Managing Feelings — 04 December 2012
Is anxiety helpful or hurtful to your marriage?

Anxiety is the state of unease in anticipation of real or perceived challenges. It heightens our vigilance about risks and propels us to work harder toward attaining our goals. Is anxiety within a committed relationship of similar value?

If anxiety is a protective, self-preserving alert system to safeguard us from injury, why would we need it in a committed, loving and secure marriage? The answer is that maintaining a solid and happy union is challenging and thus, by definition, evokes anxiety.

Michael Davis of Emory University mapped how the brain’s amygdala, the emotional hub of the brain, regulates fear, anger, pleasure, desire and other emotions. Davis explains that anxiety is invoked not only as a fear reaction to imminent danger, but also to other possible threats to our physical and/or emotional wellbeing.

The four most commonly reported anxiety sources within marriage are: Fear of disapproval; Fear of being controlled; Fear of loss of primacy; and, Fear of abandonment.

As adults, we use our partner’s validation as a primary affirmation of our self-worth. Though other people such as supervisors, co-workers, family and friends provide valuable feedback in affirming our esteem, none is more important than the opinion of our beloved. Fearing disapproval by a spouse is a major source of ongoing anxiety. It molds our behavior to be more pleasing in order to satisfy our mate and is also tinged with uncertainties about achieving it.

Disapproval is devastating to one’s sense of worthiness. The lack of validation from a mate is also destabilizing. Each day challenges us to carefully consider ways to please our mate as we hope to be rewarded in kind. This assignment creates a constant low-grade anxiety in every encounter with each other.

Feeling controlled compromises our sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency. Perceiving a request as an order relegates us to an inferior status within the relationship. It is degrading and infantilizing and thus unacceptable to most spouses. Anxious feelings propel vigilance to avoid these belittling and discrediting responses.

Fear of loss of primacy, often expressed as jealousy, is not unique to concerns about the spouse’s interest in another mate. It may be triggered by extra attention the partner provides the kids, the dog, friends, television, electronic gadgets or anything that distracts his/her attention from the spouse. The anxiety about not mattering enough to the beloved is painful and frightening.

Fear of abandonment restricts some individuals from being authentic about expressing their needs. They worry that the mate may become exacerbated by the request and physically or emotionally withdraw from their connection.

Allow your anxiety to help you be safe from harm by being affirming, accepting, collaborative and inclusive. It will redirect your anxiety to productive action and help your relationship thrive.

  • Accept that anxiety has a role in safety, self-preservation and personal motivation.
  • Reduce your fears of disapproval, control, unimportance and abandonment by modeling validation, cooperation, acceptance and inclusion to   create a secure, happier marriage.


Related Articles

About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

(0) Readers Comments

Comments are closed.