Helping Your Spouse Cope with Anxiety
It can be overwhelming having a spouse, partner, or close friend who struggles with anxiety and may even leave you feeling powerless to help. So what can you do when your significant other opens up to you about their anxiety, how can you help?
- Be willing to talk about it and when I say talk, I mean listen. Oftentimes when someone confides in you about their anxiety they are looking for someone to listen to what is happening for them.
- Avoid offering solutions. This goes back to number one, just listen. Chances are your partner is not looking for advice or suggestions to solve a problem but want just a listening ear.
- Just be there. Sometimes when someone is feeling anxious they simply want to know that they are not alone. Even though it may seem weird, give them their space to worry and just be there for them.
- Ask how you can help show them that you are there for them. Notice this isn’t offering a solution, it is showing your partner that you are there with them. Try offering a hug, a cup of tea, to hold your partners hand or verbally remind them that you are there for them. If your partner can’t come up with anything that may help them to see you are there for them, take a deep breath..this may be frustrating but remember that your spouses nervous system is in a frenzy and anxiety tends to kill rationality and offer to just be there with them.
- Avoid the phrases: “Calm down” and “it’s okay”. These may seem like helpful suggestions and your intention is most likely genuine and caring but when someone is feeling anxious it could feel more like a judgement and can give them the message – I shouldn’t be anxious, or he doesn’t get it, or I am alone in this. As John Gottman, one of the leading researchers on relationships says:
“Your goal isn’t to change your partner’s emotions, but to communicate that you understand and accept them. “
- One of the biggest ways you can show your partner support is by simply being there and showing empathy (for a helpful clarification on empathy vs sympathy view this amazing and short video by the amazing Brene Brown)
Anxiety is draining, both for the person experiencing it and those supporting others through it. If your relationship is being impacted by anxiety and you are seeking therapy to help yourself or your spouse cope with anxiety, counseling can help. Our therapists are experienced using both individual and couples therapy for anxiety and are aware that anxiety does not only affect the individual experiencing it. We are happy to work with couples and families who want help supporting loved ones with anxiety.
Written by Katie Claus, MA, LAMFT
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