Dating a person who struggles with anxiety can be challenging, especially if you have not experienced anxiety yourself. The most important thing to remember is to have care and compassion for your loved one, but also to recognize when situations are beyond your control or expertise.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when you are in a relationship with someone struggling with anxiety:
Anxiety is a mental health disorder
“Anxiety” is an umbrella term that typically refers to generalized anxiety disorder and its related symptoms, but anxiety can manifest in a number of ways. Panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder are all types of anxiety-related mental health disorders. One can experience symptoms of anxiety without having an anxiety disorder; it is important to recognize and respond accordingly when anxiety is a mental health issue.
Your partner’s anxieties may not make sense to you
If you do not often experience anxiety, it can be difficult to recognize the signs or understand why your partner is feeling certain things. Everyone’s anxiety looks different, so talk with your partner and learn what anxiety means to them. This will help you understand when they are feeling particularly anxious and how you can respond in a helpful way.
They may be healing from past trauma or abuse
While anxiety is a mental health disorder, it can also develop later in life as a result of certain experiences. Post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, often develops after the individual has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. If your partner was previously in an abusive relationship, they may have lingering anxiety or fear about that; they may become anxious if you raise your voice or they might flinch when you go in for a hug. Be mindful of your partner’s previous experiences, and if you aren’t sure how to approach those issues, just ask how you can make them feel comfortable.
Encourage open communication
Someone struggling with anxiety may be slower to trust and may have a hard time opening up, particularly about difficult topics like their anxiety. Show them that you are there to support them through their anxiety, and listen to them when they are ready to open up. Be honest with your partner about your experience with anxiety, especially if you have never experienced it yourself to the same degree. This will help them understand why you may not fully understand what anxiety entails as you’re getting familiar with it.
You are likely not the source of their anxieties and insecurities
Anxiety can warp your perception of and reaction to reality, and for those who do not struggle with anxiety, it can be difficult to understand the viewpoint of someone who does. For instance, your partner may have expressed fears that you are not attracted to them or that you are going to abandon them. You might be racking your brain trying to remember if you said anything like that and feel guilty for your partner feeling that way. Remember that anxiety can result from past experiences, but it can also cause irrational, obsessive or intrusive thoughts. Your partner’s anxiety may not be a reflection of you or your relationship but rather how their anxiety affects them.
For this reason, it is important to set boundaries. Your partner’s anxiety is a legitimate mental health concern, but it does not excuse unhealthy or hurtful behavior like name-calling, insulting or making threats. Understand that you are not the cause of these thoughts, but do work with your partner to find healthier coping methods if this becomes an issue.
Their symptoms may manifest in ways you don’t expect
Anxiety does not always look like sweaty hands or a rapid heartbeat. Symptoms of anxiety can also include:
- Insomnia or difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Being on-edge
- Passive aggressive behavior
- Mind going blank
- Zoning out
- Gastrointestinal issues, like upset stomach
Talk to your partner so that you can understand what their anxiety can look like.
You can help support them, but you can’t make anxiety go away
You may even begin to feel anxiety yourself because of how your partner is suffering, or because you worry you are the source of their anxiety. There is a distinction, though, between being a supportive partner and acting as a therapist. Your role is to make your partner feel safe and loved in the midst of their anxiety rather than trying to cure them or carrying the load of their anxiety for them.
Therapy is a viable and effective treatment option
Counselors and therapists are licensed and trained to treat mental health issues; some even choose to specialize in anxiety disorders. Unless you have been formally trained, you are likely not qualified to act as your partner’s therapist. In fact, there should not be an expectation in your relationship that you will shoulder your partner’s anxiety. You can and should listen to your partner and support them through tough times, but if this is taking a mental or emotional toll on you, encourage your partner to seek mental health counseling.
If your partner’s anxiety is beginning to affect your relationship, couples therapy is also an option for confronting those issues.
Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare offers compassionate, evidence-based mental health treatment, including treatment for anxiety. If your partner is struggling with anxiety and would like to explore counseling as treatment, reach out today at 678-274-4936.