As the world contends with COVID-19, daily life has become unpredictable. Anxiety has flooded every facet of our environment. According to experts, stress overload can result from couples having reduced physical and social contact with others and not being able to participate in day-to-day activities without fear of illness.
As we adjust to this “new normal,” many couples have had to adapt to working from home, sharing space, boredom, homeschooling their children, and trying to make ends meet with reduced income and resources such as childcare and adequate food.
Loving Someone with Anxiety During the Coronavirus Pandemic
However, one aspect of life that has not yet been fully examined is how the Coronavirus is putting pressure on relationships when one partner suffers from an anxiety disorder. Whether a couple has enjoyed a stable and happy life, or their relationship was on shaky ground prior to the pandemic, countless triggers have emerged that will surely test many couples’ tenacity to live together harmoniously. If your partner has an anxiety disorder, these issues are amplified.
Approximately 1 in 5 Americans suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. Statistically, women are more likely to suffer from anxiety than men. The internet is full of advice and articles for how to cope with anxiety, but not as much is written about how to aid the partners of anxious people.
Being in a relationship with someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder can be exhausting. If you’re the partner of an anxious person, you know that reassuring your significant other with words such as “everything will be okay” is fruitless. You may find yourself frustrated and challenged by your partner’s inability to resolve his or her anxiety. As a result, you may find your relationship becomes stressed and your own life becomes restricted by your partner’s struggles.
If you’re reading this article because you want to help your partner, and you want your relationship to improve, you are already on the road to success. An interest and willingness to support your partner and find tools for recovery are essential to sustaining your relationship. If your partner’s anxiety has begun to affect his everyday life, a combination of therapy and medication may help.
Keep in mind that even if your spouse has not sought treatment, these strategies will still help you.
- Practice empathy. Empathy is a powerful antidote to most shameful emotions. Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety yourself, you’ve undoubtedly experienced other uncomfortable and difficult feelings. Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and share in their struggles. Let him or her know you understand and can imagine the distress they feel.
- Develop better communication skills. Improve your listening skills and try not to make assumptions about why your partner feels a certain way. If they are experiencing a flood of anxiety, ask them questions about why he or she feels the way they do. Do your best not to make judgments.
- Be direct and set boundaries. Make specific requests. For instance, your anxious spouse may talk incessantly or text you frequently (even in your home) to get reassurance. When this behavior becomes disruptive you can ask him or her to stop texting you so often or to write down their thoughts and have a 20-minute stress-reducing conversation once or twice a day. Although it may be hard to set these boundaries at first, you will actually find it makes it easier for him or her to manage their anxiety and learn how to self soothe.
- Don’t enable the anxiety. When your significant other is anxious, your instinct is probably to do whatever you can to reassure him or her. For instance, Samantha’s husband Mike suffers from obsessive compulsive tendencies. He checks to make sure the stove is off at least five times before leaving the house. After leaving the house, he will frequently ask to turn around to check the stove again. Samantha learned a new strategy, telling her husband: “Mike, I watched you check the stove and I am certain it is turned off. We will not be turning around and disrupting our afternoon. I love you and we will get through this.”
Although all of these strategies are important, deciding not to enable the anxiety might be the most crucial. Practicing empathy and improving your listening skills alone will not go far enough to help. But choosing to set boundaries and re-directing your partner away from anxiety helps immeasurably.
In Samantha’s example, if she agreed to turn around and allow Mike to check the stove again, she would end up perpetuating his anxiety. She may think she is helping him, because once he sees the stove is off, he will feel better. But the goal is to get Mike to not check the stove at all. Only by confronting his compulsions and not giving into them will they improve.
Further, if you find that being in a relationship with someone who has an anxiety disorder is taking a toll on your own mental health, especially during the Coronavirus Pandemic, be sure to seek support. You do not need to be alone in your struggle. Most licensed therapists are practicing Teletherapy (video or phone) and insurance companies will cover it (and sometimes even pay your co-pay due to COVID-19).
Do you have experience being in a relationship with someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder? What coping skills have helped you the most? I would love to hear from you and the stressors you’re coping with during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Remember, we’re in this together, and you are not alone!