ASK ABDI: HOW DO I DEAL WITH MY PARTNER’S ANXIETY?

QUESTION: I am in a committed long-term relationship with an anxious person. There is a lot of friction at times due to my partner’s constant bouts of anxiety around some seemingly innocuous situations. How can I deal with this issue and how can I help my partner?

ANSWER: The first thing to remember is that we are helpless in such situations. Sometimes we can have the presence of mind to say a kind word and help the situation. Sometimes we can get triggered and be impatient and make the situation worse. But ultimately, all we can do is to remember that we are helpless and can not “fix” another person, how ever much their stuff might seem to affect our life.

Holding space for another without reacting is the golden key, while understanding our human limitations. Holding space involves having clear boundaries and allowing others their journey, in all its distorted ways, while we take ours, in all its own distorted ways. In all relationships, one person will be more evolved in certain areas, and the other person in other areas. Learning to power-share is quite helpful as well, i.e. not hiding under finger-pointing the other person’s flaws. Again, all this has to take into account our own fallibility and blind spots. Lastly, in intimate relationships we have to be open to the fact that many times our partner can carry a piece of our unconscious that is “too hot” for us to carry. We need to honestly examine this part and see if we are adding to our partner’s woes by not willingly looking at our own displaced issues. So in your case, is there, if any, place where your partner might be carrying some of your own anxiety? This is not an acquisition as much as an honest inventory of something that we might be missing.