Fear and anxiety rarely affect the sinner/sufferer only. Many resources have been written on the topics of anxiety, fear, and worry, and many resources have been created which aid counselors in helping those struggling with these sins. However, much less focus has been given to helping people who are closely associated with those struggling with these issues. Because the institution of marriage is the most intimate of human relationships, the spouse of one struggling with anxiety and fear is subject to great discouragement, confusion, and despair as they attempt to come alongside their struggling spouse and help them toward freedom. This article offers biblical and practical help for spouses of those struggling with severe anxiety or fear.
Dealing with Discouragment
When one spouse interprets the experiences of daily life through sober-minded, biblical judgment, yet their partner interprets these same life situations through the lens of their severe anxiety, great discouragement is likely to come for the sober-minded spouse. One of the most difficult aspects of this trial for the sober-minded spouse is that they will often feel as if their spouse cannot hear them. They may say many true things, read with their spouse the appropriate Scriptures, attempt to help their spouse see the situation from a biblical perspective, and pray with them, yet feel as if their spouse is unable to hear anything they are saying. The reason ministering to one struggling with severe fear and anxiety is so difficult is that the struggler has allowed these emotions to take such a deep seat in their heart and mind that they deeply struggle to hear and apply the truth. The sober-minded spouse may minister to their partner fervently for multiple hours a day, only to hear soon after these types of responses: “I’m feeling anxious,” “I feel like I’m about to have a panic attack,” “I’m having heart palpitations,” “can we turn around?” After weeks, months, or years of this repetitive cycle, the sober-minded spouse will very likely become discouraged because they feel as if there is nothing more that they can say or do. However, spouses in these situations must remain steadfast and heed to the biblical call to love their struggling spouse (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
One of the central “one another” commands given in the New Testament is Galatians 6:1-2: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The sober-minded spouse must seek to restore their struggling spouse after a heightened episode of anxiety, a panic attack, or any sinful response to their feelings with gentleness rather than harshness. They should call to mind Christ’s dealing with our own sins and weaknesses, as he says, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20). As Christ is gentle and lowly toward sinners and sufferers, so the sober-minded spouse finds the grace to be gentle and lowly toward his struggling spouse. In doing this, he is “fulfilling the law of Christ” and obeying a central New Testament imperative (Galatians 6:2).
Along with bearing their spouse’s burden, the sober-minded spouse must also seek to remain patient with their spouse as they struggle through the afflictions of fear and anxiety. Getting impatient is one of the greatest temptations for someone trying to help a loved one through severe fear and anxiety. Some cases are so difficult that the struggling spouse may not be able to perform certain basic and necessary tasks, such as going to work, driving to the grocery store, caring for children, and sleeping. This may perhaps lead to revealing the sin of anger against the struggling spouse. However, Paul instructs the believers at Colossae to put away “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” and to put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:8,12). This patient, Christ-like character is essential for sober-minded spouses to faithfully minister to their struggling spouses. More importantly, God also uses the struggles of your spouse to sanctify you.
Speaking Truth in Love
We need the Word of God to grow in our sanctification, and truth also comes through exhortations, encouragement, admonitions, correction, and even rebukes from each other (Acts 20:31; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:3; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25). While knowing how, when, and what to say to one who is struggling with the self-focused sins of fear and anxiety is challenging, the sober-minded spouse must pray for wisdom and look for ways to communicate God’s truth to their suffering spouse. James promises that God will give wisdom to those who lack it in the midst of a trial when he says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Not only is giving correction in the form of exhortation necessary in helping one’s struggling spouse grow in freedom, but also giving affirmation and encouragement is necessary as well. Because the one struggling with fear and anxiety will very likely be perpetually discouraged by their failures, the weight of exhortations can land heavy and lead to even more discouragement. Point your spouse to the greatness of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ in his or her fight against sinful anxiety.
Love the Spouse in the Context of the Local Church
Finally, though it can be tempting for the sober-minded spouse to feel as if they need to resist addressing their struggling spouse’s sin because of their current struggles with fear and anxiety, God has ordained that Christians help each other mature through speaking the truth in love, as well as pastors to shepherd the health of the believer’s soul. Wise pastoral wisdom should be sought for encouragement in the fight against sinful anxiety and sacrificial love in marriage. In fact, all Christians, not only those struggling with severe sins, need the local church. Christians make up the body of Christ, and one member cannot say to another, “I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Romans 12:4-13). If the sober-minded spouse is going to correct their struggling spouse faithfully, they must draw from the spiritual resources in Christ with the help of wise pastors and caring brothers and sisters in the local church.