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Encompass Counseling

Anxiety and Mistrust in Marriage

Recognizing and dealing with stress in your most intimate relationship.

Writing about anxiety, St. Francis de Sales, in his Introduction to the Devout Life, said that anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall us except sin. Anxiety is a complex and powerful emotion that arises from many sources, including the loss of a person’s ability to trust or feel safe; intense worries; an excessive sense of responsibility; weaknesses in confidence; guilt; modeling after an insecure or anxious parent; and biological factors. As trust and confidence decrease, anxiety and fear regularly intensify. When this happens, it becomes increasingly easy to react to others in anger. Out of this anger comes sin. There is no exception to this.


Anger expressed inappropriately is sin. I doubt that St. Francis’ would argue about this with me. How could he when God clearly states in Philippians 4:6-7 that we should not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, we are commanded to present our requests to God? In doing so, we can find a peace that transcends all understanding, as God guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


We put our trust in God. Not doing so makes us no better than the Israelites, who chose to worry, complain, and rebel against the very one whom said he would take them into the Promised Land, in confidence and peace.


Couples should take note of this before they decide to lash out at each other in the heat of the moment, saying things they are later going to regret. Instead, they should trust that God will help them navigate through their issue, through the “desert” of their feelings toward each other.


This sounds great in theory. But often couples can’t stop themselves from fighting. Richard P. Fitzgibbons, author of Anxiety and Mistrust in Marriage, said it is due to their upbringing.


“Not infrequently, family-of-origin mistrust, particularly from hurts in the father relationship, can unconsciously emerge after being buried for years or even decades and be directed at a completely trustworthy spouse, with severely damaging consequences,” Fitzgibbons said. “The spouse with such a father-wound experiences the loss of a feeling of love for his or her spouse and anger that is really meant for the father but is misdirected.”


Fitzgibbons asks us to consider Sue, a 33-year-old attractive female and married mother of three, who struggled with anxiety symptoms that seriously interfered with her life. She attributed her anxiety to feeling overwhelmed by her responsibilities and lack of support from her husband.


Sue’s husband’s demanding career resulted in his frequent absence from dinners and travel that kept him away from home several nights each month. She missed his comforting presence, particularly at night, and did not feel enough support in the care of the children and the home.


“Sue made attempts to seek more balance in her life, to let go of her excessive sense of responsibility, and to determine if her husband could make changes in his work schedule in order to be more present to her and the children,” Fitzgibbons said. “But it wasn’t until Sue explored other sources of anxiety from the past that she came to realize that her family background contributed to her anxiety.”


Sue’s parents divorced when she was 11 years old. It seriously wounded her safe feeling and unconsciously led her to overreact in anxiety, Fitzgibbons said.


Sue discovered a strong fear that her marriage might also end. In therapy she was surprised to discover significant amounts of unresolved anger with her father whom she viewed as being responsible for the parental divorce because of his selfish behaviors. “She decided to work at forgiving him in order to resolve the pain from her past that was leading her to overreact emotionally,” Fitzgibbons said. “Sue experienced emotional relief and growth in her ability to trust as she worked at forgiving her father.”


Addressing Sue’s emotional pain from her parent’s divorce and her husband’s travel greatly diminished her anxiety, according to Fitzgibbons. Also, she discovered that her faith was beneficial as she began to meditate more upon the Lord’s loving presence with her and upon trusting him with her burdens and fears. As Fitzgibbons described in his book, a number of research studies have proven empirically in the benefits of faith in the treatment of anxiety disorders.


For example, in a survey of 37,000 men and women who attend church, synagogue, or other religious services, the higher the worship frequency, the lower the prevalence of depression, mania, and panic disorder, according to Marilyn Baetz, MD, of the University of Saskatchewan, in Canada.


Also, in a systematic review of 850 studies the majority of well-conducted research found that higher levels of religious involvement were positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being, life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and with less depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, drug/alcohol abuse. Is this any surprise given the amount of anxiety—and dysfunction—stress can cause in people and their relationships?


Anxiety within spouses, marriages, families and communities has increased significantly in recent years due to an epidemic of defaults on mortgages and bankruptcies, massive layoffs, severe banking difficulties, pay reductions and furloughs, major losses in retirement accounts and great difficulty in keeping up with the bills. “Such financial and job worries regularly lead to a serious difficulty in sleeping and then to more intense fears, irritability, and, in many, an intense sadness,” Fitzgibbons said.


Fitzgibbons added that the present economic crisis may also result in the experience of strong anger toward many in the government, financial markets, banking and other institutions because in many instances where their selfishness, greed, high risk taking, desire to control or poor judgment have contributed to the present hard times. “This anger can also contribute to insomnia and blocks the ability to resolve anxiety,” Fitzgibbons said. “The anger must be addressed, and the most effective way is through the practice of the virtue of forgiveness through reflection several times each day and at bedtime.”


If a person of faith finds it difficult to forgive, he or she can give the anger to God, accept personal powerlessness, and—in an act of trust—surrender all to God. Or, the person can hold onto the anger—and continue to be anxious, ruminating about how much he or she was hurt. This could be unwise given that research has demonstrated the benefits of faith in addressing emotional conflicts, bringing peace.


Fitzgibbons takes it a step further, stating that he recommends regularly to people of faith that they consider employing a faith meditation to deal with their anxiety. Such meditations focus on trusting God with all of our fears.


“Scriptural prayer that can found both in the psalms and in the New Testament can be very helpful,” said Fitzgibbons, “because it can be effective in building trust—one of the most important virtues that can assist in reducing anxiety. It may also prevent the person from developing an anxiety disorder, which can seriously damage his or her physical and mental health, as well as important relationships.”


For more details on Fitzgibbons and Anxiety and Mistrust in Marriage, visit  Embrace Scripture as well, holding on especially to the promise in Philippians 4:6-7.


You’ll find godly peace, deepen your human relationships, and live a more fulfilling life. Nothing is impossible with God!

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