Sunday, April 14, 2024

FAMILY FUSION: Strengthened by stress


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It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

You cannot escape stress. As long as you are alive, stress will be your constant companion. Every child, woman, man, married couple and family unit will encounter the influence of stress.

When a family is experiencing stress, it means that something real or imagined is, or has been, taking place that challenges the family’s normal ability to cope with the situation. Some stressful situations within your marriage and family can be mild, and coping with such pressures should pose no major difficulty. 

I know of couples who were able to sit down with each other, discuss the particular stressors that were adversely affecting their relationship only to realise that they were cases of misunderstandings, and within a short time those couples made up, learnt from the experiences and went on with their lives. A very high percentage of family stress springs out of personality clashes while others erupt from other sources. Both however can generate some turbulence within the family and have the potential to frustrate the smooth running of the home. Today I shall glance at some of those stressors that are personality driven.

Consider the rubber band – it does not serve any useful purpose unless stretched. Similarly, there are benefits that can be derived from stressful occurrences that may stretch the family resources initially but in the end can pull the family closer together. There are also stressful situations that may result in families going apart, but even when those times occur, the result should never be one where there is continual hatred, bitterness and resentment. The family member that carries such negative emotions runs the risk of developing serious physical and mental health issues. Being strengthened as a result of family stress has a lot to do with one’s attitude toward the stressors.  

One of the greatest gifts God gave to me is my wife. My love for her continues to grow as we approach our 36th year as a married couple. Over those years we have had many pleasant times, but we also had some personality clashes that tested the stability of our relationship; both of us are very opinionated about certain matters. Although some of these clashes may have manifested as heated arguments, we have never disrespected each other by name calling, threatening each other with separation or physically and emotionally abusing each other.

I recall a disagreement where each of us firmly stood our ground on an issue for about an hour. I felt angry because she could not see my point and she got angry because I refused to see her side of the argument. My perspective immediately changed when my wife asked me a question that pertained to my upbringing that caused me to immediately reflect on how I was socialised. She hit the nail on the head; she was right and I conceded. I made a decision to deal with the situation and we were able to get closer to each other as a result of that stressful period.

That issue, like others, helped me to realise that we are partners working towards the goal of a rich relationship as we learn from our different encounters. Your differences in personality will ignite certain stressful fires, but try to listen to each other and see the situation as an opportunity to know each other better and to build a stronger bond with each other.  

God gave my wife and me two very special sons with two completely different personalities. We sat with them one day and told them that, as children, they have the right to disagree with us on any issue but in a respectful manner. We emphasised, however, that they did not have the right to disobey. Needless to say, they took advantage of their right to disagree on several issues that they believed were not working in their best interest. During those teenage years, we have had several personality clashes with our sons, some of which generated much stress on both sides, but we allowed them the opportunity to vent their opposition. 

I remember one day they approached me on a particular project that they wanted to pursue. They attacked the issue from one angle and I attacked it from another. Initially I could not see their perspective, but their arguments were solid enough to humble me and lead me to agree to their position. I learnt a very important lesson of listening that day; I learnt that understanding and respecting my teens’ opinions can lead to a closer bond between parent and teen. 

I know of several married couples whose marriages were undergoing much stress but they could not place their finger on the issue. They knew they loved each other but could not see eye to eye on certain recurring issues. During therapy, many of these couples observed that the main source of their stress was their personality differences. With that knowledge, they were able to make the necessary adjustments, and are progressively working toward a more stress-free marriage.  

For those of you considering marriage it is wise to have premarital counselling because an understanding of each other’s personality can help you avoid much unnecessary future stress.

As a husband, father and family therapist, I can point out that stress within the family should be seen:

1. As an opportunity for personal growth and closer bonding with spouse and children. 

2. A means of fostering healthy communication.

3. As an occasion to listen carefully to each other’s opinions, ideas and concerns.

4. As a time to understand and affirm each other’s unique personalities. 

Next week I shall look at non-personality-related stressful events.   Don’t let stress strangle you, but let it strengthen you.

• Reverend Haynesley Griffith is a marriage and family life consultant.


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