A life with anxiety can be savage. Turbulent thoughts can arise in a person's mind like the harsh waves of a stormy sea. A person with anxiety could lack the motivation to do even simple tasks like cooking a meal or going outside to check the mail. You may feel you can't escape your worries. But loving someone who has anxiety can be wearisome too.
If you are dating someone who has a mental health condition like an anxiety disorder, you may feel powerless. As much as you want to help them, you might feel overwhelmed by the many ways your partner's anxiety affects your daily life and the relationship.
Anxiety comes in many forms. It ranges from generalized anxiety to panic attacks to phobias. It can be moderate and manageable or impairing and demobilizing. There are ways you can help your partner with the challenges they face and still prioritize your self-care. First, we'll look at why it’s important to gain more understanding of anxiety and your partner's experiences. Then, we'll discuss a few simple things you can do to cope and have a healthy relationship.
The importance of awareness when dating someone with anxiety
Learning more about anxiety is one of the most important things you can do for your partner, yourself, and the relationship. Educate yourself about the mental health condition and how it affects your partner. Doing so will create more ways for you to give support.
The average person gets anxious from time to time. But people with more severe anxiety experiences may have a mental health disorder like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or panic disorder.
Your loved one may worry persistently about different aspects of their life. Even when there are no signs of trouble, a person with GAD could worry all day long about their health, money, family, work, and so forth. They may spend a lot of time overthinking plans or feeling certain events or situations are threats.
Often, a person who has GAD finds it challenging to deal with the unknown or uncertainty, which could lead to an anxiety attack. The unknown can bring about fear. It can ignite a person’s imagination and make it hard for an anxious person to relax and let go of their worries.
Panic attacks are another manifestation of anxiety. Your partner could suddenly have intense fear or discomfort with a panic disorder that could escalate in severity within only a few minutes. Experiencing physical sensations comes with any form of anxiety. But if your partner has panic disorder, they may experience many symptoms.
- Pounding the heart
- Shortness of breath is
- Heart palpitations.
- I was sweating
- increased heart rate
- A feeling of suffocation
Anxiety is not visible, like having an injury covered by a bandage. But that doesn't make it any less real or disabling. Your partner may be irrational when anxiety overtakes him or her, but he or she is not exaggerating. They can’t just "get over it." The more you know about the condition, the better you'll be able to help your partner work through their anxious feelings in the way they need.
You don't want to confuse "help" with "cure" or "fix." You can't do that. All you can do is remain supportive and empathetic. It's your partner's responsibility to manage their condition.
The impact of anxiety on the relationship
When dating someone with anxiety, you may not know how much of their day your partner spends worrying about the relationship. They could ruminate all day about the many things that could go wrong or are already wrong.
Feeling insecure, your partner may respond to relationship stress as if it were a physical attack. Their reaction of fight or flight response would seem proper to them. Unfortunately, anxious feelings don't subside quickly. Below are examples of the thoughts and questions that could often run through your partner's mind about the relationship:
- What happens if they ghost me?
- What if they don't love me as much as they say they do?
- Why am I always the first one to make contact?
- What if everything they tell me is a lie?
- What if we break up because of my anxiety?
- What if they are cheating on me?
For most people in relationships, having a few of these anxious thoughts isn't uncommon, especially if the relationship is new. For an anxious person with an anxiety disorder like GAD or social anxiety, their anxious thoughts come more often and with more intensity.
Your partner may have thoughts that take them from zero to 100 in an instant. Or they may think of the worst-case scenario with everything that happens. It's possible that sometimes anxious thoughts may trigger your partner to behave in ways that could stress you out. It can put a strain on the relationship.
Take, for example, an anxious partner with social anxiety. You may want to take your significant other to events or gatherings with family members. It will be hard since he or she will want to avoid social situations if possible. If you go alone, you may not be able to enjoy yourself or you may feel guilty if you do so with your partner not being there with you.
Your partner may have frequent anxiety-motivated behaviors like these:
- Passive aggressiveness
- Avoidant behavior:
- Frequently enraged
- Especially critical
- Lack of concentration
Ways to cope when dating someone with anxiety
Below are a few ways you can cope with your partner's anxiety and take care of yourself at the same time.
Talk with your partner.
Find a comfortable setting where you and your partner can sit. Use this time to ask your partner questions about what their specific experiences with anxiety are like. Find out what you should know about their condition, what you can do, or what you shouldn't do when they’re feeling anxious.
Communication is vital in any relationship. But when you are dating someone with anxiety, it is even more important to talk openly about obstacles in the relationship. Doing so can strengthen it. Use the conversation to share what it's like for you to watch them go through a hard time. Be honest with your partner. Conversations like these aren't always easy, but they can help strengthen your bond and understanding of one another.
Take control of how you react to your partner's anxiety.
Don't take the things your anxious partner does personally. If they are open with you about their anxiety about the relationship, don't get upset. If you take things personally, it could lead to resentment. Your partner isn't using anxiety-motivated behavior or dialogue to be selfish or create distance from you.
It's better to have compassion for your partner. Getting mad is counterproductive and could cause you to misinterpret what your partner experiences. If you sense yourself getting riled up, take a moment to calm down. Keep in mind that the anxiety your partner expresses isn't about you at all. It is about them. It could seem like it, but it's not about you being the source of the anxiety.
Focus on managing how you react to the anxiety instead of forcing your partner to work on their reactions. Because if you lose it and become angry every time your partner brings up situations that provoke anxiety within them, they won't be able to support you. The last thing you want to do is make things worse. Things can escalate quickly if you allow them.
You create healthy boundaries.
Dating someone with anxiety may feel like there's a third person in the relationship. Setting boundaries is one way you can protect your relationship. If you don't, it could feel like anxiety is invading it. It's important to remember that you can't fix your partner's anxiety.
One thing your partner must learn is how to self-soothe. Just like taking things personally can lead to resentment, you can become resentful of carrying around a feeling of obligation. It’s not your responsibility to get rid of the anxiety. You may want to resolve your partner's anxious feelings, but it's up to your partner to learn how to manage the symptoms of the condition for themselves.
Encourage therapy for your partner and yourself.
Trying to play the role of therapist for your partner can become emotionally draining. There are plenty of mental health professionals who have the training and experience to help your partner.
If they aren't working with a therapist already, one of the best things you can do is help your partner understand how a therapist can help. A therapist can give your significant other tools they can use within and outside of the relationship, like muscle relaxation and breathing exercises.
Even if your partner resists therapy, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to find a therapist you can work with. A therapist can help you cultivate the skills you must have to cope with your partner's anxiety.
It's easy to forget about self-care when you're dating someone with anxiety. But you need a support system too. Going to therapy is an excellent way to stay focused on your own mental health so you can continue living your life. Your partner wants that for you.
Reframe anxiety as a natural experience, not a terrible force.
It can be a challenge to date someone with anxiety. It can create doubt, confusion, and uncertainty for you and your partner. But, thankfully, there are many ways you and your partner can cope with symptoms and have a satisfying relationship. You don't have to let an anxiety disorder impede the growth and togetherness you have with your partner.
Gently guide your partner to get professional help. They will learn ways to manage their anxiety symptoms. Also, as you continue to work with your licensed therapist, you’ll learn how to better handle your reactions and emotions. With the right mindset, open communication, and professional intervention, you and your partner can have a healthy journey together.