Interpersonal relationships are simply associations between people, but managing interpersonal relationship stress is anything but simple. Interpersonal relationships can be family connections, or a romantic relationship. These can be short or long relationships, and may not necessarily be an intimate relationship.
Healthy Relationships vs. Unhealthy
In a healthy relationship, neither person depends on the other to define him or herself. Each person is free to grow and change within and outside of the relationship. Both members of a healthy relationship can disagree or share feelings without fear, trusting that the other person in the relationship will hear and try to understand as best as he or she can. Both parties in a healthy relationship have individual interests and hobbies, and maintain relationships with friends that aren't mutual.
In an unhealthy relationship, one or both partners are dependent on the other, and may use the relationship to define themselves. Unhealthy dependence in a close relationship can increase stress, since the partner who is overly dependent has high expectations. If a relationship between a mother and son is this way, the son may feel uncomfortable pursuing normal adult experiences such as moving out, getting married, or starting a family.
Boundaries and Assertiveness
Relationships can become very stressful if either person feels as if his/her boundaries aren't respected. Perhaps a husband can't say no to anything his wife suggests, because when he does she launches into a screaming tirade that leaves him feeling angry and ashamed. Her response to his refusal of her request is a violation of her husband's boundaries.
Boundaries can also be described as limits, and even easygoing people have them. Managing interpersonal relationship stress starts with defining boundaries, and making a decision to define emotional, physical, social, and spiritual space. Boundaries define where one member of the relationship ends and the other begins.
The way to control stress in a relationship is for both parties to express their needs and wants assertively. This means expressing thoughts and feelings clearly, without hinting around. Assertiveness is not the same thing as aggression. Aggression seeks to force others into action or inaction by intimidation, while assertiveness expresses emotions and opinions firmly, but without accusations or bullying.
Sometimes a relationship becomes so unhealthy that the stress involved in maintaining the relationship is greater than any benefits derived from it. This can be the case in relationships where there is physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
In this situation, in which being assertive and maintaining boundaries isn't making the situation any better, it may be time to cut off or severely limit the amount of time spent with the person. Ending a relationship is very stressful, but sometimes it can lead to a more peaceful life afterwards. The constant stress of conflict or resentment can have tangible health effects in the form of fatigue, stomachaches, or tension headaches.
It's important not to make the decision to end a relationship lightly. All other alternatives should be considered first, especially if the person in question is a close friend, relative, or romantic partner. The decision shouldn't be made in anger, or hatred, but should be a conclusion that seems right even when things are not falling apart. A calm decision to part ways with someone is less likely to lead to feelings of regret later.
Managing Interpersonal Relationship Stress
Human beings are hardwired to seek out social interaction, but relationships should be enjoyable a large portion of the time. Relationships that are not, should be carefully evaluated to find the problem so steps can be taken to correct it for the sake of everyone involved in the relationship. Professional counseling can be helpful in identifying and correcting issues or in deciding to end unhealthy relationships.