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I'm struggling with my wife's anxiety

My partner & I have 2 boys (aged 3 & 1) who are the love of both of our lives. We became pregnant shortly after we got together and have been making a go at it ever since. I’ve always been a happy-go-lucky kind of guy & come from a good family.

I did not know when we got together that my partner came from a very abusive family and had been suffering from mental health problems most of her life. This all became more apparent as pregnancy & parenthood unfolded. She has been seeing a counsellor for over a year now & has been making good progress but it’s a long road.

Lately, things have taken a turn for the worse. Her dad died & her brother went to prison. Her family lives in the UK whilst we live in Ireland. I am trying my best to work 2 jobs to pay rent & support our family but it’s really hard. My kids are asleep when I get home mostly and it breaks my heart. My partner has become so stressed lately that everything has become a problem, she then rings me when I’m at work to tell me what’s going on and I have to try and talk her through it. It’s becoming a problem for me at work too because I feel like I can’t cope anymore.

At the bottom of it all, she’s a wonderful mother who is doing her best for the kids and I see that but our relationship is broken. I have tried for 3 years now to make her feel safe and secure in our home but she still spends most of her days in fight or flight. I just simply can’t do it anymore. But I don’t know what to do because I’m so scared of what would happen if we split up.

I want my kids to grow up in a happy family like I had. I’m also worried about how she would cope. I know that if we split up it would mean me leaving the home because she looks after them all the time. I just don’t know what to do and I feel like I can’t cope. Can you help?

Thank you so much for writing to me. I can’t make any of this go away but I can offer some thoughts and advice. The first thing is to really acknowledge your reaching out for help. I cannot adequately express how important it is. Unfortunately, people often don’t feel able to say that they’re reaching the end of their tether but you are and that is a great step forward.  

You describe an incredibly difficult situation that I have no doubt whatsoever, in your respective ways each of you is going the best they possibly can. Living with someone who has significant mental health issues is always challenging. My immediate observation is how alone you each seem even though your wife is getting some professional help. I would urge her to continue with that though because as you say, the road is long but counselling really can support people at the darkest times and this is what you need to access too.

Now, I can also see that you are working so hard to get the rent paid and that’s quite apart from the emotional and mental energy needed to be the dad you so clearly want to be as well as a supportive partner. Eventually though in situations like this, something must ‘give’ because you can’t do it all by yourself so here are my thoughts on this.... 

Most families experiencing a member or members with mental health issues will describe the sense of isolation they feel. No one can quite understand how exhausting everything becomes. The unpredictability of how a day might unfold along with trying to steer an even keel for any children leaves little room to focus on personal needs. But that’s what you have to do here. 

You sound quite alone with all this and I think it would help if you could access others who know what it’s like to feel responsible for keeping everything going. Self-help groups you could access online, and mental health forums are all places where it’s possible to feel in touch with people who really get it. I know I would say this wouldn’t I, but sharing difficult and sometimes frightening feelings comes as such a relief sometimes.  


Having said all this, people can sometimes also feel that if they really get in touch with sharing the most difficult worries they will become completely overwhelmed with them leading to not being able to carry on at all. I think though that you really want to talk and share with someone who understands the pressures you face so connecting with those in a similar situation could help you to feel less isolated.   

I’m wondering too about family. Are there people around you with whom you could share any of the day-to-day stuff you have to do? Sometimes people don’t want to involve family because they feel that they really should be able to cope to the extent it starts to feel shameful to reach out. If that feels remotely recognizable then please do think again.  Asking for help is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and others. It’s neither selfish or a sign we can’t work things out for ourselves. 

Ultimately though my suggestions are really aimed at providing you with the time you need to decide what you want to do. You are rightly putting the needs of your children first and if you decide to leave this relationship, you will always be a dad who would hopefully be working towards positive co-parenting. I’m not going to pretend though that the challenge of attempting this with someone who is experiencing serious mental health issues is easy.

That’s why I’m suggesting that you start linking with people who could potentially be supportive of you and your wife professionally and personally regardless of whether you split or find a way to stay. You’re in a very difficult position that so many people will recognize. Please start creating links and see where that takes you. You may be quite surprised by how much others want to become positively involved. 

Do you have a question to ask Ammanda?

Ammanda Major is a sex and relationship therapist and our Head of Service Quality and Clinical Practice

If you have a relationship worry you would like some help with send a message to Ammanda.

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