Dana thought that her husband Phil was much more generous with his ex-wife than he’d ever been with her. Although Dana and Phil had been married for several years, Dana worried that Phil just didn’t love her and she felt like a second-class-citizen. In her mind, she’d just never been treated as well as Phil’s ex. Dana felt angry. But instead of bringing this worry up to Phil in a calm and non-threatening way or even just blasting him with her feelings of being less than, she kept her mouth shut, to avoid making the situation worse.
Dana believed that she knew exactly what Phil was thinking and had made up a scenario in her mind to make the pieces fit together. And because she didn’t approach Phil with her feelings and doubt, he didn’t even know what she was thinking. Because of this, Dana withdrew from Phil emotionally, and he felt rejected.
Anxiety Starter #1 – Thinking you can read your spouse’s mind.
This will get you into trouble almost every time. There have been plenty of times in our marriage and I’m sure yours too, where you must make a decision based on your knowledge of what your spouse would think or feel. However, doing this on a regular basis will get you into trouble. We are all simply too unique in our world view and life experience for anyone else to be able to guess what we’re thinking.
Anxiety Quencher #1 – Just ask what your spouse is thinking
Wait until a time when it’s not too chaotic and use a soft start (more info on that here- link to soft start up). Tell your spouse in a kind and loving way, what you’re feeling and the actions they are taking that seem to point you toward these feelings. You could start with a statement like, “When you’re really generous with your ex it makes me feel like you don’t love me much. Tell me what you’re feeling.” Ask for a clear understanding of what’s really going on so you can work this out together instead of trying to be a mind reader.
If you spouse doesn’t want to be open and talk about this situation, at least you’ve let them know what you’re seeing and feeling. Being able to “bring your feelings into the light” about your anxiety can help relieve the hiding and secrecy of unspoken thoughts. And the more likely scenario is that you and your spouse can talk openly about the situation and come to a clear understanding of what’s really happening.
This is similar to a lonely shy person being unable to talk with others and see if there’s a possibility of friendship. Their anxiety about building relationships continues to grow. The more anxiety they have, the less they can talk with others, confirming in their minds that they can’t form new relationships.
Now that Phil is feeling rejected by Dana, due to her withdrawing emotionally, he begins extending his business trips, burying his anxiety in extra hours working and watching TV in his hotel room. Dana interprets this to confirm that he doesn’t love her.
Anxiety develops because we anticipate a problem or tough situation.
Anxiety Starter #2 – Avoid dealing directly with people involved
Dana finally decided to talk with Phil about her feelings of being less-than when compared to Phil’s ex. Unfortunately, she didn’t use a soft start up (link to soft start again) and came off sounding like she was accusing Phil. He already feels ashamed because he’s afraid of his ex-wife’s anger which is one of the reasons he tends to be more generous with her. Dana’s anger leads to him becoming defensive, so Dana just drops the conflict.
Anxiety Quencher #2 – Just begin with some honest, open ended questions and see where it leads
The more the anxiety builds up, the more she is determined to address this with Phil. So, one day Dana just asks, “How do you feel about me?” Phil answers with these soothing words, “Whenever I look at you, I feel blessed. I get scared sometimes that maybe you don’t love me as much or are angry with me. My parents were always angry with each other or me. Being married to you seems too good to be true.”
Dana then asks, very simply, “And, how do you feel about your ex-wife?” Phil responded, “The two of you are night and day. You’re wonderful. She terrifies me. She always rants and screams, just like my father used to. Even 5 years after our divorce I’m still afraid to stand up to her.”
Information is power here!
Understanding where Phil is coming from in the way he treats his ex, makes Dana so more confident about their relationship.
Anxiety Starter #3 – Focus on future events
Just like marriage, in tennis you need to focus on the game you’re playing. If athletes jump ahead to think about who will win this match or what the next bracket will mean, then they have a good chance of losing their current match.
The same is true in marriage. By focusing on the potential bad outcomes in the future, we have almost zero ability to affect the present. This means that by worrying and playing those future scenarios over and over in our minds, we are throwing away the chance to do anything differently. When you start saying, “What if…..” then STOP, and go back to ask yourself, “What can I do differently today?”.
If Dana focused on future events she might see zero hope for their relationship. Without those important conversations with Phil, she might just give up. She might have lost all faith in Phil. Dana might think he couldn’t ever be the loving, supportive and generous husband she’d hoped for. In many cases, the more anxiety of not knowing and what ifs, there would probably be a time when she would have given up. She would have lived in a miserable marriage or have asked for a divorce. What a shame to end a marriage over a perceived situation that really wasn’t at all what she thought.
Anxiety Quencher #3 – Push thoughts of the future into the future and just concentrate on your next step.
Don’t allow the What ifs and Mind reading games to play havoc with your most important relationships.
Have a specific question about anxiety – email us at Mike@MikeandSusanDawson.com. We’d love to help.
Some of the stories and recommendations above are from Dr. Susan Heitler, clinical psychologist. (link https://prescriptionswithoutpills.com/)