Living with anxiety is difficult in itself, but when you add marriage, it becomes even harder to deal with. Learning to navigate it until the person with anxiety is able to receive help and heal can often be a challenge. What can a husband and wife do to support and encourage one another?
“I feel anxious that I’ll burden my husband with my anxiety. I know he wants to support me and help me, but I don’t always know what I need from him. Sometimes he tries to fix it or makes me feel like I should just get over it which makes me feel like I’m failing him. He’s also quite extroverted and loves to be social, but those situations make me anxious. I fear that I hold him back.”
Building Your Coping Skills as a Couple
Talk about it. Ignoring anxiety or trying to hide it from your spouse will cause it to become bigger. You can not deal with something without first acknowledging it is there. By allowing it to be a topic that can be expressed will help you and your partner find ways to address it.
Make a Plan. The person who struggles with anxiety has examples of when it hits. Talk over those moments with your spouse and let them know what would have helped in those situations. Then when situations arise, your partner knows what he/she can do for you to help you lower it and get back in control. Through communicating with your spouse, you’ll be able to build a plan where both of you can feel that you are helping and not contributing to the problem. Be flexible with the plan as there might be situations which need something different.
Build a Community. Marriage is designed to be a beautiful space of safety, belonging and understanding, but no husband or wife can be everything to their spouse. We are wired for community and sometimes that means inviting friends, family and/or a therapist into our journey with anxiety. By having people other than your spouse you can turn to, you’re not requiring your husband or wife to be your only lifeline.
What to Remember when You are Dealing with Anxiety
Avoid Avoidance. Trying to avoid situations or subjects that are anxiety inducing will increase your anxiety and possibly move you into isolation. Instead accept that your anxiety is normal, and it is not one of your defining characteristics, it will remove its power and help you have more moments of peace and feeling like you are in control.
Believe you are Worthy. Attack and challenge your shame. Having anxiety does not mean there is something wrong with you, it just means you are more sensitive when those anxious thoughts arise. You are not wrong or broken. You are more than your anxiety and you are worthy of love, respect and acceptance.
Learn about Yourself. Learn your triggers and communicate them with your spouse. Your husband or wife cannot read your mind. By keeping communication lines open and inviting them into how your mind works in calm moments and anxious moments, you are equipping them with the knowledge they need to better help you.
Practice Self-Care. Take care of your own mental, spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. Your spouse is not responsible for taking care of you or your anxiety. Research has shown that establishing a daily routine, exercising regularly, eating healthy and getting a good night’s sleep lowers anxiety.
What to Remember if Your Spouse Deals with Anxiety
You are not your spouse’s therapist. If your spouse has anxiety your role is to be an encourager and supporter. Remind your spouse of the strategies and tools they need to walk through their most anxious moments, but you are not their therapist. If they don’t have someone already, it would be good for them – and for you – to seek professional help to better navigate this dynamic in your relationship.
Set healthy boundaries. Many people think that setting boundaries is a selfish act, but it is quite the opposite. By knowing our own limitations, we are more capable of taking care of our own mental, spiritual, physical and emotional well-being and encouraging our spouse to do the same.
Know the difference between encouraging and pushing. There may be situations where your spouse needs a “gentle nudge” to face their fears, but some situations may simply be too scary and anxiety-inducing for them. It is crucial for you two to communicate when is helpful for you to push, and when that push becomes damaging.
Never shame your spouse for their anxiety. Just because your spouse has a different walk than you does not mean that you are right and they are wrong. Any kind of indication – whether it’s verbal or non-verbal – that you think your spouse is flawed or broken because of their anxiety will cause deep damage to their psyche and to your relationship. Educating yourself, being open to learning and thanking your spouse for their vulnerability in inviting you into their journey will create the safety required for intimacy to flourish.
Marriage can flourish even with anxiety as part of it. Moving through the fears together will help each of you become stronger and bond together. You can do this, together.