Living with anxiety is a bitch. We all experience anxiety at some point in our lives. However, lots of folks live with anxiety as part of a clinical disorder or health condition. In the U.S., 18 percent of adults (over 40 million of us) live with clinical anxiety. This persistent and excessive worrying is difficult on the person with anxiety as well as on the people who love them.
Anxiety can interfere with relationships and with a person’s sex life. Worrying about how you look, how you perform, what you say, how you relate to someone and asking for constant reassurance can drive a wedge between a couple. Anxiety makes things like giving over power or taking control particularly difficult. So, if you or someone you love live with anxiety, what does that mean for your kinky life?
Anxiety when left unchecked can become paralyzing. It can also manifest in behaviors like excessive criticism or need to control a situation. It doesn’t take much to image how these manifestations can quickly break down a good kinky scene or power exchange relationship. Here are a few tips and tools on how to live with and thrive in a relationship where one or more partners have anxiety.
Protocols, when used sparingly, can really help someone with anxiety. Setting up rituals or rules for different situations provide a sense of structure which can ease anxiety for many people. Regardless of what side of the slash you function on, protocols can be very helpful in giving a partner a feeling of groundedness and control in a relationship.
For example, if a partner has a lot of anxiety pleasing you, setting up protocols around preparing for a scene or providing what you need for a date can ease this worry. I had a partner who had a preferred color of underwear and lipstick for me when we would meet for a date. Knowing that as long as these two things conformed to what he enjoyed, I was able to worry much less about preparing for a date. I knew if I obeyed those protocols, he would be pleased.
Other couples I know have established protocols around the specific tasks which make one of the partners anxious. For example, I know several couples who have established rules around texting. They provide a time frame for a person to reply to a text. If a person is too busy to send a full reply, simply texting “Busy, but I have your text,” is sufficient.
In one case the rule is, if the text is during normal waking hours, either party needs to reply within 90 minutes. This way, the D-type (in this case, the person with anxiety) knows that at least for 90 minutes after the text is sent, he doesn’t need to worry why there is no reply. As long as his partner replies, even if it is just an “In a meeting,” the d-type partner can relax knowing that the text has been seen and the reply is coming.
The key with designing protocols to relieve some of the anxiety is to identify when a person get anxious, if there are specific things (actions, situations, etc.) which lead to heightened anxiety, and figure out how to diffuse that anxiety. For each person there will be a different need.
The other important part is not to overwhelm someone with protocols. A person living with anxiety will worry if they don’t meet all established protocols. Having a few in place is helpful. Setting up 50 different rules to cover all sorts of situation will only increase worry that they missed one or failed to enforce one. Depending on the bandwidth someone has to pay attention to these rules, the number and details of protocols will change. In general, keep them limited to what feels manageable for both parties.
For a person living with anxiety, uncertainty can be torture. Things like vague-booking (posting obscure or obtuse statements on social media meant to “tease” or tantalize folks is awful for a partner with anxiety), sending messages designed to be cryptic and unclear, or a “can we talk this weekend,” can be absolute torture for someone with anxiety. Providing clear feedback and limiting the surprises can go a long way to helping someone manage anxiety.
If your partner has anxiety, providing clear statements about how you feel can be enormously helpful. I know several kinky folks living with anxiety who always worry about how their partners see them in sexual situations. When a partner fails to give clear feedback about a scene or a sexual encounter, the person with anxiety will continue to focus on it and worry they messed up. For one couple I know, the d-type makes sure to tell her partner she did a good job or was excellent in bed. She had not given this type of specific feedback to other partners, relying on smiles, falling asleep immediately post-sex, or “that was fun” type of statements. These actions and statements left her new partner feeling unsure of their performance and would worry that they had not been adequate. Adding the “you did great” and “that was wonderful!” type of statements helped her partner let go of worry around their sex life.
Dealing with Future Events
Worry for any of us means we are focusing on future events rather than being grounded in the present. My favorite definition of worry is, “Meditation on future failure.” For people living with anxiety, thinking of future events, especially those where there is little the person can control, can be debilitating.
The reality is, there will always be things we have to deal with in the future. Whether it be something simply like attending a party or a difficult conversation or our own funeral we are all aware of things we will eventually have to deal with. To help a partner with anxiety, providing planning, specifics and emotionally diffusing the worry in advance can all be useful.
Plans: Providing a plan can be very helpful. Simple things like having a set time you will leave the house, knowing where you will park, knowing the people who will be in attendance, knowing what you will wear, can all help mitigate someone’s anxiety. It might be as simple as providing your partner with the address of an event so that they can look up the location on a map, plan a route and do what they need to do to prepare themselves and limit their anxiety.
Be Specific: Vague, undefined situations can be nerve-wracking to anyone. For someone with anxiety, it can be so bad they talk themselves out of going to something because they worried too much about all the unknowns. The more specifics you can provide, the easier it will be for your partner with anxiety. So, when possible, provide specific information.
Defuse Emotional Issues: For many of us, knowing we need to talk to a partner about an issue can cause worry. For someone living with anxiety, they are already worried. Many folks with anxiety will automatically jump to the worst case scenario if a partner says, “I’d like to set aside some time to chat this weekend.” All of the sudden, the person with anxiety goes to “they are dying of cancer” or “they are leaving me.” If your partner lives with anxiety, work to defuse these fears early. A simple, “I’d like to set aside some time to talk about going on vacation” or “I want to talk this weekend about our last fight. Don’t worry, I’m not breaking up with you.” If you want to set aside time to talk about something, being able to state specifically what it is or reassuring your partner you are okay will help diffuse anxiety.
Managing Your Own Anxiety
The longer you live with anxiety the more you will understand your own thought patterns. Coming to recognize when your anxiety has taken you down a dark rabbit hole of worry and being able to stop and get yourself out of it can be hugely helpful.
I know from personal experience there are times my anxiety runs amok. I can see it start running amok and I can’t stop it on my own. I have learned, however, to actually state to my partner what is going on and what I need. Saying something like, “My brain has taken over and I am very worries about X. Can you tell me what you think about X?” is a very helpful exercise. This way, I recognize that my fears and worries are not necessarily based in reality. I don’t act out based on these unfounded fears. I ask him to specifically address what I am worried about. Generally, a five minute conversation (or less) is enough to defuse my anxiety and I am back on track.
It is a skill I wish I would have developed several relationships ago. I drove my ex-wife insane with my regular breakdowns and demands for reassurance. She found them predictable and couldn’t figure out why I would never just trust that she loved me and I was enough for her. It eventually was a significant contributing factor in our split. Now, I may not have the ability to always stop my brain from running amok, but I can acknowledge what is happening, state what I need, and there is much less crying and drama.
Anxiety is a difficult thing to learn to manage, but it is manageable. Good luck on your journey!