A few weeks ago, as I went through the mail, my heart dropped to my feet. I received a letter from the IRS. It wasn’t anything critical but I still considered hiding the letter from my husband.
Showing him a letter from the IRS would cause a spiral of anxiety. I had work to do and I didn’t have time to help him through it. That probably sounds selfish, but in the twenty-two years we’ve been together, I’ve been through this process a million times.
I asked him today what dealing with anxiety was like before medication (he is now treated, and much better at processing stress). He told me:
“Anxiety is like those dreams where you walk down the street in your hometown and suddenly realize you’re naked and shoeless. It sneaks up on you. You’ll be fine and then see something in a random news report. Immediately, you’ll think of your own problems. Your stomach will leap into your throat. Your heart starts thumping and boom, you realize you’re having an anxiety attack.”
He went on to say, “There’s also a compulsive aspect to it where you feel like you must do something NOW, urgently, about the problem — a feeling that inaction will make the world end and the sky fall and the trees burst into flame.”
So how do you stay happily married to someone with anxiety?
1. I accept the anxiety.
Early on in our relationship, I’d get so angry at my husband for his constant “freakouts.” I kept thinking, “Snap out of it!”
But here’s the thing: people with anxiety are having a physical and chemical reaction to circumstances. They can no more snap out of their illness than you can snap out of cancer. Stop banging your head against that wall.
2. I realize that it’s not my responsibility to cure it.
When you love someone, you want to make them feel better. You want to fix it. Anxiety isn’t a problem with an easy fix and you’re not the therapist.
It’s not your job to fix it. You can offer comfort and support but there is nothing you will say or do to snap someone out of their anxiety. Once you let go of the urge to cure, you will find that you and your partner will both feel better.
3. I understand that it’s not my fault.
So much of my husband’s anxiety is tied to financial matters. If I forget to pay a parking ticket and it racks up fines, he gets very upset and begins to worry that our car will be towed or booted.
He’ll say we need to find a place to park the car that’s not on the street to protect it, even if it’s our only outstanding ticket and we can quickly pay it online. While admittedly not paying the ticket WAS my fault, his over-the-top anxiety response is NOT. Distinguishing that fact will save your sanity.
4. I accept my reactions and frustration.
Sometimes, you’ll want to throw your hands up and walk away because your partner’s anxiety is frustrating. It’s okay to feel this way. Sometimes I have to walk away after handing my husband the number of his psychiatrist.
5. I take care of myself, too.
Do you know that saying about putting on your own oxygen mask first? This is so important whenever you’re dealing with a partner, even if they don’t suffer from anxiety.
When I start to feel overwhelmed by stress and his anxiety, I make sure to call friends to hang out or go see a movie by myself that he wouldn’t see. This gives me a bit of relief so I can help support him without resenting him.
The good news about being married to someone with anxiety is that there is treatment available today that helps.
My husband on medication is worlds different than he was without it. But I still need to practice the tips above. We aren’t a perfect couple, but guess what? We are happily married, even on bad days.
Cecily Kellogg is a writer, social media and branded content specialist, and a recovering mommy blogger. You can read more of her work at CecilyK.com.