To the husband whose wife is struggling with anxiety:
If you know your wife is struggling with anxiety–consider your marriage in good shape. Chances are, she’s been struggling for some time before she let you in on her secret. It took me about four years to finally allow my husband a glimpse at my anxiety. This is not a source of pride for your wife. It probably won’t be something she posts on Facebook or texts her best friend about, so if she is brave enough to let you in on her anxiety, it means she feels safe enough to be vulnerable. Please be thankful that she can open up to you; when people allow themselves to be exposed in their relationships, greater intimacy can be achieved. However confusing your wife’s anxiety may be, I hope you can find some sort of peace in knowing about it.
Psychology Today describes anxiety as “…a normal reaction to stressful situations. But in some cases, it becomes excessive and can cause sufferers to dread everyday situations.” It’s important to remember that a person doesn’t create his/her own anxiety. If your wife is struggling with anxiety, chances are she’s experiencing something much more severe than the nerves you may have felt before a big test, a performance, a presentation, or an athletic event.
It won’t be easy for you to watch your wife battle anxiety. You will likely be ill-equipped to help her, and you will not be able to “fix” her–mainly because there is nothing to fix. She is not broken. There are, however, things you can do as her partner to help her work through anxiety.
Anxiety manifests itself differently for each person. Generally, people who experience anxiety appear to be totally fine, but on the inside they are drowning or feel their world is spinning out of control. Each person has a different trigger for his/her anxiety. Pay attention to your wife; work with her to understand her triggers, and then do what you can to help her avoid these triggers or help soften them. If your wife’s anxiety starts up whenever she has an overwhelming schedule, then help her during these crazy moments in life: Make a grocery list for her, offer to cook dinner, pick up the kids from daycare, reschedule the kids’ dentist appointment for a week that has more free time, find a babysitter so you and your wife can have a night away. Some anxiety is triggered by a lack of sleep. If this happens for your wife, help her develop better sleep habits. The key here is to know your wife and then to help her–not take over for her.
There will be times when you will simply not understand your wife’s anxiety. She might not understand it, either. It will be frustrating, but please refrain from yelling at her, belittling her, leaving, or asking her to snap out of it. Instead–offer her a safe place and stay with her. Show her you care and be present for her. Anxiety can be humiliating and confusing for the person experiencing it. She doesn’t want to feel this way, and making her feel bad for something beyond her control will only deepen her anxiety and increase tension in your marriage.
Your support will definitely help her, but it will never be a substitute for the support of a medical professional. If necessary, empathetically encourage your wife to see a therapist. She may need time to come around to this idea, so be patient. Give her the kind of time to accept help that you’d need to accept the same kind of help. Some insurance plans cover visits to therapists; understand your/her insurance policy to help her find an in-network doctor. If insurance won’t cover this kind of service, then check with your or her employer to see if there is any kind of Employee Assistance Program (usually these types of programs provide free or discounted therapy services for employees and their families). Perhaps another community you are affiliated with provides counseling services (church, graduate school, etc.). Show your support by doing the research with her and giving her the time, space, and resources she needs to accept help.
This is not something you signed up for when you married your wife. Likewise, anxiety is not something she signed up for. Anxiety is not a choice for anyone. The choice you do have, though, is how to deal. You and your wife could allow anxiety to define or destroy your relationship, or you could write a new story for your marriage–one where anxiety is not the main character; one where the bond of two people becomes something worth fighting for even among the tumult of anxiety.
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