Moving is stressful. I believe it is one of the more stressful things a couple can experience. This is because change (any change, even a wonderful change) equals stress. Human beings, for the most part, do not like change. At a primal, emotional, gut-reaction level, change equates to “I don’t know how to stay safe.” When you move, you are putting yourself into a position where everything is new and changed and, therefore, everything is stressful.
In addition to all the stress, are the many, many losses that you are grieving after you move. You have left friends and maybe family (the support network that you connected with daily). Your routine is gone – you no longer have the familiar coffee shop, grocery store or the sounds on the street that surrounded you for the past 2, 5 or 25 years. Your job is gone. And even if you have the same job you most likely have a new office, new colleagues and a new commute. Your house is gone with all its comforts and familiarity. Your kids’ schools are gone – with new ones to learn and new friends to make. Doctors, mechanics, dentists and all the supports that you counted on for when things broke are gone. In short, your list of losses is huge. Don’t underestimate the emotional toll this takes.
After a move, we have a couple who is stressed out and grieving. They are flooded with these big emotions and are without their usual support systems. The questions I ask all my couples include: how were you taught to deal with big emotions, and what model did your parents show you about coping with emotions, especially stress and grief? This parental model usually become our blueprint or our auto-pilot. We tend to slide into this auto-pilot when we are flooded with feelings and we react without thinking or planning. This is where couples get into trouble. This is where the fights begin.
Most people cope with big emotions in a few ways. They:
Control the Feeling – These individuals want to get their minds around all the information, make lists, and lists of lists, and even spreadsheets of lists. The internal statement might be “if I can get all the information about this move in an organized way this feeling will go away.”
Ignore the Feeing – I call this option the Netflix reaction. These individuals shut themselves off, consciously or unconsciously, from their feelings. They become numb or apathetic, and sometimes deny that they are feeling anything at all. The internal statement might be: “if I ignore this feeling it will go away.”
Get Angry – These individuals want to find someone to blame and punish for their feelings. They want to fight. Their internal statement might be: “this is all your fault and if I can get you back and make you pay, this feeling will go away.”
Take Action – These individuals seek out places where they feel empowered instead of helpless and take actions to feel better. Their internal statement might be: “if I take action this feeling will go away.”
Feel the Feeling – These individuals allow whatever feelings they have to arise and move through them. They find safe places where they can cry, laugh, yell, or hide. Their internal statement might be: “If I let these feelings out then I will feel better.”
The tricky part of a move with your spouse is that while you are utilizing one strategy to cope with all the stress and loss, your partner is also using one of these strategies to keep themselves above water. However, it is rare that individuals in a couple use the same strategy at the same time. This is worth stating again. It is rare and very unusual that you and your spouse will be in sync with how you are coping, processing and understanding all of the stress and loss involved in your move. And there is nothing more infuriating than having your spouse doing something different with their feelings – not to mention that their coping strategy usually gets in the way of your coping skills.
To recap: moving is stressful, we cope with stress in a variety of ways and we rarely cope the same way our spouse is coping. The end result of this is feeling distance, anger, apathy, resentment and sadness toward our spouse. What is lost is the generosity, curiosity and humor that I believe are the hallmarks of a strong marriage.
What do you do with this knowledge? How does this help you to prevent your move from hurting your marriage?
My hope is that this opens up a conversation between you and your spouse about your move. You now have the language to discuss how you both were taught to react to stress and my wish is that you can also talk about how you want to react to loss and change. I believe strongly that good communication is a key to a successful marriage. And sometimes it is the language itself that is missing.
If you recently moved or a contemplating a move and need some help talking though the effect it is having on your marriage please call for a free consultation. I can be reached at 720-551-8084 or at www.CouplesCounselingBoulder.com.