What would you say is the one thing on your relationship that causes the most stress between you and your partner? I’m sure you’re ticking through the items racing through your brain, debating on which is worse. Is anxiety one of the things that came up? How much do you think it is affecting your relationship? In my experience treating anxiety disorders, anxiety can encompass most things within a relationship. Often, the couple doesn’t realize that anxiety is the culprit of the contention. It just feels normal to worry about the things you worry about, right? That is until you realize that anxiety is the problem, and is in more control than either person in the relationship.
This is the point when things get a little sticky. The stress has always been there, but now you have a label for it. This label can act as a huge relief or a burden. It is not uncommon for a partner to use the label as ammunition against the individual who does the worrying. This behavior can make sense, yet is ineffective. If something negative is happening in your relationship what is one of the most common things you do? Attack, become defensive, place blame? Unfortunately, the sufferer, or one experiencing the anxiety, will likely go into attack mode as well, or shut down, if they feel unsafe with the response they receive from their loved one.
Does this sound familiar? Are you stuck in the revolving argument about your anxiety and how you should just “stop it”? If so, or if you are just looking for more effective ways to manage the anxiety in your relationship, here are some tips.
Become educated and be engaged.
If you are dealing with anxiety, or your partner is, take the time to educate yourself about anxiety. A great question to ask yourself is, “Am I dealing with every day anxiety, or an anxiety disorder”? This can be difficult to decipher and may require the expertise of a professional. Basic questions to ask yourself are, “What is the function of my behavior when I feel anxious?” and “How rigid are my rules based around anxiety?”. If you find that your behaviors are meant to reduce the anxiety and/or are creating strict rules for you and your partner to live by, you may want to seek a professional’s opinion. If you are the partner of someone who is experiencing anxiety, encourage them to research more about it. (An excessive need to research may be an indication of clinically significant anxiety.) Offer validation for their worry and provide support in an effective way.
Direct your emotions appropriately.
It is easy to become frustrated with your loved one when they are feeling anxious. You are probably tired of being asked for reassurance, if things are going to be ok, if you think they are a bad person, etcetera. I get it; it’s hard to be patient when you are continually being questioned about things that haven’t happened or don’t make sense. It is important to take a step back and remind yourself that the one who continually asks for reassurance is probably just as annoyed that they feel like they have to ask. An individual diagnosed with an anxiety disorder can’t “just stop”. The individuals brain is literally sending a message of danger down a neural pathway that tells them they must ask for reassurance to feel relief. In short, cut them some slack. Your loved one is suffering.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) has empirically based research proving it to be an effective treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, and other disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). IT is important that you find a therapist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety. (A rule of thumb is that the providers practice treats approximately 80% of what they claim to be a specialist in.) Talk therapy by itself is not effective for an anxiety disorder. A behavioral approach is necessary to help with the cognitive restructuring of the brain. Also, be sure to provide support once your loved one has decided to seek help. It can be very difficult to admit to the need for help and equally difficult to follow through.
Understand that anxiety doesn’t always make sense.
In my experience working with both relationships and anxiety disorders, I have learned that anxiety does not always makes sense. Even when the individual experiencing it knows that it makes no sense, they still may feel the need to do a behavior to help neutralize the fear. It takes patience and understanding from both partners to work through this dialectic. Supporting your partner by validating them, even if it does not make sense to you, will enhance the security felt within the relationship. Remember that those who are experiencing the anxiety must also be willing to validate the efforts and emotions of their partner. Act as if you are on a team, working toward a win together.
Document your wins.
Anxiety can drag you down and steal all sense of hope you have been so dearly holding on to. Fighting to manage your anxiety takes commitment, support, and hope. A great way to maintain your optimism is to write down your wins. Wins can be both big and small, it doesn’t matter. It is difficult to remind yourself how incredible you felt last week when you are feeling an intense level of anxiety right now. Writing your wins down also be supportive for your partner. It is just as easy for your loved one to lose focus as well. Sit down with your partner and review your progress weekly (see my article on the weekly meeting). Provide verbal and physical validation to each other. Remind your partner that you love them and will always provide support. Don’t forget that protecting your relationship is just as important to you.
See a couple’s therapist who understands anxiety.
This may be one of the most important steps to maintain and build your relationship. Finding a therapist who specializes in relationships and truly understands anxiety disorders can help educate you as a couple, and provide a clarity that has been missing in your partnership. A couple’s therapist can also help you learn to communicate in a way that helps you both understand what it is like to experience or live with anxiety.
Anxiety disorders can be challenging to navigate, especially when a person you love is blindly trying to support the individual diagnosed. Take control of your anxiety. Stop letting it create boundaries and set rules for you, your partner, and your family. Contact Couples Ignite Therapy today, and begin living life the way you want to, not the way anxiety is telling you to live.
For more information about Dustin, and his experience with anxiety, read his profile listed under the Providers tab.
I say relationship and most of you will immediately assume I’m talking about a significant other. But what about all the other relationships we have in our lives? What about our parents, siblings, friends, coworkers? Each of these people require a specific relationship.
I've been asking myself why some relationships can be so hard. Why are some relationships so difficult to maintain? At 36 years old I want to start keeping the relationships that I've put so much effort into. I want relationships that last a lifetime. I'm tired of feeling like people grow in and out of one another; that almost seems selfish, as if the relationship was only worth the effort while it was convenient. Simple acts or words expressed can derail beautiful relationships. Why? Why can't we just get along, talk it out, express ourselves?
A couple of months ago I threw away a friendship, mentally anyway. I'd given up on it. Recently I found out some history about the person I had given up on. It's had my heart sick. I keep thinking if I had only known, I would have had more patience, empathy, I would have given more and expected less. I'm finally figuring out that we're not always going to understand what's happening behind the scenes, or know the dark secrets that let you see inside the others soul. I don't think we're supposed to understand. We are simply supposed to be there for one another.
I think the answer is selflessness. By definition it means to be concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one's own self. Relationships take a lot of effort. They take understanding and compassion. When you find yourself questioning why you even try to maintain a relationship, think of these things. Remember why you built a relationship with this person in the first place. What did you like about them? What sparked your interest? How have they helped you, inspired you, or changed your world for the better? Then remember that we're all human.
We're all struggling with something in this world. We all have our happy face that we show to everyone even when we feel like crying. On the days you wonder why you try, put yourself and your needs aside and remember why you tried in the first place.
Each of us have something beautiful to share if we can only be treated and treat others with kindness, empathy and patience. We can all truly bloom into who we were meant to become! Don't walk away from those who helped mold you. When they are down, remember it’s your turn to help mold them.
Cheers my friends to a beautiful future for us all!!
Take ME, MY, and I out of your sentence, change your words, change your perspective. Change your world. Author: Lavender Galloway
Years ago, I came in the room and found my husband’s iPad, picked it up and started snooping (huge no no in any relationship by the way). Anyway, I thought I'd find porn or some secret text. Instead, what I found was even worse. It was a book entitled "To good to leave, too bad to stay, by Mira Kirshenbaum."
My heart sunk. He was reading a book to help him decide if he should leave me. I felt this was entirely my fault, that I had pushed him to this. I read a couple pages and the words on his iPad were glowing in my eyes. She doesn't support me, my work, my decisions. Support, support, support. It was clear he needed more support.
My husband had moved back to work the family business. Because of circumstances with my eldest son, I needed to remain in the town we lived in. My husband felt it was the right move for the family. He saw the long-term benefits. He asked me to have faith and trust him. I did not.
In my eyes, I had just delivered our first child, and he was telling me he was moving 200 miles away to work and he would see me on weekends. I fought this idea tooth and nail. For months I questioned the idea of divorce, I didn't want to live with his parents, I didn't want to travel. I hated what was happening and wasn't on board with his plan at all.
Fast forward 18 months into this decision and I'm now reading a book about him considering leaving me, and I'm now 6 months pregnant with our second child.
I made a decision I had never made before. It had always been about ME, MY, and I. MY wants, MY needs, MY feelings. Now I had a Husband and 3 kids. It flat out wasn't about me anymore. It didn't matter how confused my mind was, or how hurt I personally was. I had to set it all aside. I had to think of my kids. I thought of all the reasons I adored and loved my husband. Was the sacrifice of him moving away for a couple of years’ worth losing him forever? NO. Not by a long shot. I needed to grow up so to speak, put ME and MY and I aside.
How did I do it? It wasn't easy, and it's still a continual effort. I started looking for things to be grateful for, I started recognizing my blessings, I started finding the things I loved in the people I hated, I used words like blessed, grateful, positive, and inspire. I did everything I could to put on a good face and just fake it till I made it. I didn't push my husband’s feelings, or I tried not to. I let it happen on his time. On someone else's time. I had to have faith. I supported my husband in his decision and had faith that he had a plan for our family even if I didn't understand it.
I read a quote once from Julia Roberts, she said "you know it's love, when all you want is for the person to be happy, even if you’re not part of their happiness" I loved my husband, I just wasn't showing it properly. To truly love him was to support him, let him fly, let him create. We now have 4 Beautiful children, and life is still not a peach, but it is if we find the good in every day.
Keep trying to be positive, find your blessings, the things your grateful for. Take ME, MY and I out and you'll be amazed at what you see in front of you. It creates a whole new perspective. Give love, even when it's not given. Be kind, even when it's not reciprocated. Eventually it will come. Like everything, it takes molding, it takes time.
Cheers my friends to a simply beautiful future, filled with people, not things.
How many times have you gone to bed this week thinking I could have been a better parent today? I’m sure this thought has crossed your mind at least once this week. I can’t, or don’t want to count the number of times I go to bed feeling this way. How often do you lay there replaying the interaction, or lack of, you had with your kid, the time you yelled instead of giving her a hug, or how about the time you forgot the promise you made to your little guy? Don’t forget the ones that make you feel like a real winner: I’m just too tired to play, I can’t take it if he tells me about that Pokémon card again, and my personal favorite, how can I get out of doing this with my child? By no means am I saying you are a bad parent if you have had these thoughts. In fact, I think the exact opposite.
You are not alone! When you are laying there reviewing all the things you could have done better, remember to tell yourself that these thoughts and feelings are normal. It doesn’t mean you are the world’s worst parent if you are sick of singing along to children’s songs, or playing dress up with the totally representative bodies that your little girls Barbie’s display. You are an adult. Your brain gets bored with these things, no matter how much you love your child. You get frustrated, lose your temper, it’s ok.
Parents often talk to me about these exact things. I’ve sat with moms who did nothing but cry through the session because they told their girlfriend that they hate their kid today. Fathers tell me how torn they feel between their career, their marriage, and their children, but don’t know how to balance it all. (Fathers cry too.) Nobody ever tells you that you are going to feel this way when you announce to the world that you’re going to have a baby; overjoyed that you’re going to be a mommy or a daddy. What about everything else that you face as a parent, who told you about that?
I am not blaming your parental strife on those who didn’t tell you how hard being a parent is. I’m simply saying that people overlook the less attractive details in the midst of the excitement. It doesn’t matter if you are a first-time parent, or well-seasoned; parenting is hard. No one can tell you exactly how to do it. Sure, you can listen to suggestions, but each little one you bring into this world is an individual. What works for one might not work for another. And no matter how bad you try to protect your kids; they are going to screw up. Parenting provides an outstanding amount of joy, and an equal number of stressful tears.
So, what do you do when you the tears won’t stop, when you lie there for hours giving yourself a pep talk for tomorrow, even though it feels like it will be the same as today? You own what you are doing wrong, ask for help when it’s needed, and commit to making a change. I often point out to my clients that they are demonstrating great parenting techniques, because they are already doing exactly what I just suggested. If you are aware of the things you’re not scoring 100% in, actively looking for better skills, and willing to make the necessary changes, then you are being a great parent. Just remember not to set the bar too high, and to give yourself some well deserved credit.
Social media shows us all the great things other parents are doing, but fails to point out the freak out that happened over Extra Cheesy Gold Fish earlier that morning. Take a minute to sit back and reflect on what you did right today. Enjoy the 30 hugs your four-year-old wants to give you as you are running out the door, late for work. Own it when your child is screaming at Wal-Mart and it feels like every person in the store is judging you. Who cares! Not all children are created equal, why should all parenting be expected to be same? It is so easy to notice the crappy stuff you do as a parent, and we all do it. It’s time for a change. Start journaling about the great things you do as a parent. Write about the things you are grateful for as a parent. These don’t have to be amazing things. If you are grateful for the ridiculous collection of sippy cups your child has to choose from, then write it down. Practicing gratitude has been proven to improve your overall happiness in life.
Take time for yourself. We are human, and humans need care. It doesn’t have to be much, just do something for yourself. Take a bath, read a book, allow your kids the opportunity to have quiet time. Remember, kids are their own individuals, it’s good for them to have time alone. Call your mom during quiet time and vent. Don’t worry about saying your kids are being little shits; chances are, Mom felt that way about you at least once. Do what works for you, no matter how silly it may seem. I prefer a diet Dr. Pepper when I feel like I’m going to run through the street, cursing at every child I see.
Lastly, pinpoint what needs to change and do it. Base this change off each individual child. If you don’t know what to do and everybody’s opinion makes you want to scream, get professional help. Find a therapist that fits your needs, can offer effective skills to practice with your child, and who understands when you just want to complain about how horrible your kids were at the restaurant last night. Remember to take ownership of what you can change, apply new skills, and don’t be surprised if they don’t always work. Don’t forget that your child is their own individual, they will make their own decisions, and voluntary compliance is a rarity. You are doing better than you think you are!
How many times has your partner asked you to take out the trash, fold the laundry, or do something for them this week, and you have failed to follow through? It happens. The problem is that after being asked five times, your partner may no longer remember that a lapse in memory is a normal thing. This has the potential to be a problem. So save yourself the punishment and read on.
One of the first things I ask my clients is how often do they take time to sit and talk about the events of the past and upcoming week. Most of the time I get a blank stare on their face, followed by a nervous chuckle. The reality is that most of you who are reading this probably could communicate more effectively. This is not to say you aren’t talking about the week with your partner, but let’s break it down a bit more.
I ask my clients to set a specific day and time during the week that is designated for them to talk about finances, kids, household responsibilities, work, schedules, emotions, sex, and etcetera. This meeting is not meant to give one partner the chance to simply complain, or load the other up with requests. It is meant to allow both partners a designated time to effectively communicate their needs, emotions, and frustrations.
The weekly meeting is an opportunity to open up to your partner. It allows you to talk about specific topics, and then let it settle until the following week. For example, how many times have you asked your partner or been asked to show more affection? (Uh…. what the hell does that really mean anyway?) The great thing about this meeting is that you can ask what more affection looks like in your partner’s head. This is a time for you and your partner to practice communication skills. Ask questions that give you information you can work with. Ask questions about the questions you ask. Set goals. Make plans. Settle issues. And, possibly the best part, talk about your sex life!!
The goal of all of this is to leave the table with an understanding of what behaviors need to be adjusted from the last week, and what the plan is for the next. This does not mean you cannot talk about any issues during the week; nor does it mean you can’t give your partner an occasional (gentle) prompt to follow through with what was committed to during the meeting. This is not just about communication. The idea is that you build a stronger bond between the two of you. It is about building trust, building a safer relationship, and allowing both partners the autonomy to manage their responsibilities without feeling additional pressure to get things done.
Lastly, take time to talk about you. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable demonstrates trust and safety within the relationship. Talk about your needs. Hear your partner’s needs. This is not a time to make judgements, but a time to observe and respond empathically. Validate each other. You do not have to agree with your partner to hear what they are saying. Sometimes you will not agree; you don’t have to. I think you will find that being understood may feel just as good as getting approval from your partner. So go out and apply the skill. Feel free to comment on the blog post, and come back next week for more!
Throughout my career I have been asked for tips on building and strengthening relationships. Here are a few things I think might help.
Although this is not a stand-alone fix, effective communication is a great start to moving in the right direction. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before reading on. What the heck is effective communication, why is it important, and how do you know if you are doing it?
Simply put, when a couple communicates effectively, both partners understand what the topic of discussion is, know the reason for the discussion, and are aware of the emotions involved in the conversation.
This type of communication is important because it often prevents a phone from being chucked at your head. Not only is your physical safety important, but effective communication allows both parties to feel heard, understood, and to be a valued part of the conversation.
So how do you know if this is happening? Ask questions. Engage in active listening. Rephrase what your partner has said to show that you are listening, and that you understand.
How many times have you had a conversation with your partner only to find out that not a word you said was processed? (Guys, we are notoriously bad for tuning out when the conversation is not about football or sex.) Feeling understood is a big thing in a relationship, so it’s time to apply the skill.
Active listening is a great way to show you partner that you are not only engaged in the conversation, but care what the heck they are talking about. You can do this by repeating back what they said, asking questions, and by validating their feelings. Yes, this sounds like a lot of work, but the more you do it the better you get.
So this is a big one. Let’s think of a relationship as a machine for a moment. A machine has several parts, and requires all of the parts to work together in order to make the machine run. A relationship is very much like this. When you take two people and cram them together to make one functioning relationship it requires the couple to work together and compromise. Without it, the relationship often suffers, or at least a phone or two gets thrown.
Compromise requires understanding. Understanding requires effective communication. See the patter?
I like to have fun! Relationships need fun, and part of my job is to help re-ignite that fun if it has died out. How you define fun is up to you. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Fun can be nerdy, playful, romantic, relaxing, or whatever fits for you. It is easy to forget what the heck fun is when you have been in a relationship for several years, or when kids take up every precious moment of your day. I get it.
So it's time to combine all three of the previous tips and show your partner that you are still a rock star! If you have forgotten what fun looks like, who cares! Do something out of the ordinary. Go to a new restaurant, get together with friends, do something together that has a no clothing rule. Whatever it is, get up and go out!
Welcome to the Couples Ignite Blog. This is a blog about relationships, and all the things that come with them. These posts are not meant to provide therapy, but our clinical perspective, along with the perspective of guest authors, will be scattered throughout the writings. We will pick topics at random, and are open to suggestions. Happy reading!