Do you have a partner who suffers from anxiety?
You certainly have an anxious partner or spouse if he or she appears bafflingly nervous, often for no apparent reason. You'll have a better idea of what the condition entails if have read the first two parts of this series of articles. (Just in case you landed here first, click here for Part 1.)
On this page then some clear guidelines as to what precisely helps and what hinders.
10 Ways you can help your partner deal with their anxiety disorder
- Believe that the two of you, as a couple, can beat the condition. Even if it was to remain in the background, you need not be limited by it.
- Accept that it might not go as fast as either of you would want it to. Be mindful of the fact that the healing process needs to be steered by your partner as they're the one 'going through it'. I do understand that at times feel you may so frustrated that you could bite your own hand off. That is your problem though, and as stressed as you are do keep in mind what your partner is going.
- See the anxiety as a separate entity. You might even want to give the anxiety a name - let's say 'Fred'. That way you'll be able to talk about 'Fred' as being the problem and not your partner. The two of you can now team up to acknowledge and understand the 'Fred' first, and then slowly let 'it' go.
- Seek a middle way - don't let your partner avoid a situation but don't force them either. Negotiate that step outside of their comfort zone.
- Encourage your partner gently to step outside of their comfort zone every single day - several times in just small steps. Don't force the issue, but make sure you acknowledge every effort!
- Don't become an 'enabler' by adjusting everything you do to accomodate the anxiety ('Fred'). The more you make allowances the more you give 'Fred' permission to take control.
- Ensure that the two of you continue to invest in your relationship, by doing things where the anxiety isn't an issue. It will help to increase the 'credit' in your relationship's 'emotional bank account'. It's easier then to pay the 'bills', such as arguments and disappointments.
- Find someone you can trust, who you can talk to about how you feel. Really importantly - it has to be someone who won't judge either you or your partner. I have a page on that too - see links below.
- Ensure that you have a fair chance of doing things you enjoy by yourself. By this I mean engage (or re-engage) in hobbies or activities. For me this means going rowing with a club near my home or taking my dog out for a long walk. Encourage your partner to do the same, without any feelings of guilt.
- Be mindful that a state of anxiety is a trance state. When your partner is very anxious they will have a narrow focus of attention. It is the same as with any other emotional state; such as lust, sadness, depression or anger. It's as if someone (your partner) is hypnotised. See my page on what hypnosis is (link below).
These kind of emotional states can be unbroken. Here is how...
Suggestions for breaking a trance state
You can help to wake your partner up, as it were, from an anxious trance state.
By anything unexpected, just so that they have to think: "What the heck...?" NOT a bucket of water or anything else abusive of course!
Here are some ideas...
- An invitation for anything they can cope with - at a completely unexpected moment (Think of activities they've enjoyed in the past or a small trip to a place they've often talked about, as examples).
- Humour! Make fun of yourself, tell a joke!
- Discuss a completely unrelated story, about your work, someone at work, the neighbour, your childhood, your friend... You get my drift. Use your judgement - it might make them angry, which may or may not break the original trance state.
- Tell them you've lost something ordinary - your socks for all I care!
- Put a note under their nose with: "Did you know I love you?" or something completely random.
I am sure you understand what I mean by now. So, be sure to have your list with distractions at the ready, you're going to need it - often. Mosts importantly, know that eventually you will find the best way of helping your partner to gently get out of their comfort zone and build their confidence.
There's another aspect to the dynamics between the two of you that I want to cover though...
However much you my like to - you cannot change your partner!
What about your own fears?
I suspect you may find the jump from the focus on your partner's fear to your fears difficult.
Is there any chance you could you be hiding behind your partner? Could it be that your partner's problem, at least at times, is 'convenient' to you?
You might wonder...
Why would I want to know about this?
What does it matter how I feel and what my fears are?
Surely they have nothing to do with my partner's issues?
Be really honest with yourself now - there's nobody looking over your shoulder - and ask yourself the following questions...
- Do you at times use your partner's anxiety as an excuse to get out of things you don't want to do, or attend?
- Do you secretly rely on your partner's problems to hide from your own? As long as you can focus on them, you don't have to think about your own problems?
- Do you 'need' your partner to rely on you for support and 'protection', because you suffer from low self-esteem and insecurity?
- Is your self-esteem, for example, largely based on your role as the strong one in the relationship?
- Do you lack confidence?
- Do you secretly worry that if your partner was to regain their strength and confidence, they would not want you anymore and be off to another?
- How would you truly feel if, by some miracle, your partner was cured of that condition overnight?
I am almost sure that you can answer 'yes' to at least some of the questions. Even if the two of you didn't start off like that, you are very likely to have grown into your roles.
I don't want you to be at all ashamed of that. There's just every chance that the two of you are making a 'fit'.
However, even if you feel you were made for each other, trading confidence like that just isn't helpful to either one of you.
The time to start changing it all is right now!
It's okay to be vulnerable!
"Oh no! You're calling me vulnerable now?!" you might think. Just watch this video...
Could there be any chance you're preventing your partner becoming more confident?
Perhaps unconsciously, you could be contributing to the maintenance of your partner's anxiety. I mention this totally without judgement and only because as a couple counsellor I have an understanding of the dynamics of a relationship:
- Do you, deep down, often feel ashamed of your partner's behaviour, particularly if it is publicly obvious?
- Do you talk down to your partner, because they are so over-anxious?
- Do you feel irritated, not just some of the time, but most of the time - to such an extent that you can barely hide the fact you're gnashing your teeth?
However understandable - this situation is neither helpful for your partner nor for you. When you get to this stage you're likely to be stuck in a vicious circle.
I really urge you now to talk to a professional counsellor or therapist to get some support and advice on what your options are.
Nothing changes if you don't change - it's as simple as that. Ultimately you have no control over anyone, not even each other either. If only!
Imagine yourselves three years from now if you both carry on as you are now.
Will you make it together or might you have broken up?
Will you both still be dictated by the anxiety?
Will you essentially be leading separate lives even if you're still together?
Every couple has to deal with one or many more 'issues'. It's not so much what happens to you - what really makes the difference is how you approach what happens.
It's okay to struggle, it's okay to get fed-up and tired of it all. In the end though if you pull together as a couple and really commit to tackling the problems together, you can be so much more effective as opposed to when you were doing it on your own. So it is with overcoming anxiety disorders too.
DOWNLOAD the pdf of this article
Stress and Your Relationship
Common Relationship Problems
Tips to Relieve Stress
How to Help Your Partner Overcome OCD
Who to Turn to for Help and Advice
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