My wife and I knew what we were getting into when we chose to spend the rest of our lives together. We dated for six years before tying the knot — well past the discovery phase of a relationship. During our time together, we went through what I refer to as the "relationship checklist." We revealed our values and met each other's families. We explored different cities on long weekend vacations and fantasized about our next adventures. We even managed to load a moving truck with our combined belongings with Tetris-like precision and move into our first home together. Yup, we were in it for the long haul. We unpacked our insecurities, our quirks, and our fears. We laid it all on the line, because when you choose to spend the rest of your life with someone, honesty is an implied rule.
I've struggled with mental health issues like chronic anxiety for most of my adult life. For anyone who's experienced it, it can be frustrating, terrifying, and debilitating. It can diminish your motivation and inhibit you from dealing with the world. Oftentimes, it comes out of nowhere. You're having a great day — flying high until anxiety cuts your strings and you fall flat on your face. The bottom line is anxiety impacts your life. But what about your spouse or partner? Does your anxiety also impact them? Of course it does. I'll be the first to admit I sometimes forget this when it comes to my wife. I tell myself she knew what she signed up for — and anxiety was part of the package. But you know what they say about assumptions, right? I decided instead to listen, and it turns out she had a lot to say about what she's learned from living with someone dealing with anxiety. Here are her top four pieces of advice:
1. Let Anxiety Be a Part of Your Marriage
Let me make this clear — by no means are we saying you should let anxiety curl up in between you and your spouse in bed for an evening cuddle, but you can't pretend it doesn't exist. The unforgiving reality is that when one spouse suffers from anxiety, it's going to be ever present in your marriage. Medication, natural remedies, self-care, and therapy can all be effective tools for managing anxiety, but there is no guarantee these methods will eradicate all symptoms. Acknowledging your partner's anxiety and communicating with them about it will help you both navigate through living with it.
2. Be Prepared and Be Adaptable
One of the most challenging aspects of having a spouse with anxiety, from my wife's perspective, is its unpredictability. Anxiety could care less about your plans. You spent a lot of money on tickets to a concert? Too bad. Having dinner with friends? Tough luck. Anxiety will come and go as it pleases, with complete disregard for your schedule. Implementing a strategy both you and your spouse agree on before you go out has been instrumental for both of us. Before we put this into practice, there were times when my wife felt obligated to leave or stay home if I felt too anxious to go out. I didn't force her to stay, nor did I tell her to go, and she didn't vocalize how she was feeling about having to stay home. Now we talk about it. We adapt and we adjust as needed.
Being validated, supported, and loved throughout an anxiety struggle is really all your spouse needs.
3. Offer Support, Not Counsel
Anxiety is the mind's invisible battle with itself. When one anxious thought steps forward, it's usually not long before you're confronted with an untamed armada of anxiety. The problem is no matter how your partner describes their anxiety, you can't see it yourself. If you haven't experienced this, the idea of not being able to control your own brain seems preposterous. For some people, being anxious is a natural occurrence, and they can calm themselves down. For chronic anxiety sufferers, sometimes it takes a hell of a lot more than soothing self-talk. Instead of trying to offer up advice on what your spouse should do, just be there. Listen and try to understand their triggers. For me, personally, my trigger can be a messy house. If I'm already feeling anxious, disorder in my home can multiply my anxiety tenfold. My wife has recognized this trigger and is cognizant of helping to ensure our house is clean and tidy. Being validated, supported, and loved throughout an anxiety struggle is really all your spouse needs.
4. You've Got the Love
Anxiety is the master of transfiguration. It manifests itself in different ways at different times and can provoke behaviors that may seem uncharacteristic of your spouse. Rage, depression, and isolation can all be results of anxiety's expert shapeshifting. Your spouse may withdraw from you. They may hurl angry or hurtful words at you. You may feel like you're living with a ticking time bomb you desperately want to dismantle so you can spare yourself. During the worst of these times, you may be inclined to take it all personally or feel unappreciated for your support. Don't. Remember: your spouse chose you to spend the rest of their life with, and anxiety does not change that. The fact your partner has chosen to let you in, to ask for your help and support in dealing with their anxiety, is a reflection of the love and trust you have for each other. Anxiety does not define your marriage if you don't let it.