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How to Support a Spouse with Anxiety

Guest blog by Jordan Spinazzola, MSW, LSW, ACSW


Having a partner who experiences anxiety can be challenging to navigate. Anxiety shows up in different ways, in different people, at different times. So, you might be wondering how to support your spouse with anxiety in an effective way. It may take time and trying different approaches, however, with healthy communication, you can help your partner through those difficult moments when anxiety shows up.
Anxiety sometimes gets a bad rap, but the evolutionary role of anxiety is to keep you from doing things that are dangerous to you. The problem arises when anxiety continues beyond the presence of the danger – when it becomes excessive and starts to interfere with your daily life.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is the most common mental illness in the US. Approximately one-third of the population will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. And most of this third have partners.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is “excessive anxiety and worry occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities.” If you have GAD, you probably find it difficult to control worry and experience at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle Tension
  • Sleep Disturbance

It is important to understand that anxiety does not always make sense, and it does not have to for someone to experience it. Anxiety is more of a body experience than a mind experience – a pattern of physiological responses that run a pre-programmed circuit once triggered. Your heart beats rapidly, your respiration increases, your skin might get clammy, and your thoughts race. Once triggered, it runs its course and takes effort to shut down.

When your partner’s anxiety affects you, it can be frustrating! If you have a spouse suffering from anxiety, I want to validate your experience. You know the things your partner is anxious about don’t warrant their level of anxiety (and they may know it, too!), but your partner’s physiology isn’t listening to reason. It is hard to know how to support your partner when there is that kind of internal disconnection. You may not have the tools to navigate this and that is okay; there is no exact road map on this journey.

Related Reading: How Somatic Experiencing Can Treat Anxiety

As a partner of someone with anxiety disorder, I have learned there are four important things to remember if you are dealing with a spouse’s anxiety.

  1. You do not have to fix them.
  2. Validate feelings and experiences.
  3. Establish healthy communication.
  4. Understand your role.

Throughout the remainder of this article, I will explain how to implement these important points in supporting your spouse or another person with anxiety disorder.


You Do Not Have to Fix Them


Hear me as I say this: it is NOT your job to fix your spouse if they are suffering from anxiety. Hold space for that part of you that may want to come in and fix them or fix the anxiety. That part of you is valid – AND that part is currently not needed.


Feeling like you have to “fix” whatever is causing your partner’s anxiety is a common response. No one wants their spouse to be uncomfortable or to suffer. This is where it is important to remember that anxiety does not always make sense, and the person struggling is usually aware of that, too. So, you don’t need to point out the illogical aspect of their anxiety. (And it is especially counter-productive to do that when the anxiety is heightened!) How you can help is to be patient, listen, and validate how difficult the struggle is.




When your partner with anxiety divulges that they are struggling, it is important to come alongside them. What I mean is to sit with them on that metaphorical bench instead of grabbing them off the bench and working with them to shove the anxiety down. Validation is such an underrated tool when supporting someone who is suffering from anxiety. Validating someone looks like this:

“I see and hear that you are struggling.”

“I am here for you to vent/talk and I will listen.”

“I hear that this is uncomfortable for you.”

“That is a valid emotion to feel.”

You might find it uncomfortable just sit with you partner and validate and not to try to fix it. That is totally understandable. Yet it is important to start to flex that muscle of sitting in the uncomfortable. Sitting in discomfort is not something everyone can do; however, it is essential for healthy emotional regulation.

It is important that once you have validated the emotion and/or experience, you continue the conversation with healthy communication.


Establish Healthy Communication

When working with couples or spouses of someone with anxiety, I often coach them on a helpful phrase to ask their spouse/partner.

“Do you need support, a solution, or are you just sharing?”

This is met with some reserve from clients, however, when they come back to the next session, they often express how helpful using this phrase was during a time of uncertainty in how to help their spouse.

Developing healthy and effective communication is a key component of a healthy relationship. Even more so, it is critical to establish healthy communication when a spouse is suffering from anxiety.

Healthy communication means interaction that results in feeling heard, validated, and understood. It does not mean inserting your opinion or convincing the other person of your point of view. Communicating with your spouse in a healthy way is hearing each person’s perspective and point of view without the need to be agreed with. It is healthy to take breaks in the conversation at times when it feels like things are going in circles or one person feels flooded. The important part is that you must come back to the conversation at some point.

A critical thing to note is that establishing healthy communication takes time to build and you will make mistakes along the way. Admitting your part and taking accountability for your part and your words are healing parts of establishing healthy communication and connection with your spouse.

If you are a partner of someone suffering from anxiety, it is essential to understand that you have a role in communication. Identifying that role is imperative for a healthy relationship.


Understand Your Role

When your spouse is suffering from anxiety, it can feel like you have to be the person to step in and support them at the cost of your own feelings and needs. That is not the case. Think about if you were caring for a fussy baby. If while trying to comfort the baby you were filled with frustration, irritation, and heightened emotions; most likely the baby would remain fussy due to co-regulating (or co-dysregulating) with your emotions which happen to be heightened. The same can occur in this space with a partner suffering from anxiety.

There can be times when your partner’s anxiety affects you. During those times it is important to be self-aware about what is occurring. Taking time to ground yourself when your partner is struggling is a key piece in supporting your spouse and yourself. Utilizing clear and effective communication, you can set up a boundary with your spouse that you may not always be able to help them regulate or support them. If you can set this boundary ahead of time, it can be helpful for your spouse so that their anxiety does not build even more during the heightened period.

Related Reading: The B Word: Boundaries

Here’s an example. Let’s say when your partner is experiencing anxious symptoms, they tend to ask question after question and become repetitive. This overwhelms you and while you can support them for let’s say a half dozen questions, once they cross that, you tend to not have as much patience and start becoming frustrated.

In this scenario, setting a boundary ahead of time as the partner might sound like, “I’ve noticed that when you become anxious, you tend to ask me a lot of questions and become quite repetitive. I want to be able to support you as much as I can, however, after about a half dozen questions, I start getting flooded and become very frustrated. So, to help both of us, I’m going to answer those 6 questions, but after that, I will tell you I am done answering questions and will remove myself. I don’t want to take my frustration out on you. If you’d prefer, I can sit with you during that time instead and support you in a different way. How does that sound?”

Coming together to figure out a solution or alternate way to support your partner and letting them know your limit is important for the health of your relationship.

Finally, it is imperative that you express your needs rather than suppress or shove them down. Not expressing those needs can lead to your own anxiety increasing, which can, in turn, can cause tension within the relationship. Your needs and feelings matter, and they deserve to be heard, too. If you find that you are struggling to show up for your spouse and are having difficulty communicating your needs, couples therapy would be a beneficial tool for you.


Final Thoughts

Remember, it is not on you to be the one to fix or cure your partner’s anxiety. I understand that it may be scary to know what to do and say. But you and your spouse can navigate this uncertain area, whether it’s with the help of tools like those outlined here or it’s with support from experts and professionals. A helpful resource is NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has support groups for family members and loved ones who have experienced mental health symptoms.

If you are overwhelmed with a spouse suffering from anxiety, please reach out to us at Life Care Wellness for help in navigating this challenging dynamic. If you’re in Illinois, you may contact us at our Glen Ellyn, Chicago (Jefferson Park), Yorkville, or Sycamore locations.


Jordan Spinazzola is an associate therapist at Life Care Wellness. She works with all ages and works with couples and families, as well as individuals. Jordan utilizes traditional talk therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), strengths-based therapy, mindfulness, and motivational interviewing. Jordan sees clients via telehealth.