The worst part of anxiety is that it prevents your spouse from fully showing up to the present moment and enjoying their life. They constantly analyze everything and how they interact with others and play the scenario repeatedly in their head.
They analyze every interaction they have ever had and every bad experience they have experienced. Anxiety never gets satiated. Even if one of the bad things they are worried about actually happens, anxiety will find something else to worry about.
This can alienate people in their life, especially if their family members don’t understand what dealing with anxiety on a daily basis is like. They can come off as negative or not fun to be around.
They can be perceived as hypocritical because that is how they operate. They are critical to strive toward some perfect ideal of a protective life (spoiler: they never achieve it because it doesn’t exist).
Their fear and anxiety push them to criticize others as a way to protect the other person and themself (They can think, “if only my spouse did everything perfectly, they would be safe, and I would be safe from the devastation of losing them”) but of course, this pushes other people away from them. This can seriously strain the marriage relationship.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a fear or uneasiness about something that’s about to happen. It’s your body’s response to excessive stress. A person with anxiety might feel restless, tense, and have a fast heartbeat.
Almost everyone feels anxious, but some people suffer from feelings of extreme anxiety. They might feel overwhelmed and stressed before making an important decision, working issues, or giving a test or speech.
Many people feel focused due to anxiety, but people with extreme anxiety or anxiety disorders need to learn how to cope with it as it can seriously affect their mental health.
Understand what is normal anxiety and what are anxiety disorders with this enlightening video by Dr. Jen Gunter.
10 tips on how to help a spouse with anxiety
So that is the problem, what are some solutions? The first step for someone supporting a spouse with anxiety is to deepen their understanding of it. Imagine what it must be like for your spouse to struggle with anxiety daily. The second step is to practice these 10 tips that will help you if you are married to someone with anxiety.
Deepen your understanding. Understand that your spouse’s anxiety is not personal. Their criticism of you is not actually about you. It is about them. They are struggling with many thoughts and feelings that are extremely uncomfortable.
One way they manage these feelings is to try to control their environment and the people in it. This includes you, and it can be exhausting when it feels like you are being micromanaged.
2. Check on them regularly
Regular check-ins. Schedule weekly or daily check-ins with your spouse to discuss what is working and what isn’t. If you are feeling micromanaged by them, please let them know and talk about ways they can manage their anxiety without pushing you away or causing you to feel uncomfortable or judged.
3. Help them cope with it
Being married to someone with anxiety is a lot of work. Support your spouse with coping. Find out what coping skills help your spouse and help them make time for them. Even better, if some coping skills are enjoyable for you, you can join in (e.g., watching sunsets, taking long walks in the forest, etc.).
4. Consider counseling
Seek help if needed. Consider couples counseling or individual counseling. It can be hard living with a spouse who is struggling with anxiety 24/7. Helping a spouse with anxiety can take a toll. If you don’t have adequate self-care or support, this can cause mental health challenges for you as well. Invest in your mental health.
5. Spend some quality time together
Don’t forget special couples time! Your spouse might be hyper-focused on the negative in life, and they may forget to schedule a particular time with you. Your relationship needs maintenance, and that requires intimacy and special couples time.
Make sure you are regularly spending quality time with your spouse. If their anxiety dominates the special time, give them gentle feedback and encourage your spouse to use their resources, such as coping skills.
6. Don’t forget to take care of yourself
Take care of yourself. Make sure you also have coping strategies, friends/social support, that you exercise regularly, eat and sleep well. Although you can be a support for your spouse, you must take care of yourself first and foremost.
This is the only way that you can be a support for others. Do not forget to take care of yourself. You are also a model for your spouse to emulate.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. If your needs aren’t being met in the relationship, speak up. Do not avoid conversations due to your spouse’s struggles with anxiety. If they say they cannot handle speaking right now, schedule a time to talk later.
Communicating your needs to your spouse is vital and just as important for you as it is for them. They must also be in a healthy relationship, communicating and meeting needs through cooperation. It is a two-way street.
8. Figure out the trigger points
When looking for ways on how to help a spouse with anxiety, you need to observe a lot.
If they center around certain themes, take time to explore these issues with your spouse and see if you can’t make some adjustments in your life to reduce the level of stress.
An example of this would be that you constantly argue with your spouse about spending money. A solution to this would be creating a budget you both agree on and sticking to it.
This could help the spouse with anxiety know what to expect (a lot of anxiety is being worried because they don’t know what to expect or expect the worst). Clarify what is important for you and organize your money around this.
9. Have fun together
Go on adventures together. If novelty helps your spouse snap out of their anxiety loop, going on adventures can be loads of fun and great for building your relationship.
It doesn’t have to be a major adventure, and it could be something as simple as exploring a new hike you both have never been on or a town you’ve never had dinner in. Try to do something new together at least once per month. You can plan for it, put it on the calendar and spend the month looking forward to it.
10. Deepen your knowledge
Keep learning. Keep being curious about how you can best support your spouse and what their experience is like. Maintain an open mind and don’t take their anxiety personally. It is their struggle, and you are here to help. It is not a reflection of you. Receive feedback from your spouse and strive to meet their needs while completely and fully meeting your own. Don’t hesitate to seek help.
If you are married to someone with anxiety, it will be challenging. You need to keep patience and help them deal with it. It will help if you remember that they are struggling and not doing anything on purpose.
If you think the above tips are not working, we highly recommend you seek some professional help.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Danielle Aubin, LCSW is an experienced Perinatal Therapist and conscious parenting coach. She provides psychotherapy via telehealth to residents of California and coaching services worldwide. She lives in San Rafael, CA with her husband and two children.