Living with an Anxious Spouse
By: Staci Lee Schnell, M.S.,C.S., LMFT
March 8, 2016
Living with an Anxious Spouse
All couples have their share of life challenges or issues throughout their relationship. However, when one spouse has been diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder, couples face a whole new set of issues. Normal everyday life challenges and issues seem to become exaggerated and can inevitably put a large strain on the relationship.
Living with an Anxiety Disorder is typically associated with a great deal of personal distress, but it can be just as hard on the partners of those diagnosed with Anxiety. Significant others of those suffering from the challenges of an Anxiety Disorder often take on more than the normal share of financial burden, household responsibilities, and emotional support.
In relationships where one partner suffers from Anxiety, finances can be a major source of the couples’ problems. An Anxiety Disorder may interfere with one’s ability to either become or stayed employed. It can even limit a person’s ability to participate in monthly bill paying or budgeting. When the entire household financial burden is placed on one person (especially if this is from necessity rather than choice) arguments and resentment tend to build and put undue stress on the marriage.
Routine household chores, running errands, getting children to school, and extracurricular activities can leave anyone feeling overwhelmed. These family activities can take up a considerable amount of time and energy and keeping the family calendar coordinated requires great attention to detail. When one partner is not able to participate in completing these routines, the entire responsibility falls on the other partner. This may contribute to bitter feelings within the marriage.
In addition to caring for their children and their household, the spouse without anxiety may also care for their partner and/or modify family activities to be sure the needs of their anxious spouse are met.
People with anxiety disorders often avoid social activities and situations. Unfortunately, their partner’s social life may ultimately suffer as well, leaving them both feeling isolated and alone. Both partners may feel depressed, scared, and/or angry.
Helping your Anxious Spouse
Here are some tips in order to help one’s partner who has been diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder.
- Learn about the specific Anxiety Disorder
- Encourage and support treatment (Individual and Couples/Family Therapy)
- Use positive reinforcement for healthy behaviors.
- Don’t criticize the irrational fears associated with Anxiety.
- Help to set specific and realistic goals.
- Talk about panic, fears, and worries.
- Be patient and calm.
- Balance whether to push.
- Learn relaxation and anti-stress techniques.
Understanding Different Anxiety Disorders
There are different types of Anxiety Disorders. Becoming educated on the type of Anxiety one’s spouse is experiencing is essential.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):
Is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. Expecting the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.
The extreme fear of being scrutinized and/or judged by others in social or performance situations. Although they recognize that the fear is excessive and unreasonable they are terrified they will humiliate or embarrass themselves.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
A condition that occurs in those who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist attack, death of a loved one, war, violent attack such as rape, or any other life-threatening event.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
Experiences unwanted and intrusive thoughts that they can’t seem to get out of their heads (obsessions), often compelling them to repeatedly perform ritualistic behaviors and routines (compulsions) to try and ease their anxiety.
A strong irrational fear. They will work hard to avoid certain places, situations, or things. Examples include animals, insects, germs, heights, thunder, driving, public transportation, flying, elevators, and dental or medical procedures.
It is essential for the spouses of those diagnosed with Anxiety to take care of themselves as well.
- Engage in outside interests and hobbies.
- Take breaks from the stresses of daily life.
- Don’t become consumed with your partner’s Anxiety.
- Maintain a support system.(Family, Friends, Support Groups)
- Set boundaries.
- Seek professional help for yourself, if necessary.
Attending couples counseling can significantly help the relationship deal with the emotional issues that often occur due to the Anxiety disorder in the household. Couples counseling can help develop the communication skills and tools needed for resolving conflict and developing problem-solving skills needed to alleviate the issues that contribute to the stress of both partners when dealing with Anxiety.