We often forget about spouses of people with mental illnesses and what they are going through, as all focus is on helping the person who is suffering with the actual mental disorder.
However, it is just as important to have help and advice at hand for those people who not only took their spouse for better or worse, but are also constantly exposed to the challenges of their spouse’s mental illness. After all, they share a home with their anxious spouse, and behind closed doors they witness the true intensity of what mental illness can do to a person.
Having to recently coach a desperate wife on how to help her anxious husband, I do believe that apart from the obvious tips out there, these four pointers can make or break the healing process for spouses who need to pull out all the stops to get help to their loved one.
Anxiety sufferers need to be told and reassured constantly that they will get through this and that you are there for them. Hold them. Hug them often, because not getting the hug or nurturing that they need will only make an anxiety sufferer more agitated and angry. So hold them tightly every moment you get, and reassure them with words like: “Everything is okay, I am right here with you.” “You are going to get through this, and I will be with you every step of the way.”
Anxiety sufferers can often slip into an irrational and emotional state, making them believe that the whole world is against them and that everything is hopeless. This leads to exhaustion, making them emotional, angry and bitter.
Unfortunately, these emotional outbursts can lead to you, the spouse, becoming their punching bag, causing them to say and do things they don’t mean. They will say things such as ‘I just wish I would die.’ This is not only because they are anxious, but also because they are feeling like a burden to you. You need to hold your head high and develop a thick skin, because sometimes the words they say will sting, but please know that this is not them talking, it is desperation. I remember when I was at my worst. I asked my mother, who is a nurse, to please kill me and end my suffering. OUCH!
This is tough, especially if you are not the sort of person who enjoys babying or mollycoddling. Unfortunately you are going to have to try your best here. I speak from personal experience when I say that people with anxiety disorders need reassurance. They need to be told often that ‘All is okay.’
So please know that no matter what is said, the words are not always meant, and it is not your fault.
It’s hard to hold back the tears, but it’s important to be cautious when showing emotion in front of your anxious spouse, as this can often intensify their emotions. You have to remain calm and maintain your composure. You are their rock. You are the person who provides a means for support. You are also the person who represents level-headiness and practicality, and if you start showing your emotions, they will feel as though they have lost their rock, which will only lead back to square one.
However, you are also only a human being, and you cannot bottle it all up, so cry when your anxious spouse is out of sight. I recommend even speaking to a psychologist if you feel the need. There is absolutely no shame in wanting to get support for yourself while supporting your anxious partner.
The Bad Guy
Sometimes, people with mental illnesses have trouble admitting that they need help.
Health does come first, and you unfortunately are going to become the bad guy because no matter how much they protest, you need to insist that they get the treatment they deserve. Do not make the mistake of threatening your partner if they resist going for treatment. Instead tell them of all the things that you two can look forward to together once they are better. People who require going into rehabilitation centers and actually staying on site within a program may need the hardest convincing. You have to be firm but kind and tell them it’s for their own good. Make the appointment and go with them!
It is not easy being the partner of an anxiety sufferer, but hopefully these few tips can help better prepare you for the recovery process. As hard as it is, please know that anxiety is like a rollercoaster, and there will be good days and bad days, but please keep faith and know that it will get better!