A Spouse's Anxiety
BOOMER Therapist Fran Marmor's take on how to not let a spouse's anxiety get in the way of the relationship
I don’t know what’s going on with my husband. I have been married for 25 years to a man who’s been a worrywart. He often worried about our kids getting into trouble even though they were fine. When we would take trips and fly, he would constantly check weather reports and seemed terrified whenever there was any turbulence. I can’t tell you how many times he asked me to check a spot on his back, or listen to his cough, etc. I actually thought it was cute that such a kind and successful man would show his vulnerability.
Fast forward to the present. I have never been a domestic goddess, but now he gets so stressed out if the house isn’t immaculate. If I buy the “wrong” product at the grocery store, you’d think I committed a felony. He actually yells if the coffee cups aren’t lined up in size order! He is critical of almost everything I do. When I point out that he seems uptight about everything, he gets defensive and tells me if I cared more about things that are important to him, we’d be fine. Help!
Clearly your husband suffers from anxiety. I understand how this would drive you crazy, especially if he isn’t nice to you, but it is probably really upsetting him, too, because anxiety is so uncomfortable. I don’t know if he has full-blown OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) but his symptoms sound as if it’s a possibility. When some people feel inner turmoil or anxiety, they often try to manage it by having their environment extremely organized. I’ve had clients say their anxiety is so extreme they cannot handle having anything out of place.
Your husband really needs empathy, but he is making it difficult by being so critical. I would gently tell him that you absolutely care about things that are important to him and that you also care about him. Tell him you notice he seems more stressed than usual. I’d remind him that you are on his team, but that instead of sharing his concerns with you, he seems to be blaming or attacking you. I’d also suggest that he talk to his doctor about his anxiety. There could be a physical reason for his increased angst – or possibly medicine that could be helpful. Also, offer to go with him to a counselor to see how he can feel calmer and how you two can communicate better so he sees you as more of his ally than adversary. It’s not easy. But I promise it’s treatable!