His anxiety is getting to me

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Hi Meredith,

I am a divorced woman in my mid-50s, and in a very loving relationship with my male partner, who is in his mid-60s. We've been together for about six years, and we're very happy together and will probably get married once my kids are grown and flown. He's loving, funny, attentive, considerate, and supportive. I do my best to be a partner that is equally supportive and loving.

However, I would appreciate your advice concerning the following. My partner suffers from anxiety (childhood trauma, ongoing health issues, stressful job). This impacts our relationship in a variety of ways. Most recently, his legitimate concerns about his health have been regularly veering into unreasonable territory and he becomes obsessive and super stressed out. I do think that he's a hypochondriac. I really try to be patient and respond with love and care, but sometimes I feel myself absorbing his anxiety and stress, which is super unhealthy for me (I've got health issues of my own). One easy answer would be for him to go to therapy, but he will not.

My question is, do you have any advice for how I can be a supportive partner but also take care of myself when he's going down the rabbit hole? I want to spend the rest of my life with this man, but I'm having trouble navigating this issue which seems to be escalating.

– Stressed


If you're in therapy, you could invite him to come with you, to talk about how you feel.

You could also ask to talk to his doctor with him. It would be helpful to understand his medical issues and the danger they present. Maybe if you're with him, getting filled in on the basics, he'll know he has a second person who can remind him of the facts. He can also ask that doctor what to do about the anxiety, because stress can make a person's health so much worth. If this is framed as what's best for his body, as opposed to an exercise for the mind, he might be open to more discussion. (Sometimes the idea of starting therapy is more stressful than the stuff you need to talk about there.)

Also, you're a human who has limits, and that's OK. You want to be a supportive partner, but that doesn't mean jumping down the rabbit hole with him every time he wants to go. You can excuse yourself, let him know you need a break, and say, "I know we can spiral here, so I'm going stop this right now so I can focus on something more positive." You can do what's best for you and maybe he'll join you.

I used to fool myself into believing that if I worried enough, I'd make my problems better. Or that I'd have more control over outcomes. That I'd be less surprised if something bad happened. I've proven myself wrong over and over. I'm grateful for people in my life who've said, "We can worry a little now – for like 10 more minutes – and then we'll watch TV." Keep your boundaries and let him learn from the way you jump off the hamster wheel.

– Meredith

Readers? Thoughts on the therapy refusal? How else do you deal with this?