Anxiety is a word that is used often in 2019 in everyone’s vocabulary. The normalizing of mental health is becoming greater and greater but back in 2010, the conversation around mental health was just starting to become more common. At this time my husband not only got promoted to a new job but we got married. The collision of these two things caused a shift within my husband. At the time we weren’t completely sure what it was but he experienced an increase in panic attacks and anxiety in daily life. I was at a loss as to what to do and how to act. I didn’t know if I should be trying to help him “fix it” so instead I ignored it…I am not proud of this but I did this because I didn’t know what to do. Now almost 10 years later I want to share what has worked for us and how to be a better partner to someone who suffers from anxiety…something I wish I knew all those years ago.
The first piece of advice, that I still have to remind myself of now, is…just listen…so many times my husband would be trying to share with me how he felt about something and instead of listening I would try to fix it. Giving him suggestions never works… I am not in his head. I know now that when he needs to share how he is feeling my job is to be open and listen. He guides me and tells me what he needs. If he needs space to go and sit and meditate…I just need to give him space to do that; not suggest a great meditation that I think would work (he knows what works for him). If you can listen to your partner without judgment or the need to make suggestions you will already be helping them.
Next, if you are a partner like me, then you will never fully understand their anxiety, or ever fully understand how they feel. You need to be compassionate and show empathy as much as you can without fully being able to be in their shoes. Remember, it is their experience. My husband is good at trying to make comparisons for me, but realistically I don’t know what it feels like to have a panic attack. So in those times I show him compassion and give him the space to do what he needs to do. Flying is a big trigger for my husband. When we fly as a family I know that he needs the space to prepare to fly so the kids and I give him that space without guilt….after all it is what he needs and as his partner, I support him with that.
Finally, be patient. This one might be the hardest for me. Some days are good and some days are bad and other days are very bad. Just as things are getting better something causes them to go sideways. At first, this used to confuse and frustrate me as I assumed the path to conquering anxiety was straight and finite. Once you get to the top you have summited your mountain, then on to the next. In reality, the path is actually very winding, hilly with different twists and turns and may never have a summit. Once I switched my mindset and was patient with what my husband needed I was better able to support him.
I am not perfect but I try hard and remind myself often that it is not about me. His anxiety is his and all I can do is support him the best way I can. When I can, I try to ask questions and get curious about his experiences, this way when the situations arise I am better prepared to support him. We are still growing and changing as a couple as we experience different seasons of our life, and as long as we stay connect and communicate, we will get through whatever life throws at us.