Taking care of each other is a hallmark of a healthy relationship and can go a long way towards helping both partners feel secure and safe. But when it comes to providing care to a partner struggling with anxiety, we have to make sure our care doesn’t become part of the problem.
Anxiety can be thought of as the body’s internal fire alarm. When that alarm goes off, it can feel so uncomfortable and overwhelming that those suffering with anxiety will pull away or avoid the triggers that cause anxiety. As a loved one, it can be an act of caring that makes us step in to support this avoidance and remove anything that contributes to our partner’s anxiety.
For example, imagine you are a socialite, but your partner struggles with social anxiety and doesn’t like to be around crowds. You’ve seen how uncomfortable and overwhelmed they get when they are out so you start to modify your plans to avoid crowds too. In the name of love you get use to spending more time at home and running errands on your own thinking it will eventually help make things better. Except, it might not. Instead of being the helper…you’ve become the enabler.
With anxiety, the more we avoid, the more powerful the anxiety becomes. Helping our loved ones remove or avoid triggers to anxiety robs them of the opportunity to face and address why they become anxious in the first place. It doesn’t mean we have to be mean or force our partners into uncomfortable situations, but truly dealing with anxiety means facing the discomfort. To provide support without enabling, invite your partner to talk about what makes them anxious, explore ways you can help them move through it instead of avoid it. Provide encouragement as you partner takes small steps to face the anxiety and provide compassionate responses when things get tough.
Sometimes the greatest statement of love is, “You can do it!”
For more information on how to support a loved one struggling with anxiety, read 3 Ways to Help Your Loved Ones Cope with Anxiety
Bonnie Skinner, MEd, RP, CCC
B. Skinner Coaching & Psychotherapy