The good news is that there are things you can do to make sure anxiety doesn’t dominate your relationship.
Whenever possible, try to identify your partner’s triggers and plan for them ahead of time. Consider giving yourself plenty of time to talk through and work through challenges so that you can arrive at a compromise.
Jenkins says that she likes having her clients use the “Three Ts” activity:
“Tag the trigger or anxious thought, tease it out by asking how much is accurate and how much is anxiety, then toss what is not working and keep what is accurate,” she explains.
Even with plans, things will happen that might cause your spouse to feel anxious. So Adams suggests, “When planning an activity or event, have a backup plan just in case.”
You might also want to consider having a signal between the two of you so that your spouse can let you know easily if they need to change the plan, suggests Stefanie Juliano, a clinical counselor in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.
When unexpected roadblocks appear
Your spouse will likely respond anxiously to unexpected events, so aim to be their support system.
“Let them know, ‘It’s OK, I’m here for you’ and that they’re in a safe space where they’re seen and understood, [and try] a soothing, supporting tone when talking to them,” suggests Adams.
Support rather than ‘fix’
It’s not your job to “fix” their anxiety, but you can acknowledge the work you see them doing to manage their anxiety.
As their life partner, you could learn when to push and when to back off, and try to avoid accusing your partner of “imagining” things or overreacting.
Instead, Adams says, “Have a calm conversation on what’s triggering their behavior, and what can you do together to help one another in this particular situation.”
It can be hurtful to your spouse if you assume that you know what they need or how they’re feeling. Instead, it might be beneficial to make time to talk and listen to each other.
These regular discussions can also help you have some structure for when you tackle difficult topics, like finances, upcoming events, chores, parenting, or work.
You might also find it helpful to use “I” statements rather than “you” statements because they’ll help emphasize your own feelings and sound less accusatory.
When the marriage itself is difficult
If your partner has long been managing a diagnosed anxiety disorder or they’re just beginning the road to treatment, you may want to offer to join in on their therapy now and then.
You might want to consider your own therapy to be an ally and fortify your mental well-being as well.
Adams says that couples counseling might help reinforce the idea that you’re a team and foster “the idea that you can go and move past obstacles together.”