How To Deal With Anxiety In Relationships
By: Lindsay Hamilton
Updated February 06, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault
We all have relationships we care about. We have relationships with our family, our friends, and romantic partners. When you have anxiety, all of these relationships can and probably will be affected. You may be unknowingly putting a strain on a relationship by trying to avoid the issue altogether. Dealing with anxiety in relationships is tough. To do so, you need an open mind and a willingness to communicate together. Whether you are the person with anxiety or you are watching someone with anxiety suffer, you have a part to play in making the relationship work. Let's take a look at how anxiety can manifest in a relationship and how each partner should appropriately respond.
Symptoms Of Anxiety In Relationships
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD, looks different for every person. Symptoms manifest based on your circumstances. It can also manifest differently around the relationships in your life. Just because you act a certain way with a family member doesn't mean you'll act the same way with a romantic partner. All the same, we can look at some of the more probably possibilities and how it affects the relationships you are in.
Some people with anxiety will develop codependent relationships with a loved one, probably a romantic partner or a parent. The codependency acts as a security blanket for the person when they're feeling anxious, and can cause more anxiety when they are apart, or things don't go as planned. Relationships with codependency issues can feel strained if there isn't an open dialogue about anxious feelings and what needs are needing to be met. This often manifests in a "clingy" partner, which can make the non-anxious person feel suffocated or controlled. It's important that feelings be communicated during a calm moment to try and find a resolution to those feelings.
On the other side of the spectrum is avoidance. Some people with anxiety withdraw into themselves and won't allow outside help. They leave family members, friends, and partners feeling helpless and left out. Avoidance can look like physically avoiding loved ones, refusing to talk about feelings, making plans to avoid facing an issue, and other similar behaviors. The strain this leaves on relationships can quickly turn to blame or anger from a loved one. And while the anxious person doesn't mean to be so closed off, they need to be aware of their actions.
Anxiety sometimes turns into anger when other people get involved. Without the right help or treatment, anxiety can be devastating for some people. When you don't know what to do to combat the raging thoughts or the physical symptoms that come with them, unsolicited advice or attempts to help could cause you to lash out without meaning to. If a partner isn't aware that their loved one or friend has anxiety, these bouts of anger could make them question the relationship or make them fight back, turning a bout of anxiety into a full-fledged fight.
For romantic couples, this anxiety is sometimes manifested because of the relationship itself. This is aptly named relationship anxiety and is a real form of anxiety that can cause turmoil in romantic relationships. At the source, relationship anxiety is based in fear - of rejection, of their partner, and sometimes even the notion of a relationship. Anxiety should never be dealt with alone, but for relationship anxiety that is extremely important. Even if the anxiety is one sided, it will take both partners to get to the bottom of what is causing the fear. Both of you will then be able to find a way to cope, and hopefully, let go of some of what is making you anxious.
Since we've now talked about the different ways anxiety manifests, let's look at how both sides of the relationship can open the line of communication.
If You Have Anxiety In Relationships
Whether your anxiety stems from the relationship you are in, or you are anxious in general, the first step for communication is realizing that only you know exactly how you are feeling. With the help of counseling, you can use certain communication tools that will help you explain these feelings to your family, friends, and partners. It's hard to admit you need help, but if your anxiety is interfering with your life regularly, counseling is a great option for getting you the help you need. If you are scared to go alone, ask someone to go with you. They can be in the room with you or drive you and wait outside through the appointment. Mental health counselors want to help you get better and are uniquely trained to listen and offer advice.
Once you have the tools to communicate, you should do so often. Whenever you feel anxious, even over the smallest thing, let the other person know. Only you can judge what you can handle on your own and what you need help for, and over time, it will become clearer as you talk through your fears. Be up front about what you are willing to do and what you cannot do. If you need to be alone to work through your anxiety or need to say no to an event that you previously thought you could go to, that's okay. Remember that your mental health is important and should be taken seriously.
On the flip side, allow your friends, family, and partners time to catch up. They won't be able to help you perfectly from the start. Probably, they will make mistakes that feel overwhelming to you at times. That's why it's so important to talk to them, the more you can educate the people you love about the things you are feeling, the more they will be able to assist you when you have a hard time helping yourself.
If Your Partner Has Anxiety In Relationships
If your loved one has anxiety, let them take the lead. Offer support and encouragement, but stay away from "fixing" the problem. A lot of times, people with anxiety need someone to listen to. If you can lend an ear and allow them time to work through what's causing the anxiety, often you won't need to do anything else. If they do ask for help, be there for them as often as you can. Whether they ask for a ride to a therapist's office, help to make a phone call they're dreading, or an explanation over something they don't understand, they're looking to you like someone to lean on.
This isn't to say you should be a crutch. When helping, let them know that they are doing well on their own. Don't just make a phone call for them, but be supportive and allow them to dial the buttons and do the talking, while you are there supporting them the entire time. If the anxiety is an irrational thought or fear, ask them to talk out loud, have them question their thought process, get them to see they can overcome the fear through their thinking.
Finally, let them know it's okay to need help. Support decisions to go to therapy or take medication. In a world that still puts a stigma on these things, your support will make it that much easier for your loved one to accept the help.
Know Your Options
Hopefully, you've taken away some tips for how to navigate the different relationships in your life while also dealing with anxiety. The more you know about anxiety, the more you can help yourself. But while these tips are very useful, they cannot replace communication with a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist. There is nothing more valuable than having one on one communication with someone who is uniquely educated to get you the help you need.
There are so many options for therapy that you can find the one that works best for you. Maybe you aren't comfortable sitting face to face with a counselor. That's okay! Many counselors offer phone therapy sessions or video chat options. There is also chat based counseling. Chat based counseling allows you to communicate completely through text to a mental health counselor. They will also respond to you in the text, so you never have to worry about a phone call or nerve-wracking meeting.
At ReGain, our secure chatrooms are available for couples and well as individual people. You have the option to communicate only through text or to opt-in for a phone call once you've gotten to know the therapist. If you start the chat therapy for yourself and have a partner that you want to join later, you have the option of adding them to your chatroom as well. For more information about ReGain and to start using our platform with licensed mental health professionals, click here.
Anxiety in relationships is very common and doesn't have to be a deal breaker. With the right tools for communication and help, you can live a life in spite of anxiety and not just through it.