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My Non-Anxious Engagement: 4 Ways To Take The Anxiety Out of That Life Long Commitment

By Trish Barillas

Anxiety has recently become a popular topic to discuss these days due to our willingness to share what we now understand to be a very human issue. As a long time anxiety sufferer turned anxiety expert, I feel more validated and less alone to see us having a more open dialogue about what has for so long been a private anguish. 

From first-hand experience, I know how severe anxiety can be as it relates to romantic relationships. Given our new ways of meeting and connecting with each other via social media platforms/apps you never know who's coming or going or even worse, for how long?  

Our fears of being too forward, aggressive or even possibly upsetting our partner can create such unneeded stress, making it difficult to state our basic needs and desires. Sometimes just thinking about a "life long commitment" can trigger strong waves of anxiety or panic. 

Our head can tell us that this is what we want, that this is what we have longed for our whole lives. However, without warning, in swoops our anxiety, which hijacks our body and mind telling us with the force of a megaphone "RUN! ABORT MISSION! HEAD FOR THE CHOPPER!"

I was one of these people. At age 40 I had never been married, engaged, or had any kids. But I was a relationship addict. As long as I had a boyfriend, I felt reassured that I wasn't alone, that I had a safety net, and that I could focus on someone other than me. I've suffered with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) along with Panic Disorder since the age of 5 years old, which wasn't diagnosed professionally until I hit 20. I wasn't medically treated until I hit 35. 

Those first three decades were like living in a mental prison. I couldn't sustain weight, couldn't sleep, couldn't travel, and couldn't bring myself to commit to anyone beyond the superficial boyfriend tag. Transitions and change are hard for me, so I tried to avoid both at all costs. 

I met my fiancé Charlie at 39. Here are 4 ways in which I was able to say yes to the man I love without triggering my anxiety/disaster mentality.   

  1. Have an open & honest conversation: Pick a time that you both are at ease to talk about marriage in general. After a year and a half, my boyfriend (48, never married, no kids) and I sat down at brunch and asked each other "Where are we going?" We voiced our views on getting engaged before moving in, which is what my anxiety needed. Talking about my needs was a game changer for my anxiety. It took away the pressure and the fear of the unknown that can be debilitating for anxiety sufferers. One thing I could never handle was how past boyfriends thought they could fix me.  It's not what an anxiety sufferer wants to hear.  Charlie does not have anxiety, and my need to be heard was more important than being understood.  It was a big first step toward a bigger commitment.

  2. Simplicity is best: The unknown is terrifying for those of us with anxiety, and I continue to struggle with today. With marriage to Charlie an actual possibility, I needed to take out the hoping and waiting out of the equation. We were very straightforward about the type of proposal we both wanted and we discovered they matched. A quiet space with only our families present, no roses, candles or hidden photographer was what I wanted. The unknown's easily triggered me. He knew what my level of comfort was, and our open communication allowed him to shape his proposal ideas around my needs. Now don't get me wrong, a Big Baller proposal is great, nothing against a flash mob, but if you know what will keep your anxiety at bay, you need to ask for it.     

  3. Pick your rings: Through this process, I realized how important it was for me to pick out my own ring. I would have been an anxious mess if I left it to him, solely for the fact that this is a ring I need to wear my whole life and look at on the daily. Trust me when I say this PICK YOUR RING! Everything looks different on; no one's hands are like yours. If you get a manicure and you let someone talk you into some color that you think, "Well ok that might look good", the next thing you know, you're walking into another salon to have it removed and replaced with a color you really love. Your ring is an extension of you and your partner, so why not pick it out together too? The experience is magical in its own right.  And when Charlie finally turned to me during one of our weekend brunches and said, "Would you like to go ring shopping"?  I didn't have a second thought about saying yes.  I couldn't have done that if out of nowhere he dropped to a knee with some ring he picked out. My anxiety couldn't have handled that.

  4. Make it your own:  For me to feel less anxious about planning a wedding, I needed to first ask myself, what's the point?  One thing that would always trigger me would be the expectations of a traditional wedding.  I would worry about bridesmaids, who to ask, who would I offend if left out?  I would worry about the cost for my wedding party, and the expected rituals that always filled me with anxiety, and made me cringe (cake ceremony, engagement parties, bachelorette parties, etc.) I needed Charlie and me to sit down and really discuss not only what we would like the day to be about, but also a frank discussion about what my anxiety could handle. You can make anything a reality.  I don't like the cutting of a cake tradition so we are cutting it out of our day. I know that my fiancé doesn't like to wear rings, so instead of a wedding band, I'm giving him a watch of equal value to my ring of his choice. We are getting married to each other in our way, with an understanding that our decisions need to create less chaos and more Zen. Anxiety lives in the past and in the future, therefore, the more present I am with our planning the least likely anxiety is to pop up. Staying present and true to who I am as an anxiety sufferer has been the reason why I am finally able to say yes to a man that I love for as long as humanly possible.     

Trish Barillas has been a Life Coach for over a decade specializing in anxiety, breakups and job advancements. Trish is the author of first ever Instabook @afaceofanxiety an autobiography of her journey living with anxiety/panic disorder. She is also the founder of 3GS Charity where she helps raise funds for rural villages in Guatemala. You can find her on Instagram and check out her book on Amazon. Permission granted for use on
Tags: Choose Wisely-Treat Kindly, Dating, Marriage, Personal Responsibility, Relationships, Stress
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