What It’s Like to Be Married to Someone With Anxiety
“Can you deal with me?” It’s been more than 14 years since my husband said those words to me when we first started dating. I now know he was talking about his anxiety. I fell in love with his warm, caring, funny, and joyful personality, but having anxiety can make him the complete opposite. Without any warning at all, he can go from happy and easygoing to irritable, cranky, and mean, complaining and nitpicking things I do or don’t do, and can be quick to get annoyed or angry. It can be absolutely unbearable, and to be completely transparent, there were times when I didn’t think our marriage would survive it.Psychologist Amy Vigliotti, PhD, founder of SelfWorks, told POPSUGAR that “anxiety is a physical and emotional state of being on edge,” and I’m learning what that means and how it affects his life, and, subsequently, the lives of my family and me. Just recently, he’s opened up more about how he feels, how debilitating having anxiety can be mentally and physically, what triggers his symptoms, and how I can help prevent them.
Anxiety affects people differently, but for my husband, here’s what I found helps. This is difficult to share and talk about, but I’m doing it in the hopes that it can ease someone else’s worries and struggles in loving someone with anxiety.
When our house is messy, cluttered, or dirty, it can really set his anxiety symptoms spinning. My husband says that when the house is neat and clean, it makes his mind feel more clear and relaxed.
Dr. Vigliotti explained that a home that feels out of order can make a person with anxiety feel uneasy and out of control, which can trigger symptoms. Sometimes the person may be anxious about something else, such as a work conflict, and coming home to an untidy space will make things a million times worse. When it comes to our house, this is what helps:
- Doing the dishes, keeping the kitchen counter clear, and cleaning up after cooking.
- We recently installed a mudroom area, so we each have our own lockers and a bench to store our shoes underneath. We teach the kids to put away their backpacks, coats, and shoes after school since it’s the first area my husband sees when he walks through the front door.
- Try to keep clutter and mess to a minimum, and have all his things organized so he knows exactly where they are when he’s looking for them, including his biking gear and laundry.
Anxiety doesn’t always manifest in the way I thought it would. He rarely has an all-out panic attack, and sometimes he’s just having negative emotions, like acting frustrated, annoyed, sad, or distant. I try to offer emotional support whenever I can:
- I make an effort to notice when he’s not acting like his usual happy, carefree, funny self, and try to make him feel better.
- I try to check in throughout the day. Messaging him, “I’m thinking about you” or “How was that meeting you were worried about?” can make a world of difference.
- We have a monthly date night. Life with work and two kids is crazy and it’s sad to say that we rarely get to spend alone time together. Making a date at least once a month to reconnect definitely helps.
- Whether he’s feeling slightly off or full-blown panicked, he said that just my coming over and giving him a hug can calm his nerves. Showing him that I care and trying to understand how he’s feeling makes him not feel so alone.
Crowds like fairs or school functions and even small social settings like parties can trigger symptoms of anxiety. Sometimes I go alone, which means it’s just me and the kids. Sometimes we go together but only stay for a short time. Here’s what I do in social situations to ease his anxiety:
- I ask my husband before committing to doing something social to make sure he’s OK with it.
- Check in periodically to see how he’s doing. If he looks frazzled, we decide if he’ll leave alone or if I’ll go with him.
Since order and schedules are his BFFs, nothing throws a wrench in the system like traveling, because plans can quickly change. Here’s how we go away and still stay calm and worry-free:
- We plan ahead as much as possible. That means plane tickets, directions, packing (which I handle for me and the kids), and reservations. We check the weather, flight status, and try to get details about everything before leaving.
- If we’re taking the car, he prefers to drive because he says he feels more in control. Plus he can listen to his favorite music, and as a bluegrass musician, that always puts him in a happy mood.
- We usually take my car since it’s the biggest, and I make sure the front seat is clear of garbage and any extra stuff. When it’s clutter-free and clean, he says he feels calmer.
- I bring the snacks! Snacks always make things better, especially if we can’t get to food.
Sometimes my husband gets anxious about something that’s happened, such as an issue at work, worrying about a sick relative, or the loss of someone close. But sometimes, as Dr. Vigliotti explained, it can be cognitive, where someone imagines dangers based on their experiences.
“Anxiety is generally an experience of ‘time traveling’ into the future and making negative predictions,” she said. This is the perfect explanation. My husband often thinks about the future and imagines issues I never would think of.
For example, yesterday, he started talking to me about how next year we’ll have to take our son to hockey practice four times a week. My first response was, “Chill out! Let’s deal with that next year,” but I remember that my trying to shut down his worries can often escalate them. Here’s how I handle these situations:
- When he brings up fears or worries that I think are irrational or impossible, I try to listen. I speak calmly and try to calm those thoughts.
Fuel His Happy
When my husband is happy and takes care of himself, things are all-around better. Here’s how I make sure that happens:
- I watch the kids so he can get to the gym in the morning, play ice hockey at night, or go for weekend mountain bike rides or skiing. He always comes back in a good mood.
- I make him salads for the week on Sundays. His job is hectic and busy, and if he doesn’t bring lunch from home, he’ll end up eating a few bites here and there of whatever he can find in the office. Now he’s fueled, and it prevents hanger when he comes home from work.
- If he doesn’t get a good night’s sleep, the next day is terrible. So I got him a Gravity Blanket (it’s supposed to help with anxiety) and an over-the-head pillow, and those helps him feel calm and comforted.
Through writing about health and fitness, I’ve been able to get samples of CBD products. Since they’re supposed to help with anxiety, I thought I’d let my husband try a few, and they have been life-changing. Through trial and error, he’s found that taking 35 mg of CBD oil first thing in the morning before his cup of coffee prevents symptoms he’d otherwise feel if he didn’t take it. It doesn’t make him feel much, except what he says is “the absence of anxiety and general irritability.” Here’s how we use CBD as a preventative measure:
- I make sure he’s stocked up on CBD oil and remind him to take it every morning.
Of course, I wouldn’t be able to help care for my husband’s needs if I didn’t address mine first, which he helps make possible. This is how I practice self-care:
- I exercise! This is a must for mental sanity, emotional release, and emotional strength. I go to CrossFit about three times a week, walk or run twice a week, and teach a yoga class on Sundays. Since I often go before the family wakes, my husband is on kid duty so I can go. I always come back feeling energized, happy, and more patient.
- As an introvert, I need time to myself every single day. Those early-morning workouts usually are enough, but if they’re not, my husband understands when I want to read, journal, play music, or go to the grocery store alone.
- I get enough sleep. Since my alarm goes off at 5 a.m., I aim to be in bed with lights out by 9 p.m. the night before. My husband is great about being quiet when he comes to bed, which is usually later then me.
- I connect with friends. Sometimes I just need to vent about life, and I have a few close friends who either have anxiety or who have experience with it, so I feel comfortable sharing with them.
- I do something that makes me happy once a day. Stress of life and work can be overwhelming even without a husband who has anxiety. Spending time with my kids, taking the dogs for a walk in the woods, cooking a healthy meal (the kitchen is my happy place!), playing guitar and singing, and working out are all ways to fuel my happiness.