What, Me Worry? Who worries more, you or your spouse? BY DR. SCOTT HALTZMAN
Worrying is a very useful function of human behavior.
Why do I worry more than my spouse?
Everybody worries. Believe it or not, worry—a form of anxiety—serves a very useful function in human behavior. Let’s say you’re driving down the highway one night and it’s pouring rain. Suddenly, a heavy fog rolls in as you approach a winding mountainside road. Are you worried? You ought to be!
Because you are apprehensive about a possible accident, you take action, such as putting on your headlights and windshield wipers, and slowing down. You may even honk your horn a few times. Anxiety serves to warn the body about a possible problem, and helps prepare for the worst. In the case of a foggy highway, it can save lives.
Different Ways To Worry
People don’t always worry the same way about the same things. In fact, problems often arise in relationships when one partner is more concerned about something than another. Just about everyone would worry if they saw an oncoming truck on a fog-bound narrow road. But how troubled should someone be about paying next month’s credit card bill, or whether the rice pudding that you brought to your in-laws had enough sugar in it? In these cases, you and your spouse may disagree.
Indeed, in most marriages, one person worries more than the other. Often, each has areas of anxiety "expertise"—it’s his job to worry about the schools; it’s her job to worry about bills (or vice versa). Remember, just because someone is worried, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a legitimate thing to worry about. If, for example, a husband or wife suffers from an anxiety disorder or depression, worry may simply be a symptom of an illness. In contrast, just because some people are carefree, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to worry about. It may mean they’re taking too much medication!
Dealing With the Differences
Conflict almost always arises out the expectation that one spouse should be as worried as (or more than) the other spouse on every issue; otherwise, the anxious spouse may believe that the other person just doesn’t care. Moreover, when one partner appears to lack interest, the other partner may interpret this as invalidating—or disrespecting—his or her concerns. It goes something like this: "If you can laugh off the quality of my rice pudding, you clearly don’t care about how your family sees me. It’s like you’re saying my feelings don’t count." All this over a tablespoon of sugar!
If your fears and worries are interfering with your relationship’s piece of mind, consider taking these steps to ease the tension in your relationship.
1. Take a good look at yourself and ask: Do I worry too much? If you’re preoccupied with concerns, focused on possible negatives, or find yourself having physical symptoms of agitation, you may have an anxiety or depressive disorder. If that’s the case, seek professional help. There are many helpful treatments that do, and do not, include medications.
2. Make your worries worthwhile. Being preoccupied with future things can help you prepare (for example, saving money if you’re worried about bills). But focusing on things that have happened in the past (like whether your pudding was sweet enough) wastes a lot of emotional energy, and brings your mate down with you.
3. Help your partner to understand. Your worries may have real validity, but if you can’t get your point across, you’ll feel all alone. Find a time to sit down with your guy or gal and describe what your concerns are in a clear and balanced way. It may help you to write down what you are worried about before hand.
4. Be willing to go it alone. You may be disappointed when your mate doesn’t side with you on an issue, but you should try to remember that just because it weighs heavily on your mind, your partner may have different feelings about it. That doesn’t mean that he or she disrespects you, or doesn’t care about you.
5. Be open to another point of view. Ask your mate to help you understand why he or she is not worried. Maybe you can learn to adopt a different way of thinking about the problem.
Sometimes a little worry is a good thing; sometimes a lot of worry can tear apart a relationship. When you and your partner can work through differences, you can learn from each other, and help build a stronger marriage.
Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is also the author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife’s Heart Forever." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com