How Anxiety Breaks Bonds
Typical daily stress is not usually a problem. The pressure to get a lot done, to be available to children and partners, or perform well at work are common.
But stress can damage marriages and partnerships when it becomes problem anxiety for one or both of you. Why? Because when anxiety increases, empathy is at risk.
Scientists have data showing that fear and anxiety drives down the desire or ability to suspect or consider what others are feeling. Caught up in worry and stress on a regular basis, we can lose the habit of empathy. We don’t imagine where the other person is coming from.
This is a relationship killer. Where empathy decreases, conversations about each other’s thoughts and feelings aren’t happening. Leaving the non-anxious partner feeling, well, anxious. Their partner is emotionally AWOL. It can feel unsupportive and unreliable.
This sense of loss strikes hard. Behavioral science sees expressions of intimate connection, security and acceptance as promoting stable psychological health and functional competence. We are okay, if not more fully human, in our experience.
The real danger here is that the couple will get distressed. The dance of the relationship becomes a habitual cycle of one pursuing connection while the (anxious) other sees the demand as possibly critical and threatening. And this is not tolerable. Common reactions: anger or retreat.
More often that not, this doesn’t have to happen. If couples find it worthy, they can be mindful of the cycle itself and, if willing to practice, put empathy back into the relationship process. This change settles down anxiety stemming from loneliness and fear. Now the way is open a bit for connection again. The two might listen and speak open heartedly.
What to do When Anxiety is Up
If you are prone to anxiety, some pragmatic and emotionally healthy behaviors are called for:
- Accept that you feel what you feel. If you have anxiety, it probably serves some purposes. It may be overblown and painful — that’s the downside — but at some level we are wired to feel anxiety or stress.
- Name what you are feeling. Talk about what you are feeling and thinking. Name the needs you have when you are feeling anxious, worried, or even angry.
- And do the same for the other. Ask and listen for their feelings and thoughts. Get on the same emotional page with them. And don’t fix or compare unless asked.
Most of what was just described doesn’t always come naturally, easily, or consistently. Read about relationship therapy here and anxiety counseling too. Consider calling (914) 78-3740 to see if counseling is something you could use.