Whether you or your partner deal with anxiety, it can start to feel like an unwanted house guest entered your relationship when it’s not managed properly. This is equally as true if both parties have anxious tendencies or deal with chronic stress.
Anxiety can impact the individual and also their romantic relationship, family, pets, career, health, finances, recreational endeavors, etc. Since all of these are also integral to functioning as a couple, it’s critical to know some tangible strategies to help your partner deal with it effectively.
What should you know?
- We cannot be responsible for other people’s emotions since they are the ones who have the ultimate control. However, our responses DO have an impact on our partners, so it’s important to respond in a way that does not escalate the anxiety. It’s called co-regulation. We must regulate our own emotions before we can help someone else regulate theirs.
- It can be empowering to know tools that can help improve your partners wellbeing and the couple relationship overall!
- Permission and consent is important part of the process. Everyone is different and what works for one person may induce more anxiety in another. Communicate calmly and be patient with your partner as you figure out what works best for both of you.
- Being empathetic, connecting, and listening to your partner is the most healing approach to take. Dismissing, discouraging, or minimizing your partners anxieties can undermine the communication and create a disconnect between you both.
SENSORY STRATEGIES FOR ANXIETY IN A COUPLE
•ask your partner if you can tell them the story of the day you met.
•ask partner if you can put on a song that you both like/is meaningful to them
•ask your partner if you can do ‘reflective listening’ : listening to partners worries and repeating it back to them to show that you understand correctly
•speak in a calm, softer tone. If you can show good regulation skills, your partner may “mirror” (adjust and copy) your affect & self soothe
•ask them questions to focus on their positive experiences in the past and strengths.
“What helped you last time you did something like this? What needs to happen for
this to go well?”
STRATEGIES WITH TOUCH
•touch & physical intimacy stimulates the release of oxytocin + dopamine receptors in the brain, our “feel good” chemicals that fight the “stress” response in our bodies. That’s why it’s so useful in soothing anxious partners, and ourselves.
•consent is everything when it comes to anxiety and touch, so I emphasis asking for permission before physical contact with an anxious partner. Some people prefer physical touch and for some, it can make them more anxious. Also, knowing when touch is appropriate and when it is not, is something to talk to your partner about. Check with them first!
•when grasping your partners arm, this is a grounding exercise as a couple. If you notice your partner dissociating (not present, withdrawn + thoughts are bringing them to another place because they feel unsafe in their current anxious state/environment) ask if your partner is okay and if you can have them be present with you. Gently grasp their arm with a loving and safe consistency enough to bring their awareness to your embrace and the soft sensation of your hand on their arm. The loving acknowledgment is meant to guide them back into a mindful state. Sometimes this is helpful when talking makes your partner more anxious or your partner is not calm. @elizabethadewalemft taught me this last year and it’s something I recommend frequently!
•Help your partner do guided imagery by telling them to close their eyes and visualize what you’re saying. Describe a soothing, safe place that will distract your partner’s mind from the anxious thoughts and replace them with feelings of stability and grounding. Make sure to use words that evoke your partners senses- “we can feel the soft white sand under our toes.” “There’s a sea breeze that cools us down from the hot summer day”. Ask them questions for them to answer silently or out loud to get them involved in process: who’s the most relaxing person you know? Picture them also on the beach, waving to you and smiling” “who makes you feel safe? Picture that person holding your hand right now.”
•Organization can play a huge role in anxiety symptoms, especially if a person feels their mental and physical space is cluttered. Helping them create systems to minimize stress can be extremely helpful to restore a sense of control in their routine. This can be through visual boards, shared apps that help with schedule coordination, budgeting, to-do lists, etc. Also, contribute to the household organization by picking up after yourself and cleaning up common areas. Recruit family members or children to help take care of household duties that may be contributing to the stress of your partner.