In sickness and in crippling fear of you judging me
July 6, 2011 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Be Excellent To Each Other: Anxious Spouse Edition

I'll try to keep this as non-snowflakey as possible, but a brief background: The S.O. and I are very compatible, good together, and still very much in love, but we started young. Social anxiety is something both of us have struggled with over the years in various forms; but I guesss you could say it's been more of a de facto limiting factor for him than for me. Fast forward ten years: Lately I've been super career focused, while he's been a bit more aimless - in fact, he's currently jobless due to a move for my career that we both still agree was a good idea.

All this change and lack of direction has brought my SO's anxiety out in a big way. He's feeling increasingly anxious at exactly the time that I've got pressure on me to be the sole provider, trying to be at the top of my game professionally while I'm also interviewing for new jobs, doing night school, managing business travel, and attempting to find and establish new social options and friendships for the both of us in our new location. It's been rough.

My partner's been more open than ever in the past several months about his anxiety, how it's a problem for him, and how concerns over what other people (including me) think of him affects his daily life. I'm trying my best to be supportive, but am also really pressing him to seek out a professional who can help him out with this. That effort is in progress (though it's been stop and start due to fear on his part that it will all be a waste of money if it doesn't help him). In the mean time, I think he's actually working on the problem more than ever (he certainly seems to be trying more things than he used to), but he says the psychological impact of his anxiousness is much more acute... that is, he feels anxious all the time, and it bothers him more than it used to.

Not having a 9 to 5 job may be a contributor just because he has more unstructured free time to think/decide what he should do with himself, and because the idea of applying and being rejected for a position is "about the worst thing [he] can think of." (His wording, though upon prompting, I gather that's within the realm of things likely to happen in his life that he can control.) For what it's worth though, he has sent out a half dozen resumes in the past 2 months, and not being the primary breadwinner isn't a problem for him.

We've always valued being honest and forthright with each other, and all things considered, I think we're still doing really well at it. But the more open he is about his anxiety, the less competent I feel to help him. My busy schedule and stress level isn't helping things, either. I want to do better, but it's hard to have someone be dependent on you to drive everything (even when I'm aware that as mental health issues impacting our relationship go, we could be much, much worse). Most importantly, I want to be supportive of his desire to change things, while keeping in mind that right now he's still in near total paralysis beyond the realization that hey, this isn't how he wants to live his life.

So I guess I'm looking for your advice and experiences that might help us as we think about how to get through this and be good to each other. Anxiety-sufferers, what did you ask, or wish you had asked from your significant other in a similar situation? Supportive partners/spouses, what strategies did/do you use to be there for your SO - and how do you make sure to take care of yourself, too?

Anonymous because even a slim chance of being identifiable over the internet is an anxiety-triggering concept for my partner.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You can't be a spouse and a therapist to the same person. I know because I tried for 8 years. Keep pressing for professional help and believe in it yourself that it will help - even if your partner needs to change until they find the right person to help.
posted by gomichild at 12:51 PM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

You sound like you guys are really good at trying to be good to each other - don't forget that also means you have to look out for yourself, as well as your partner.

You should be very clear about your needs, and your needs right now include not having to spend a lot of your time on his anxiety. Explain that his seeing a professional is something You need almost as much as he does. That you're ok with it not helping right away, or with his needing to find another therapist if the first one isn't a good fit... but that he needs to focus on his anxiety with a professional right now for Both your sakes.
posted by ldthomps at 12:55 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]'s been stop and start due to fear on his part that it will all be a waste of money if it doesn't help him.

That's the anxiety talking, trying desperately to preserve itself.

When fear is keeping you from failing (by keeping you from trying), the scariest thing you can try to do is to get over the fear.
posted by BrashTech at 12:58 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree that explaining that his going to therapy is something he's doing FOR you not TO you is a good idea. I think it would also be beneficial for him to get some sort of part-time job. Having a lot of unstructured time is POISON for people with anxiety/depression. I can't speculate what would be a good fit for him, since if he's got social anxiety traditional retail type work might be too stressful, but finding anything to do to be productive even if its only a couple days a week can be a big help. It will also give him events to build the rest of his week around.
posted by dadici at 1:10 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

my spouses's anxiety seems to have been caused by gluten. It went away after he started a GF diet. too weird not to mention. In reading up on food intolerance, I found the Failsafe diet people sometimes report the same thing. The Failsafe diet minimizes food chemicals such as amines and/or salicylates
posted by egk at 2:28 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have tendencies similar to your husband's, am married and have faced some similar issues.

This is a sticky set of problems. It's totally reasonable that you are worried and frustrated by your husband's stuckness but it's hard to say anything about it without confirming his fears that you are unhappy with him, thus playing right into the hands of the anxiety. "Supportive" statements from you will be viewed with suspicion. He will be well aware that you may sometimes be trying to squelch your true feelings, which can only undermine his trust in what you say while doing nothing to actually help him feel better.

It's really important not to confuse his problems (that anxiety is holding him back, making his life smaller, making him feel bad) with your problems (that you fee worried, frustrated, overwhelmed, etc.). Try to own your own feelings, tell him honestly about those feelings, and make your own decisions about what's right for you in the light of those feelings. When he wants to talk, listen carefully and thoughtfully, and reflect back what you've heard, understood and empathized with. Do this without adding a lot of reactive commentary. Don't let the line between his feelings and yours get muddied.

As noted above, you cannot be his wife and his therapist at the same time, and you're not qualified to be his therapist. Some therapy is very likely to be useful to him somewhere along the line, but you can't make him go. Try to reinforce his positive choices, but don't feed the anxiety by attacking it directly.
posted by jon1270 at 4:40 PM on July 6, 2011

Go with him to his first few sessions. Not inside, and not all the sessions - but accompany him at first. Don't make him do it alone.

No one ever did that for me growing up, but 20 years later, my husband did. It felt like magic!

When I left the office, he greeted me with a big smile. It felt so good to have someone take care of me in that manner, like nothing I had ever known before.

He always was thrilled to do it, to do something selfless and nice. He never wanted to be anywhere else, he never complained about having to do it. Sometimes we talked about what happened in session, sometimes win didn't.


Hold his hand. Likely he is having a harder time than you adjusting to the move. Be there through the beginning of the process. Make the time and do it cheerfully.


BTW, when you first move somewhere, it is OK to do nothing. Not push to make new friends, not make a big splash. I know for professional reasons you need to do a certain amount of this, but try just doing fun things at hole and alone for a while. Make it a plan so that your husband can take a safe break from socializing (and social anxiety.)

He'll thank you for all of this.
posted by jbenben at 8:54 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

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