NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Helping Your Spouse Cope With Anxiety: Secure and Insecure Attachment Style Responses

When your spouse is experiencing anxiety, you want to be supportive and also take care of yourself.  Often, well-meaning people inadvertently respond in unsupportive ways based on whether they have either a secure of insecure attachment style (see my article: How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationship).  The focus of this article is to help you to be more aware of how you come across so that you respond in a supportive, caring way.

Helping Your Spouse to Cope With Anxiety

Insecure Attachment Styles
About 50% of the population, through no fault of their own, have insecure attachment styles.  The other 50% of the population have secure attachment styles. 

Attachment styles are complex and develop during early childhood.  The two most common insecure attachment styles are avoidant attachment style and anxious attachment styles.

Avoidant Attachment Style Responses:
If you have an avoidant attachment style, you're probably uncomfortable with being emotionally vulnerable because it makes you feel unsafe.  

It's also likely that you're uncomfortable seeing your spouse as emotionally vulnerable.  Even though you want to be emotionally supportive, your fear of emotional vulnerability causes you to want to dismiss or minimize vulnerability.  

Examples of avoidant attachment style responses:
  • "What are you anxious about? You have no reason to be anxious."
  • "You're making a big deal out of nothing."
  • "Oh come on.  That's ridiculous."
  • "It's all in your head."
As you read these responses, you probably sense how dismissive and lacking in empathy they are--even though this isn't what you intend.  

Anxious Attachment Style Responses:
If you have an anxious attachment style, you probably get anxious yourself when you see your spouse feeling anxious because their anxiety is triggering for you.  

You might feel insecure because, consciously or unconsciously, you worry about whether your spouse will be able to take care of you if s/he is preoccupied with anxiety.  

Also, people with anxious attachment style often have a fear of abandonment, so you might feel anxious that your spouse will leave you if s/he is overwhelmed with emotion:
  • "Your anxiety is making me feel anxious."
  • "Your anxiety is giving me a headache."
  • "If you're feeling anxious, you're not going to be able to take care of me."
Secure Attachment Style Responses:
Even if you developed an insecure attachment style when you were growing up, you can learn to respond in a more empathetic and supportive way:
  • Understand that anxiety is an inhibitory emotion, which means that, on an unconscious level, anxiety often suppresses deeper, more challenging emotions like shame or sadness, among others.  So, your spouse might not know why s/he feels anxious.  
  • Be fully present for your spouse.  This might mean that you might have to temporarily put aside or compartmentalize your own uncomfortable feelings to be supportive.
  • Encourage your spouse to talk to you if s/he feels comfortable to do so.
  • Listen to your spouse without judgment.
  • Ask your spouse what s/he might need from you.  Don't assume that your spouse wants you to fix the problem.
  • Encourage your partner to engage in healthy coping strategies like going for a walk, meditating, exercise (at a level that is healthy for him or her).
  • Encourage your partner to get help from a licensed mental health professional if his or her anxiety is chronic.
  • Consider getting help yourself if you tend to get triggered by your spouse's anxiety and you're aware that you need help with an insecure attachment style.

Getting Help in Therapy
Anxiety is on the rise and many people feel affected by it and their relationships are also negatively affected.

If you and your spouse are having problems with anxiety, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed psychotherapist.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.