship stronger, and minimalism is directly responsible for this new, happier life we created.
Choose to listen more and try to understand better.
During a conflict, it's a typical reaction to want to defend your own opinion, to make the other person see what you're thinking and feeling. It often seems like if they could understand where you're coming from, then they would realize you're right, and they're wrong. And then you'd win, and everything would be fine.
But resolving conflicts with a loved one should not be about winning--because if you win, then the person you love loses. That's only going to bring resentment into a relationship and create more divisiveness.
Instead, how about intense, active listening? Don't try to formulate your rebuttal while your partner is talking, listen to what they say. Try to be objective about it. If you were a disinterested third party, what would your takeaway be from their comments?
At first, it may be difficult to stay calm and take the focus off your feelings. But your altruism should pay off in the end, when your significant other will hopefully want to understand where you’re coming from as well.
Once they've stopped talking, summarize and paraphrase what they said using neutral terms. Don't say "So, you're angry for no reason" or put your opinions into it. The idea is to interpret what they are saying and truly comprehend it. And then--this is key--end with a confirmation question. Here's an example:
"I think that you're saying that you feel _____ because of ____. Is that correct?"
The answer you want is "Yes." The more you can get someone to agree with you, the more their anger will dissipate.
The next step is to apologize. But only do it when you can be sincere about it: "I'm sorry. I don't want to hurt you. I want to understand what went wrong so that it doesn't happen again." Because fighting over the same things all the time--that is not good for a relationship, and quite frankly, it's a waste of time.
Move toward love.
Remember all the reasons you fell in love with this person. You may conflict at that moment, but that does not mean your partner is no longer a good, smart, attractive, thoughtful person. This is just one event, and once you have talked it out, let it go. Holding onto it will not only hurt your relationship but will cause even more pain to you as an individual.