Mood disorders affect approximately one in every five adults. “Mood disorder” can refer to various conditions such as anxiety, depression, social phobias, separation anxiety, and even PTSD. It is especially depression and anxiety that most often occur together. Among the most common of the mood disorders is generalized anxiety and while much headway has been made in the treatment of anxiety, less attention has been given to how anxiety affects the spouse or partner of the sufferer. A successful marriage takes work under the best circumstances and when one partner suffers from anxiety, the other may have to take on the brunt of the responsibilities. Often they find themselves always being the one to compromise, protect, or comfort and this can add untold amounts of stress to a marriage. Coping with a partner who suffers from anxiety is not easy, but there are some things that you can do to ensure that your marriage survives the ordeal.
Become Educated about Anxiety
Whether one or both partners suffer from anxiety, it is imperative that you both learn as much as you can about the disorder. This is perhaps the most important step you can take. A great place to start is by learning about the different types of anxiety, social phobias (social anxiety), separation anxiety, as well as the symptoms of anxiety. Learning as much as possible is the first step in understanding exactly what your partner is experiencing. Bear in mind that your partner’s anxiety may not fit into any one category. Each case is totally unique and just admitting that the disorder is affecting your relationship and taking the first step to making changes is more important that categorizing the illness. Another helpful step is to screen for the typical symptoms of anxiety, which will help focus efforts to alleviate those.
Don’t Pretend that Everything is Fine
Often the partners of anxiety sufferers have the natural instinct to shelter that person from conflict or difficult emotions. In order to minimize conflicts, the non-sufferer may conceal the frustration that they feel. Often this protective instinct has the opposite effect and ends up causing resentment. A better way to approach the situation is to confront it head on. Let your partner know that while you understand their feelings, you have feelings and needs as well. Being honest allows for a sense of trust and intimacy to be maintained and lets you create a mutual support system. A good way to begin is by discussing the anxiety as a condition which affects both of you rather than saying things like “your anxiety” or “your disorder.” Since it does affect you both, finds ways in which you can help your partner cope with and overcome the symptoms of anxiety. Attending therapy sessions together is a good way to show that overcoming the anxiety is a team effort. After all, tackling problems as a team is what marriage is all about.
Avoid Being Overly Accommodating
While it is important to be patient, partners often end up being overly accommodating to a partner who suffers from anxiety. It is sometimes done intentionally, such as trying to be a superhuman, or simply because it just seems easier, such as on partner running all the errands for a partner who has an anxiety attack at the thought of driving. Whatever the reason, being overly accommodating can actually exacerbate the anxiety. Firstly, it can give send a message that they actually have something to fear, which can fuel their anxiety. In addition, having someone who is too accommodating gives them help in learning how to overcome anxiety. Set boundaries for how accommodating you will be and stick to them. Tell your partner is a loving way that there is only so much you are willing to do to accommodate them.
Take Time for your own Care
Living with a partner who suffers from anxiety can result in high tension in both your relationship and your house. Take time each day for a self-care routine such as a workout or simply a long, relaxing bath. Consider what you already do to promote your own physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Examining what you already do can sometimes provide insight as to what else you need. It is easy to be so wrapped up in caring for your partner that you forget to care for yourself. Just as your partner needs special care sometimes, so do you.
Dealing with a partner who suffers from anxiety can take its toll on a relationship. Working together with a therapist is the most effective way to overcome this disorder. Attending therapy sessions with your partner can often not only help your partner but you as well.