Anxiety is becoming more prevalent, and so is living with someone who is anxious. No one feels the desire to help – and the strain on the relationship – more acutely than the spouse of the anxious one. Today I’m focused on YOU – the partner of someone struggling with anxiety.
We’re having a hard time. Is this normal?
Yes! So normal. Anxiety puts a lot of strain on a relationship. A great article by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) highlights common struggles in such couples. The anxious person will:
- Be less likely to perceive the relationship as healthy and supportive
- Often have arguments
- Avoid participation in social activities
- Be 3 times more likely to avoid being intimate with their partner
So what do I do?
It is important to extend compassion to your spouse AND to yourself.
You may find it difficult to allow yourself to have self-compassion, but I encourage you to do so. The reality is, these challenges are affecting you too. You are not a superhero! Admitting that this is a hard season will help lower the bar of personal expectations and give you permission to know your own limitations.
When one member of a couple is struggling, the other member often wants to do everything they can to support their partner, but that can lead to burnout and isolation. “Partners of those suffering with anxiety problems often take on more than the normal share of domestic, economic, parenting, and other responsibilities,” says the ADAA. I’m sure you can relate.
Take a moment to make a list of the additional responsibilities you take on when your partner is struggling. What do you notice about your own energy level and mental health as you support your spouse?
Taking Care of Yourself
It is really important to care for yourself during this season. You are not being selfish when you take time to care for your own well-being. Taking good care of yourself will enable you to be a better caregiver to your loved one. I highly recommend these self-care suggestions from the ADAA:
- Don’t give up your own life and interests. Engage in your outside interests and hobbies for a break from the stresses of your daily life. You’ll be energized, happier, healthier, and better prepared to face challenges. Don’t become consumed with your partner’s disorder.
- Maintain a support system. Having friends and family to confide in – as well as assist you emotionally, financially, and in other ways when your spouse or partner cannot – is vital.
- Set boundaries. Decide where your limits lie and inform your partner. These might be emotional, financial, or physical. For instance, if your partner is not working and is not seeking treatment, participating in support groups, or doing anything to try to become well, you may need to discuss your expectations and how to improve the situation. Couples therapy can often help.
- Seek professional help for yourself, if necessary. The recovery process can be stressful for partners of anxiety sufferers. Your well-being is just as important as your partner’s. If you need someone to talk to, or if you think you may be suffering from symptoms of anxiety or depression, contact your doctor or consider visiting a mental health professional.”
Consider how you can implement these ideas.
What is life-giving to you?
What are your interests?
Who is your support system?
Even you have your limitations. What boundaries do you need to set?
How do you feel about professional care for yourself? Would you consider it?
You may be thinking, How can I care for my spouse, do all the extra chores, AND take time to care for myself? There are not enough hours in the day!
Having experienced anxiety and being a caregiver for my mom, I can understand how complicated things can be for both of you. That being said, I am a huge advocate of self-care and self-compassion for the person trying to help. You’ve got to put your own oxygen mask on before anyone else’s.
To make time for yourself, you’ll need to allow yourself to disappoint others. It’s inevitable, and that’s okay. Remember, you are not super-human. If you don’t care for yourself, you’re going to be in bad place too, and that will only make things harder. Be intentional to make time for yourself, even if it means saying no to something or someone important to you.
I hope this advice encourages you and helps you realize you are giving a lot, you are not alone, and this will not last forever!
~ Donna Durham, MMFT