10 Tips For Dating Someone With Anxiety Disorder
By Amy Gardner
Updated February 13, 2020
Reviewer Dawn Brown
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent type of mental illness in the US, according to statistics. And given the fact that 18% of the population suffers from this illness, you may likely find yourself dating someone with an anxiety disorder.
If so, some aspects of your relationship are sure to be quite challenging. Anxiety comes with an array of symptoms, including insomnia, difficulty concentrating, and an overall sense of impending doom. Symptoms like these can be frustrating, both for anxiety sufferers and the people who love them.
But there's no need to give up. Anxiety sufferers can also be among the brightest, most energetic, and most affectionate people you will ever know.
These simple guidelines can help you build a positive relationship with a loved one that suffers from an anxiety disorder.
It can be very difficult to be patient with an anxiety sufferer. You may get tired of reassuring them about the same fears day after day or listening to an apparent "broken record" of repetitive worry.
But if it's hard to listen to, imagine what it's like for your loved one who must constantly endure these painful repetitions from within.
Your loved one is aware of how monotonous her anxiety can be, and she doesn't like it any more than you do.
The best thing you can do for your partner is simply listening. It might not appear that this is helping, but she just needs to get his fears out in the open (again) and know that someone is listening and still wants to be around in spite of them.
Take Care Of Your Own Emotions
Dealing with a loved one's anxiety can be draining. It's critical that you can manage your emotions and remain calm.
To do so, practice good self-care. Engage in activities that help you relax, like going for a walk or meditating.
Most importantly, don't be afraid to seek out the help of a professional therapist to help you positively frame your emotions.
By paying attention to your own emotions, you empower yourself to respond to your loved one's anxiety calmly. When their emotions escalate, you can still maintain control. This is reassuring and helpful for everyone concerned.
When your loved one sees that you are calm, this helps him feel calmer, too.
Understand That You Can't Fix It
When dating anyone with a mental illness, it's tempting to think of yourself as the heroic rescuer who swoops in and makes everything OK.
But this expectation is not realistic and can even be harmful.
The fact is, you cannot "fix" your loved one's anxiety.
That's not to say there's nothing you can do to help. You can listen, support, and assist your loved one in finding her solutions.
But to embark on a mission of curing her illness is to set both of you up for failure.
You will find yourself getting frustrated because you can't fix the problem or make it go away, no matter how hard you try. Your partner will sense these feelings in you, and this will make her feel even worse.
Relationships can be scary for anxiety sufferers. That's why patience and understanding are so very important. However, there are limits.
If anxiety is used as an excuse for insulting or abusive behavior, you will quickly become resentful of your partner.
Set clear limits on what you will tolerate during anxiety attacks or other stressful times. Tell your partner that it's never OK to insult you or to make threats or accusations.
If you set these parameters early on, you will feel much better about the relationship over time, and your partner will, too.
Don't Label Anxiety As Bad
Living with anxiety is challenging. But it's important to understand that it is part of your partner's personality. It is part of who they are.
Labeling it as bad makes it harder to accept and to live with it.
Instead of becoming frustrated with your partner's anxiety, look at it as an opportunity to learn. Be curious about it and encourage your partner to do the same.
When she or he feels anxious, it is not helpful to simply tell them, "Don't feel anxious." This makes him feel even worse. The fact is, if he could stop feeling anxious, he would.
Instead, acknowledge his anxiety and explore it. What triggers these feelings? What are the physical symptoms that go along with it? How can anxiety make him a stronger, better person?
The anxiety is going to be a part of your life, no matter what. So it's best to learn to live with it.
Don't Criticize Your Partner For Having Anxiety
Yes, it's maddening. Yes, it makes your partner difficult to deal with at times.
But remember that anxiety is not a choice; it's an illness.
Your partner does not want to have anxiety any more than she wants cancer or diabetes.
So even though you might feel frustrated, understand that your partner feels frustrated too and that she is doing the best she can.
Criticizing your partner for something over which he has no control will certainly backfire and will make him feel even more anxious.
Keep in mind that anxiety sufferers tend to be perfectionists, highly critical of themselves. Adding your criticism to the mix is like rubbing salt in the wound.
Understand Your Partner's "Relationship Anxiety"
It's very common for anxiety to have a profound effect on relationships. It's likely that your partner will experience painful "relationship anxiety." She may constantly worry that you're going to abandon or betray her.
Your partner may react to these feelings by withdrawing from you. He may stop replying to your messages and calls. Or he may question you any time you seem friendly with someone else, fearing that you may be unfaithful. He may constantly question his worth and wonder if you love him.
While these reactions can be maddening, try to react calmly. Keep communication lines open and try to find out from your partner what she needs from you to feel better.
Don't Take Things Personally
When your partner is having a bad day, he may be snappish, irritable, or withdrawn.
You might take it personally, thinking that he's mad at you or that you've done something wrong.
But this is not true. Your partner's moodiness is all about his anxiety and nothing to do with you at all.
If you take offense to your partner's bad moments, you may react angrily. Then the two of you will be arguing, and this will make the problem much worse.
Instead, just try to wait it out. Remember, it's just a bad day, and it will pass eventually.
Don't Try To Be A Therapist
As your loved one's partner, you have a unique role. You are the one who can give her a hug when she most needs it or take her out for her favorite snack as a distraction. You are the one who will be there for her in good times as well as bad.
But remember that you are not her therapist.
As much as you might want to help, you do not have the expertise to provide counseling or therapy to your partner. Doing so will only leave you feeling more drained and unhappy.
Encourage your partner to see a trained therapist or even attend couples therapy with you.
This way, you can focus on being a supportive and loving partner instead of a therapist…and everyone will be much happier.
Learn As Much As You Can
As you learn more about anxiety, you will understand the various ways that it affects your partner. There are many common misperceptions about mental illness. By educating yourself, you can dispel some of these misunderstandings about your partner's anxiety.
Keep in mind, though, that anxiety affects everyone in different ways. So don't rely solely on information from books and websites.
Instead, observe your partner. What behaviors does he engage in when he becomes anxious? Do you notice him suddenly becoming withdrawn or irritable? Does he have physical symptoms, such as a racing heart or even chest pain? And what situations seem to trigger these responses?
Such observations are the best way to gain insight into your partner's anxiety so that you can foresee and possibly prevent some problem situations before things escalate out of control.
As you read this advice, you may feel daunted at the overwhelming prospect of dating someone with an anxiety disorder. But remember that the journey is not all bad.
Many of the things that contribute to your partner's anxiety can also make her a wonderful partner. Anxiety sufferers are often highly intelligent and very sensitive. They are aware of the feelings of others and want to make them happy. Their perfectionism and attention to detail can be good qualities in moderation.
Like anything worth having, a partner with an anxiety disorder just needs a little extra care.
But the payoff will be more than worth it.