At some point during my post-wedding anxiety, I realized that I was afraid of not being able to love enough. I had been trying to figure out why I felt so anxious. Why did the thought of having children paralyze me? Why did the call to love cause me to tense up?
It dawned on me that I was worried about not being able to love my wife enough. I was worried that I would not love our children enough, or that I was too set in my ways to give all of myself to them. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a husband or father. I wasn’t sure I had enough time/energy/drive/love to be a good husband and father.
When I told this to my priest he asked, “What is enough? Does your wife think you love her enough?” Of course she did. She had said so. I had been holding myself up to an impossible standard (always the perfectionist).
Worrying that “I couldn’t love enough” caused anxiety. My brain twisted that into “I wasn’t in love.” That increased the anxiety until it became my normal state.
My anxiety was not crippling, but for people who suffer from such potent anxiety, professional assistance is required. If your anxiety is damaging your life, please consult your doctor about getting diagnosed. At the very least call a tele-counseling service such as the Pastoral Solutions Institute that specializes in faith-based therapy.
If you struggle with the type of anxiety I experienced, here is some advice:
1. Practice gratitude. “In all things give thanks” (1Thessalonians 5:18). My wife said that during those anxious months, I found practicing gratitude hard to accept. With daily prayer, however, I began to internalize it. Acknowledging how my life was better because of my wife, shifted my thoughts from my anxiety. The tense feelings instantly loosened and I rediscovered the pure joy of simply sharing life (good and bad) with my wife.
2. Focus outward. Even in my most anxious moments I never hesitated when my wife needed something. One particular morning I found myself in the grip of anxiety. In the dark next to me, my wife stirred and groaned. She was ill and asked me to get her toast and milk so she could take some medicine. I never thought of hesitating. Springing from bed I went downstairs and got her what she needed. I was reminded that love is action. It’s saying “yes” every minute of every day.
3. Feel the anxiety, but act anyway. I was smart enough to know that telling myself to “just suck it up” was pointless. That might work with a sore ankle during a basketball game, but the brain is a little more complex. Such a simplistic approach is a way of avoiding our problem. Avoidance is a fear reaction, and it rarely ends well.
I knew in my core, that I wanted to be married, expected to stay married, and was blessed with a wonderful wife whom I loved. I was anxious, but I did not let that stop me from being attentive and loving. During moments when I felt anxiety or fear, I didn’t fight it. I let it wash over me and acted anyway. I got on with the business of living and waited until my mind was more settled before I addressed what was making me anxious.
4. Remind yourself of what is true. During anxious moments, examine your thoughts and ask yourself if they are true. Even during anxiety you can tell if a thought is true. Remember: anxiety doesn’t last. Feelings don’t last. Feelings can cause you to have false thoughts. You feel anxious, so you decide there must be a reason you are anxious and that something must be wrong. I started to think, “being married is making me anxious. Maybe marriage was a mistake.” Once those thoughts take hold, they begin to ruminate, and then seem so powerful that they must be true.
Looking back I realize that I had asked for my anxiety. My wife reminded me that I had asked God to remake me. I was just unprepared for the accompanying pain. I shouldn’t have been. He had a lot to chip away.
I am not saying the anxiety was from God. God does not talk to us through the type of gnawing anxiety that eats at your gut and makes you think things are hopeless. But God allowed me to carry this cross, so I could learn to trust Him and pray. Eventually, clumsily, I left “what ifs” and “if onlys” behind. Those words are tricks of the devil. I replaced them with “Be not afraid” and “I am with you always.”
Some of you are probably wondering how my wife handled all of this. I’m still in awe of her. She seemed unflappable. Sure, she was rattled a few times. She’s only human.
I’ll never forget the time she broke down and said “I want my fiancé back!” But she told me that she knew God was letting this happen to us for a reason. She actually told me, once I got through it all, that she felt as if I had slayed a dragon for her. Our love was stronger. Tested. She felt honored that I shared everything with her, and grateful that I did not retreat into myself and shut her out. Communication is key. No marriage can survive without it.
One more thing: I’ve heard it said that in the end it’s not so much who we marry, but who we are in that marriage. No one can make us happy. When I began to act like the husband I wanted to be, I fell in love with my wife all over again. I am grateful that she said “yes” and continues to say “yes” every single day.
Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series about anxiety. Click here for previous articles: