Marriage was the one thing that I aspired to more than anything in my life. Being honest, I sought it more than I went after a strong relationship with Christ. My own mental health was not high on the radar of importance. So, it wasn’t far into this new life stage that I felt myself dealing with anxiety in my marriage.
can marriage cause anxiety?
Just what is anxiety? The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Disorders (DSM-5) relays that “Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. It can alert us to dangers and help us prepare and pay attention.” Additionally, “Anxiety refers to the anticipation of a future concern and is more associated with muscle tension and avoidance behavior.”
So can marriage cause anxiety?
The short answer is “yes.”
The long answer is that being married isn’t the underlying cause of anxiety. Those of us who suffer from anxiety have an issue with fear and concern paralyzing or overriding our ability to function holistically.
Marriage can create a lot of hustle and bustle. One of the biggest things holding a great marriage together is communication. But when spouses get busy, other things like work and kids take priority, putting kinks up with the communication lines. When communication is blocked, the connection starts to disappear.
A lot of couples who stress about the way their marriage is going often say “I don’t feel connected anymore…” and, as the chasm between them grows, they drift apart from what they had when they said, “I do.”
That disconnect often has to do with one or both partners feeling unheard or unseen; they feel like their needs aren’t being met. In my case, I sometimes struggle to succinctly communicate my needs and it compounds those insecurities of being unseen or unheard.
Worrying about what is going to happen with your relationship, having unanswered questions, concerns about where the money is coming from to take care of bills…all of these things can give way to worry. Going back to the DSM-5 descriptions, it (anxiety) is a reaction to stress and the anticipation of future concern.
is marriage anxiety normal?
There are 6 types of anxiety disorders but the most likely one, especially when it comes to marital anxiety is Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This particular disorder “…involves persistent and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities. This ongoing worry and tension may be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as restlessness, feeling on edge or easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, or problems sleeping. Often the worries focus on everyday things such as job responsibilities, family health, or minor matters such as chores, car repairs, or appointments.”
So, according to the definitions of anxiety and, more specifically, marital anxiety, yes having anxiety in your marriage is normal.
My personal, earthly opinion would lead me to think that if you didn’t feel some sort of anxiousness in your marriage, then something is wrong with this picture…When I began seeing a therapist, she helped me to learn how to deal with my anxious thoughts. With these valuable tools, why did marriage make my anxiety worse? Click To Tweet
Why did marriage make my anxiety worse?
When I began seeing my therapist back in 2010, she diagnosed me with anxiety. She even wanted to put me on medication to help try to control my anxious thoughts. I refused it. Even though I was willing to see a therapist, taking medication was crossing the line. Just having an impartial 3rd party to listen to my problems was one thing. Taking pills meant that I had a problem that I could neither talk away nor resolve on my own.
I refused to let her help me completely.
When I met my husband and started a friendship with him, I knew that everything was going to be just fine. I had someone with whom to share my problems. That was all that I needed to be sure that my mind was right and that I was ready for marriage.
Surely you’ve deduced by now that I was not, in fact, “ready for marriage.”
I wondered why marriage made my anxiety worse. All of those issues and insecurities that I had were not resolved. More accurately described, they were just tucked into my waistband waiting to be pulled out at my earliest convenience.
This bride jumped feet first into her marriage, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed…and not ready for the emotional rollercoaster that wore the title “Mrs.”
how do I deal with marriage anxiety?
It still took another 7 years after our vows before I acknowledged what it meant to say that I had an anxiety disorder. Another year after I accepted it, I finally admitted that I needed the medication to help me manage it as best as possible.
Even before admitting what was going on within myself, there were a few things that I was able to do to temper my anxiety, as it related to my marriage.
Identify the source of your anxiety
What gives you the most worry in your marriage? Do you lose sleep over the bills being paid on time? Feeling like a single parent when it comes to keeping the house running? Do interactions with your in-laws make your stomach turn? What is it that you avoid like the plague?
For myself, I was constantly worried about whether or not I was a good enough wife. Did I keep the house clean enough? Did I cook well enough? Was I cooking enough meals to keep my husband happy? Was he bored with our sex life?
The way I questioned myself was never-ending.
The funniest part about it all was that he didn’t care about any of the things that caused me so much worry and stress. His only concern was that he was able to come home to peace.
be honest with yourself
First, you have to be honest with yourself. In my journey in dealing with anxiety, I had to admit that I had a struggle. The hardest lesson for me to learn was that, because perfection does not exist in our mortal being, it would never be possible for me to be a perfect woman. And because I can never be a perfect woman, I will never be a perfect wife. The best I can hope for is that I’m the perfect complement to my husband.
I had to admit that I was holding myself to some pretty high and relatively impossible standards. Admitting that sometimes I would fail miserably at being a good wife was the first step in breaking through my anxiety issues about my marriage. After knowing that I would stumble and fall from time to time, I practiced extending grace to myself…and to my husband. For as much as I am imperfect, he is deserving of the same patience and forgiveness that I would want to receive.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV, Paul reminds us, “…My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
have a candid conversation with your spouse
I don’t like to start fights or disagreements. This mentality compounds the anxiety within my marriage because I worry about the things that are left unsaid. As much as we would want our spouses to be mind readers, they don’t always know what troubles or concerns us.
Hubby and I have a bi-annual check-in with each other. We sit down and ask each other the hard questions:
- How am I doing as a husband/wife?
- Is there anything more that I can do for you?
- Is sex still good? Do you want to try something new/different?
- What would you like to do? Are we still on the same path? (This is usually about work or business goals.)
- Do we need to reallocate our finances for something different/more important?
It’s an opportunity to share with each other what our needs are at the moment, to share if those needs have changed, and to address what we can do to work on meeting those needs. It’s a conversation conducted with patience, understanding, and grace. Most importantly for me, it gives me the grounding I need to hear that I’m not doing as badly as I thought I was. I get that every marital conversation isn’t always that easy; if you need help having those conversations, try these conversation helper cards.
Is there anything I can do to be less anxious about my marriage?
When we marry someone, we will naturally have fears. We fear the possibility of failure that we’ll make a mistake or that our marriage won’t last. A secure and steady stream of income to meet our financial needs might make the top 3 of our list of things we fret over. What happens when we have kids? What will happen to my marriage if we can’t have children?
There are a million things that we will question about ourselves and our marriage.
The Bible is full of scripture that tells us to not worry. Matthew 6:25-34 is a treasure trove of wisdom; verse 34 reminds us “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
It’s definitely easier said than done. Tomorrow’s worries have stolen too many of today’s joys.
The biggest hurdle for those of us who struggle with anxiety is that a lot of the things we worry about are completely out of our control. What has brought me peace has been the grace I’ve found in understanding that I can’t control everything and that, frankly, crap happens.
That forgiving grace…and drugs.
I began this healing journey strongly adamant that I didn’t need medication or that it was pointless. At my age, I’ve learned the hard way that, for me, prescription anxiety medication helps me to be able to balance out my anxiety disorder and function better. There is nothing wrong with having that kind of support. There is no shame in it.
Do these things:
- Lean on God for strength and understanding.
- Understand and acknowledge what the sources of your anxiety are. Seek assistance from a counselor to help identify your stressors if you need to.
- Be open to communication with your spouse about your needs.
- Give yourself grace. Learn to control only what you can.
- See #1.
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