Anxiety is a popular topic, as so many Americans seem to struggle with this in some way. There is a lot of media out there on how to cope with your anxiety. Fortunately, the encouragement that you are not alone is rapidly becoming easier to find.
But what if it’s not you, but your spouse, who faces this daily struggle? How do you live day in and day out with the constant reality of anxiety that is not your own?
To be perfectly transparent, this is a very difficult topic for me. Those who know my husband, Bruce, know that anxiety is largely woven into the tapestry of who he is. There isn’t a moment of each and every day that isn’t touched by these emotions, he wouldn’t be him without them.
I am very much the opposite. Logic rules my approach to life. Every decision I make has been risk-assessed before I proceed in the most rational manner possible. But with this comes arrogance, believing that my approach is superior and untouchable to that of others. This has caused many problems in our relationship, and it has taken the full fourteen years of our marriage (and unfortunately, I believe it will probably take even more) to even bring me to the point of recognizing the many mistakes that I have made when engaging with his anxious thoughts.
Please know that as I write this post, I do so with the tears of regret and repentance running down my face.
While this post is not specifically about the enneagram, Bruce and I would not have seen as much growth in our marriage if we hadn’t been introduced to this unique approach to personality types. Beth and Jeff McCord, on their website, Your Enneagram Coach | Free Enneagram Test, Courses, & Coaching, describe the enneagram in this way:
The Enneagram (Ennea=9, Gram=Diagram) is simply a map (GPS) for self-discovery and personal growth based on 9 basic personality types. The Enneagram accurately and clearly describes why you think, feel and behave in particular ways based upon your core fears and core desires.
For a free test to determine which type you are, click here: Enneagram Assessment – Your Enneagram Coach.
What we learned was that Bruce is Type 6 – The Loyal Guardian. Since the types are based on who you are on the inside, it really gave us (more specifically, me) a really great understanding of how he ticks. I learned that his core fear is “fear itself”, his core desire is to have security, support and guidance, and his core weakness is fear and anxiety. (I must add too, that while there is so much more to the Type 6 personality, so many great and admirable strengths, since this blog post is focused on anxiety specifically, I will not expand on them here.)
For me, I’m a Type 5 – The Investigative Thinker. My core fear is being incompetent, overwhelmed or dependent. My core desire is to be capable and competent. And my core weakness is fear of depletion. For more on this last one, visit the blog post: Is There a Wrong Way to Find Rest?
More than anything, this fantastic tool helped us to understand each other in a new way. And it helped us to see that neither of us were alone in who we were, that there are many others who operate in very similar ways.
While Bruce and I are a lot alike in a lot of ways, we are so very opposite in how we approach life. He makes a lot of decisions emotionally, looking first at all the possible things that could go wrong with all the worst possible outcomes. Like I’ve said before, I approach all things with the non-emotional logical brain. I tend also to be an optimist, trusting that whatever the outcome, God will provide.
When we allow it, and with God’s guidance, our opposites can become a beautiful balance, resulting in wise decisions that rarely lead us astray. Unfortunately, this is not as common, as I so often shut him down before we get started. Somewhere along the way, I started viewing his anxiety as a negative thing. Something that needed to be squashed and diminished instead of honored and respected.
On my road to self-discovery, I have repeated many mistakes in how I approach Bruce’s anxiety. My hope is that you will learn from them and not make them yourself.
The Top 5 Wrong Approaches to Your Husband’s Anxiety
1. Dismiss and Trivialize Him
When I asked Bruce to tell me, in light of his anxiety, the things that I, or others, do that bothers him, he responded immediately that it is when he is blown off and not taken seriously. Ouch…I do this a lot.
I have observed in myself, that it is easier for me to accept and respect other’s anxiety than my own husband’s. I think that this is because a friend’s anxiety doesn’t impact me in the same way. It’s easy to be a supportive friend, and then go home leaving them to their own choices and path. But Bruce’s anxiety might keep me from doing something fun, or it might restrict my preferred casual lifestyle.
So, I shut him down. I allow my arrogance to take over, choosing to believe that I am more intelligent because I don’t involve emotion in my decision making.
God’s Perfect Design
But you know what? God made Bruce this way (just as He made me in all my quirkiness). He gave him this unique viewpoint for a reason. And that, in itself, deserves my respect.
In his devotional for the enneagram Type 6, The Gospel for Loyalists (Affiliate Link), Tyler Zach gives this perspective:
God sympathizes with the worldview of a Loyalist. This dangerous world lacks safety and is filled with naïve, unreliable, dismissive, and abusive people. We need honest, faithful, and protective guardians who will care for the most vulnerable [and will] be prepared for the worst but hope for the best… Therefore, a Loyalist will be happy to know the Bible affirms the following beliefs:
God created us to be cautious and prepared. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” Proverbs 27:12
God created us to be watchful and discerning. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
God created us to long for safety. “‘Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the Lord; ‘I will place him in the safety for which he longs’” Psalm 12:5
One Body, Many Parts
It has taken me a long time to realize that God didn’t just create people with different character traits and personalities. He created people’s minds to function completely different as well. Just because Bruce approaches an idea or topic in an opposite manner from my own, doesn’t mean that his is inferior to mine.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts forms one body, so it is with Christ. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
1 Corinthians 12:12, 21-26
Bruce’s anxiety keeps us safe, and well prepared. No matter where we go, I can trust that no matter the circumstance, he has already seen the potential outcome. Because of how God made Bruce, I have less stress in my own life.
Respect Goes a Long Way
By consistently shutting him down, I tell Bruce that I don’t respect who he is. Even though I love him dearly, I belittle him with my condescension, leaving a wake of insecurity wherever I tread.
In her book, For Women Only (Affiliate Link), Shaunti Feldhahn recounts the following experience from a speaker at a relationship retreat:
“I’m going to ask you to choose between two bad things,” he [the speaker] said. “If you had to choose, would you rather feel alone and unloved in the world or would you rather feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone?”
I remember thinking, what kind of choice is that? Who would ever choose to feel unloved?
The speaker then turned to the men’s side of the room. “Okay, men. Who here would rather feel alone and unloved?”
A sea of hands went up, and a giant gasp rippled across the women’s side of the room.
The speaker then asked which men would rather feel disrespected, and we women watched in bemusement as only a few men lifted their hands.
This short passage woke me up to how I treated my husband. He doesn’t cherish my love above all else, he cherishes my respect. And I consistently go out of my way to make him (although not always on purpose) feel disrespected.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10
2. Attempt to Educate and Fix Him
This, I think, is a problem that is specific to women. I don’t know a woman around that hasn’t tried to “fix” her husband in some aspect or another at some point in their relationship. My unofficial (and uneducated) opinion is that women are always trying to grow and change and better themselves all throughout their lives, whereas men are who they were at 12, just older! I don’t mean this as an insult to either men or women, I think it’s great that women are constantly learning and growing, and I think it’s wonderful that men are so comfortable in who they are!
The problem arises when women expect their men to learn, grow, and change right along with them. We feel like we can see so much of their potential, if they would only do the things we think they need to do to get there!
Priscilla Shirer has this to say in her book, Fervent (Affiliate Link):
Quit trying to be the Holy Spirit in your relationship, responsible for poking and prodding that husband of yours until he finally sees the things the same way you see them…No, our job – my job, your job – is not to change that man but to respect him and then leave the rest to the Lord. When you do this, you’re not letting him off the hook at all – you’re just leaving him to God. You’re also well on your own way to discovering something else: he’s likely not the only one who needs to do some changing.
Where I’ve gone wrong so many times, is to try and get Bruce into the Word, the way that I would like to see him in the Word. But crazy things have happened in both our marriage and in his relationship with the Lord, when I’ve backed off and let God work it out.
See, Bruce’s mind works differently than mine, which means that God is going to approach him differently than He does me. Their relationship is going to look different as well. God created Bruce and knew that he would struggle with all the anxiousness. He created him this way, knowing that He would meet him where he was at.
Bruce does not need to be changed by me. While sometimes, his anxiety can be extreme and overwhelming, there is purpose in how God made him.
I think of Loyalists as God’s Secret Service: they are vigilant, natural risk assessors, always reading people to search for hidden agendas or ulterior motives. They know where the exits are in any room and what’s standing in the way between them and the door. Like a radar, they constantly scan their environment, picking up potential dangers that others may never see. Like zebras on a savanna, they maintain just the right distance from their predators – never close enough to get caught by the lions, yet never so far away they lose visual contact.Tyler Zach, The Gospel for Loyalists (Affiliate Link)
The thing we can do, is pray. Pray for our husband’s anxiety, but pray also for the wisdom to let go. Your husband belongs to God more than he belongs to you, and God loves him more than you do. Our job is to pray, and to let the Holy Spirit move in our own hearts while giving Him the space to move in our husband’s hearts.
And prayer is also how God gets through to us, even while we’re praying for our husband, convincing us that maybe what our husband needs most right now is for his wife to become a soft, safe place for him to land, rather than a prickly, nagging source of contention that only agitates him and makes things worse.Priscilla Shirer, Fervent (Affiliate Link)
When we try and fix our husband’s anxiety on our own, when we try and educate them on the proper approach to life, we are allowing our own anxiety to take hold. Because I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but our need for control is a pretty good indication that anxiety exists somewhere within our own hearts as well.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6
The enemy, who’s intent on disrupting the peace in your home, doesn’t flinch when you try to force your own fixes upon it, but he does start worrying when a wife, a mother, a daughter, or a sister starts avoiding the noise at the periphery and starts making some noise of her own, right outside the door to the devil’s workshop.Priscilla Shirer, Fervent (Affiliate Link)
3. Provide a Flippant Response
This one might be specific to our house, but I thought I’d include it anyway. One of my spiritual gifts is faith, so it comes easy to me. Trusting all that I have to God’s care feels natural.
But this is not Bruce’s way. Faith is the one thing he struggles the most in. When I attempt to encourage him with the knowledge that God’s got it, he feels as though I’m being flippant, not giving weight to the gravity of his emotions and reality.
One Loyalist puts their struggle this way: “Anxiety feels like a freight train. It’s as if I am standing on a platform, looking down the track. I can feel the train’s vibration and feel it coming and then find myself completely taken up by it and can’t get off.” Can you relate? Are you afraid that the “light at the end of the tunnel” may really just be another train?” Does even the concept of worry, well, worry you? You may worry about how much you are worrying, whether you are worrying about the right things, or worry when things are going well because obviously something is wrong if they are.Tyler Zach, The Gospel for Loyalists (Affiliate Link)
For him, the anxiety is heavy. It’s not so easy to just hand it over to God and let Him take it from there. Whether that’s the right thing to do or not doesn’t matter, the point is that it’s not easy. For me to approach it with him like it is, feels insensitive and flippant.
My Own Heart Issue
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4
I tend to be an impatient woman, lacking quite a bit in compassion. In a lot of ways, Bruce is not wrong. For me it takes a lot to slow down and roll through his emotions with him. It would be much easier for me if he could just “trust God.”
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12
I have learned though, that he isn’t looking for direction from me. He knows already what he’s supposed to do. What he needs from me, his wife, is to ride the emotional wave with him. To sit quietly, and hear him out. Sometimes he does look for affirmation, sometimes he doesn’t. My job is to follow his lead.
4. Ease His Anxiety with Logic
So, true story, this happened the other day. Bruce has been suffering this year from knee stiffness and swelling. He has undergone every test and medication possible to no avail. On paper, he’s the healthiest he’s ever been. Our next step was to see an RH specialist with the thought that it might be an autoimmune situation. But when he spoke with her his week, she felt confident that the issue is not autoimmune, but mechanical. Her recommendation was to go back to the knee specialist for the purpose of exploratory surgery.
You would think that he would be encouraged by this news. An autoimmune could mean that he would struggle the rest of his life, but a surgery could fix it for good. But his anxiety instead reminded him of all the complications and risks of surgery.
I immediately launched into my logical rationale, trying to convince him why his concerns weren’t a problem. In my mind, I was being encouraging, putting out all of the fires and easing his mind. But that’s not how he received it. All he heard was that I was not taking his concerns seriously and was dismissing them.
Comfort His Way, Not Mine
Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31
This is such a simple verse, and we’ve all heard it over and over again. But today I read it in a different light. Today, I saw that this doesn’t mean to comfort him how I would want to be comforted, it means to consider the approach that would best meet his needs, just like I would want someone to consider the approach that would best meet my needs.
I had barreled in, taking control of the situation by diminishing his concerns. His concerns were real, because they were all real risks to any invasive procedure. He had a right to be wary of them. Because of his anxiety in this area, he will do everything it takes to prevent the worst from happening, whereas I might be more lax about it, resulting in a riskier situation.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:3
If I had approached him more humbly, recognizing that my way isn’t better, just different, my husband might have left the phone call feeling supported rather than trampled upon.
5. Laugh and Tease
Some of you might be appalled that this one even has to be included, but here it is.
A little background – my husband and I have pretty thick skin and we throw each other under the bus…..quite frequently. In fact, teasing each other is our favorite form of flirting. For example, I know without a doubt, that if he’s in front at church, I will be the butt of at least one joke. It’s okay. It’s who we are, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
That being said, there are times that the jokes go to far. I know the things that he is sensitive about, and sometimes I can’t help but laugh anyway. Those are the times for which I am ashamed.
The only time a guy’s guard is completely down, is with the woman he loves. So, she can pierce his heart like no one else.Shaunti Feldhahn, For Women Only (Affiliate Link) – in an interview with her dad
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen…Be kind and compassionate to one another. Ephesians 4:29, 32a
A person’s anxiety is their greatest insecurity, their greatest struggle. These things are not endearing or cute. They are painful and raw. They should not be the butt of a joke, or even at the end of gentle teasing. Some things should be off limits.
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Romans 14:19
To my dear husband: I see you, and I am sorry.
2 thoughts on “5 Mistakes to Avoid with Your Husband’s Anxiety”
A lot of wisdom in this article. Thank you for sharing!
Great tips! Sometimes we just want to pray about it and give it to God, but God designed Us to help and support others. I love these proactive ways we can help others who have anxiety!
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