An estimated 275 million people battle anxiety, about 4% of the global population. You or someone in your life likely suffers from anxious feelings. Many individuals who struggle with anxiety feel alone in their suffering and are too ashamed to ask for support, fearing they are crazy or others will see them as crazy. The more you understand anxiety and identify ways to support your partner, the better equipped you and your partner feel about managing anxiety as a team, so your partner doesn’t have to feel alone.

How does one define anxiety? All humans are born with brains equipped to fight, flee, or freeze when faced with a life-threatening situation. This innate response helps us survive as a species and supports our continued evolution into higher-level processing mammals. The dilemma is that our survival brains are activated in non-life-threatening situations. Fight, flee and freeze are activated with a simple thought of “I have so much to do today” or “I can’t believe that person cut me off in traffic.” The surging of hormones, particularly cortisol, sends our nervous system into overdrive. Thus begins what I call the “new normal” nervous system, the one that is hypervigilant to all our surroundings and can’t relax; we don’t even know it is happening to us. A constant state of hyper-alertness which can lead to a total crash and burn. An anxious individual often feels burnt out and overwhelmed and struggles to find the balance to get through daily life. Little do we know the more we fight with anxiety, the more we add fuel to the fire.

There are multiple reasons for anxiety, AKA hypervigilant nervous systems; perhaps an individual grew up in a traumatic environment where there was a constant need to be on guard for safety. Perhaps an individual experienced a traumatic event in life, and the brain reorganized itself after the trauma to protect from feeling that terror. Genetics can also be a factor. For example, highly competitive or perfectionistic tendencies without intentional action can transition into an anxious brain if the caregiver or environment does not model how to regulate these tendencies with realistic expectations.

I have battled anxiety my whole life; however, I did not know my suffering was anxiety until I began my therapeutic process in my early 20s. I learned how to function-ish in my day-to-day; however, once I got married and had children, it was a new ballgame. I was no longer alone dealing with my anxiety, I had a whole crew to show up for, and I had NO idea how. Not only did I not know, but my partner was clueless. Not because he was mean-spirited or didn’t want to support me, I didn’t know how to ask for help, which made him feel helpless, and he often went to problem-solving mode. I can tell you one thing when I am feeling anxious, PROBLEM-SOLVING mode only made it worse for me, it made me feel like I could not get anything right, and I began to feel like I was failing on all levels in my roles as partner, parent and at work.

I have worked professionally for over two decades supporting clients in managing anxiety, and here I was, alone, lost, and in despair. I had two choices, let my anxiety get the best of me and have our family fall apart because it was “too much,” or find ways to ask for support and teach my partner how to support me when I am anxious. That’s right, you guessed it, I chose the latter, and I feel so grateful that I did. Finding significant support in this intimate relationship is possible, and I am not alone. I have my hubby learning to navigate anxiety with me. It is not a “me” thing, it is an “us” thing, and we are doing a fantastic job. Not only has this brought us closer together, but it has allowed us to support hundreds of couples in doing the same. SO WHAT IS THE FIRST STEP?

The first step is recognizing that you or your partner struggles with anxiety. Awareness is the magic ingredient to individual and relationship freedom. I will give an example that many couples I have worked with have resonated with from my sharing.

Example 1:  The Explosive Minivan

The first example is when I was driving home on the freeway in the minivan, twins buckled in the back, and the check engine light came on. I immediately called hubby and said:

Me:  “oh my gosh, I think the minivan will blow up on my way home; what should I do?” (Ah, those catastrophic thoughts always make me fear the worst and hijack my anxiety every time).

Hubby:  “you are fine; I will call the maintenance guy next week; see you soon.”

Me: “whatever” click and hang up the phone—internal thoughts (what a jerk, he doesn’t care, he sucks.)

Fast forward 10 minutes later, I’m home, no minivan blow-up, but I’m so frustrated with hubby. At that moment, I was able to be aware of my catastrophic thoughts, and I knew I had to find a teaching moment so this doesn’t happen again.

Me: “EJ, I don’t think you realize what happens to me when I see the minivan check engine light come up; in my mind, I automatically go to something horrible is going to happen, and I truly feel terrified at that moment. When you say things like “you will be fine, and that won’t happen”, it makes me feel like you are minimizing my fear. I don’t feel supported by you.


Me: “What would feel supportive is if you said, honey, “I hear you’re feeling scared, I will call the maintenance guy today, and we will get it serviced.” I know how important feeling safe is for you.” BAM!!!! – he repeated it right back in that moment, and my anxiety dropped.

That was eight years ago, today, we have practiced enough times to get it right at least 80% of the time, and when we don’t, I let my hubby know what would feel supportive at that moment. This process allows the individual struggling with anxiety to have a voice and externalize the suffering. It also enables a receptive partner to gain the tools and knowledge to support you in times of distress.

Suppose you have a partner who struggles with anxiety and has difficulty being aware of it. In that case, you may want to say, “Hi, love, is there anything I can do to support you if you are experiencing a difficult moment or feeling? I want to be there for you.”

We are all uniquely imperfect and choose to love our imperfect partners to the best of our ability. The more we understand how to love ourselves and our imperfections, we have the opportunity to teach our partners how to do the same. It’s the only shot we have at true freedom, knowing ourselves and letting our partner in; chances are they want to be let in.

If you or your partner struggle with anxiety, it’s okay; you are not alone; you are not broken; there is nothing wrong with you. Take the time to reach out to one another and discuss ways you can support each other through difficult times. YOU and your relationship deserve it.




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