How to Support an Anxious Partner
Living with anxiety can be tough and may take a big toll on someone’s day-to-day life. However, loving someone who struggles with anxiety can be arguably just as tough and stressful. You may feel powerless, like there is nothing you can do to help your partner through their anxiety. You may also feel overwhelmed by how your partner’s anxiety affects your own daily life. If you find yourself feeling these ways in regards to your partner’s anxiety, you are not alone. In fact, multiple studies show that anxiety disorders may contribute to marital dissatisfaction. It is easy for partners to become intertwined in their loved one’s anxiety, causing intense stress, doubt, and confusion. Therefore, we want to discuss how to support an anxious partner without losing sight of your own needs.
Educate Yourself and Don’t Minimize Feelings
Educating yourself on how anxiety may affect your partner and your relationship can help you gain a deeper understanding of your situation and allow you to connect in a new way. Even when the perspective of your partner makes no logical sense to you, it is important to validate their feelings and not minimize them. Try your best to understand your partner’s fears and where they are stemming from, then, at least acknowledge that those fears and worries are real to your partner, even if they seem irrational to you. Many people feel the need to immediately fix the issue for their partner, but it’s not that simple. You must start with empathy and understanding so your partner feels safe and not judged.
If you then decide to bring up logic or your point of view, make sure your partner knows that you are only trying to make them feel better because you love them. Do not try to explain to your partner why they shouldn’t be afraid of something in the heat of the moment, as that will probably make them feel worse. You may instead ask them why this particular thing upsets them so much. Then, they are more likely to come to their own conclusion that their fear is silly or irrational. It is unfair to pressure your partner to live up to your idea of how they should be or feel. You don’t want them to feel like they have to be better for you to love them. You must make sure that they know you love them, no matter how they feel, and that you aren’t going anywhere.
Work on Honest, Open Communication
Fostering open and honest communication within your relationship is critical. Simply asking your partner what they need from you to help them manage and cope with their anxiety can go a long way. Everyone handles anxiety differently and some may appreciate physical touch, such as a hug, while others may prefer some space when they are anxious. Asking your partner what they prefer assures that you can support them in the best way possible.
Furthermore, talking openly and honestly about how anxiety is affecting your relationship can help relieve stress and resentment. Don’t criticize your partner or try to find a solution for their anxiety, but don’t treat them like a fragile child either. If there is something going on, or something you need to get off your chest, you need to communicate that with your partner. If you try to hide things or bury your feelings, your partner’s mind will likely kick into high gear and assume something infinitely worse is going on. The same goes for small things, like if you are running late for dinner. Send your partner a text or call them to let them know you will be late, then they won’t spiral into panic thinking something terrible happened to you. Bottom line, strong communication between you and your anxious partner is key!
Engage in Helpful Activities Together
When it comes to managing anxiety, mindfulness and grounding exercises can be very helpful. For example, you could practice holding hands and doing breathing exercises together, hugging, or listening to calming music. Overall, you are trying to find activities that help your partner feel grounded to the present moment, or distracts them from worrying. Engaging in helpful activities with your partner shows them that they are not alone.
On the other hand, it is also important to avoid accommodating your partner’s anxiety. By practicing grounding and mindfulness activities together, you are helping equip your partner with the skills to better handle their anxious episodes. However, if you also accommodate your partner’s anxiety by, for example, always doing all the errands so they don’t have to drive, you are actually exacerbating their anxiety. Providing constant accommodations gives your partner zero incentive to overcome their anxiety and sends the message that there truly is something to fear, fueling their anxiety even more so. Instead, help your partner step out of their comfort zones and be willing to engage in the helpful activities you have established together when they need it.
Set Boundaries and Take Care of Yourself
You may often feel like your anxious partner’s needs come first, but it is extremely important that you also take care of your own needs and wants. You have the right to a life, too, and sometimes this means lovingly telling your partner that you are going to do what you want or need to do. Also, remember, you have the right to do things independently.
Along these lines, it is important to set boundaries with your partner. If your partner continues to ask for accommodations, such as regularly staying home with them, you may on occasion say, “I could really use some time with my friends, so I would like to go to dinner with them tonight”. When setting boundaries, whatever they may be, try to focus on using “I” statements so your partner does not feel attacked. Another example may be, “I would really benefit at work if you could try using some of the calming techniques you have learned before calling me”. It is also never acceptable for your partner to be cruel or hurtful, even during times of extreme stress or anxiety. Additionally, you may want to establish the boundary that you expect your partner to take steps to improve how they cope with their anxiety.
To avoid feeling drained or becoming resentful of your partner, you must take some time to focus on your own self-care. What are you doing to satisfy your own emotional, psychological, physical, social, and spiritual needs? Taking care of yourself first can help you be a more compassionate and supportive partner.
Therapy For You and/or Your Partner
Encourage, but don’t push, your partner to seek therapy treatment. You may suggest some therapist’s names, but don’t ever call a therapist and set up their appointment for them. You want your partner to have some level of autonomy when choosing their treatment, then they will be more invested in the process. Know that therapy has been proven as a strong treatment option for anxiety and help your partner see the benefits therapy could provide them. Furthermore, you may benefit from going to therapy yourself. Therapy can equip you with the skills necessary to better understand and cope with your partner’s anxiety. Also, by going to therapy, you can ensure that you are still focusing on your own mental health.
Chriselda Santos, licensed psychotherapist and certified life coach, understands the strain mental illnesses can have on close relationships. She is here to help you, and your partner, cope, reframe your ways of thinking, and get you both feeling hopeful again. To learn more about Chriselda’s approach to therapy, her areas of expertise, or to book an appointment, visit her website.