If there was an anxiety Olympics, I would take home the gold in every event. And the silver. And the bronze. And all the honorable mentions. But it's not the Olympics. It's my marriage. So what I really need is a steady stream of reminders about how anxiety affects my relationship, especially during rough patches. Otherwise, worrying, jumping to conclusions, and overthinking will become my primary occupation. And worrying doesn't pay the bills.
I know I'm not the only one who needs these reminders. And I know I'm not the only one who will think they are irrational or exaggerated. This is real life with anxiety. But without reminders like the ones I'm about to give, my relationship would would be less sweet and more sour. Toxic is a better word. Because anxiety can be toxic. When couples came to me for advice as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, and I could see one of them was wrecked with relationship anxiety, I knew addressing this would be just as important as addressing signs of an unhealthy relationship.
Because anxiety is no joke. It's not cute to feel like your whole world is spinning out of control. And it's not fun, either. So take a look at these reminders, and let them reach into the far corners of your heart and brain. And if you're dealing with a partner with anxiety, may these give you some perspective and empathy. And whatever you do, don't tell your partner to "calm down." As if that's possible! Ha!
1. Sometimes People Are Just Busy
This is me when I feel like my wife is mad at me: "She hasn't texted me back in over an hour. It's way worse than I thought." Then a couple of minutes later she'll text me back and say, "Sorry, I got caught up in something important at work." And then I'll feel like a giant weirdo drama queen. Even though anxiety isn't my fault. Remember that sometimes people just get busy. Try not to let your mind wander to the worst possible conclusion until you have more proof that you're anxieties are valid.
2. Anger Doesn't Translate To Hatred
At some point during my education, I missed the class where they covered anger. I don't get angry much. And I get really scared when people are angry with me. Like, I used to worry that if someone was mad at me, even for something small, they clearly hated me now and my life was over. What I know now is that people can be angry with you, forgive you, and get over it, all while still loving you. If your partner is angry with you, it doesn't mean the worst. They don't hate you. They don't want to leave you. They're just mad. It's natural. It happens in every relationship. And it will pass.
3. Space Isn't A Death Sentence
As an introvert who needs infinite space and alone time, you'd think my anxiety would understand that sometimes my partner needs that, too. But instead, anxiety tells me that when my partner wants some alone time, they're annoyed with me. They don't want me around. They're second-guessing their decision to be with me. Or they're up to no good. The truth is, they just want the same kind of alone time I need when I want to recharge, do something creative, or think. And that thinking isn't always about me, because there's more to my partner's life than just me.
4. Conflict Isn't The End Of The World
We're fighting, so clearly we're getting divorced! That's how my brain works. It jumps from a tiff about forgetting to do the dishes right to the end of all things. Anxiety brains are quite adept at jumping to the worst possible conclusions. I'll ask things like, "Do you hate me? Are you regretting marrying me?" and my partner will side eye me and say, "I was annoyed for like 14 seconds and then I was fine." Anxiety causes some people to misjudge the true scope of conflict. Any sign of conflict triggers the "fight or flight" brain, and that brain starts exploring the worst outcomes. With training, you can learn to identify small conflicts from big ones. Just remember that conflict doesn't have to mean the end of things.
5. You Can't Always Control Your Anxiety
So it's time for that dinner party with your partner's whole family, and your having the kind of anxiety day where leaving the house is not really an option. This isn't your fault, and if you legitimately can't power through it, you can't beat yourself up. You don't get to choose how your brain is wired, what chemicals it produces, and when anxiety will appear. You're not making excuses. You're not being lazy. You're not being rude. You have a legitimate illness. No one would get mad at you if you couldn't come to dinner because your leg just broke in half. You have to be easy on yourself, gentle with yourself, compassionate toward yourself.
6. Your Partner Is Annoying, Too
You're not the only one with faults. When you're worried about how your partner is feeling, step back and imagine how you would feel in the same situation. What if your partner is the one who forgot the dishes? Would you care? Would you be annoyed for 14 seconds and then move on with your life? You likely wouldn't be filing for divorce. I like to step back and do this scenario swap when I start to get a little too anxious about a perceived mistake I've made. It's helpful.
7. "What If" Almost Never Happens
What if my partner gets into a car accident on the way to work and never comes home? What if they have a heart attack at the gym and I never got to say goodbye? What if we're finally at the top of our mountain of goals and my partner gets cancer? What if I picked the wrong partner and I just think I'm happy but I could be happier with someone else? What if I get too old to have a baby and forever regret not wanting children in my 30s? What if I get convicted of a crime I didn't commit and we're kept apart by a lengthy jail sentence? Whenever I get this way, my partner gently reminds me that "what if" almost never happens, and that's pretty comforting.
8. You Have More Control Over Your Anxiety Than You Think
You don't get to pick and choose when or how your anxiety pops up, but there are some things you can do. You can watch your thoughts for repetitive, negative patterns and you can try to to them and replace them with more positive thoughts. You can read, breathe, keep busy with a hobby, meditate, or do whatever activity you can rely on to keep your mind occupied. You can follow your negative thoughts and your worries to their worst possible conclusions and see that even if the worst thing in the world happens, you'll still survive.
9. Your Partner Loves You
Your partner picked you, and they're crazy about you. In a rough patch, especially one that's particularly been rough on your anxiety, it's easy to forget that you're loved. Your partner thinks you're awesome. You partner chose to make a life with you. Anger, sadness, resentment, and even serious disagreements don't automatically equate to a loss or lack of love. Let this idea be that foundation that you build your relationship thoughts on. That no matter what happens, the love is always there.
10. Things Are Never Bad Forever
Even if you and your partner are having the worst disagreement of your entire relationship, you have to remember that things can't be bad forever. Anxiety can't be a peak panic levels forever. Anger can't last forever. You'll resolve things one way or another. Also, even though it's a cheesy saying from a bumper sticker, it's true that your track record for surviving bad things thus far is 100 percent.
11. Anxiety Is A Jerk & A Liar
I get that anxiety brains are special and wonderful and they make us unique and all that (*eyeroll*). But you know what? They're also liars. Sometimes they make you sweat a situation that's so minor your partner didn't even give it a second thought. Sometimes it makes you come to the oddest conclusions or feel the most terrible feels over seemingly nothing. Sometimes, if you're able, you have to just step back and say "my brain is being a jerk." It helps me to realize that things are probably not half as bad as I think they are.
Most of all, never let your anxiety convince you that you're not a wonderful, amazing, beautiful, talented person who is worthy of all of the love in the world.
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