Sometimes anxiety can feel like a third person in a relationship, wriggling in between you and your partner, creating distance and sowing doubt. Dealing with anxiety is hard for the afflicted, but it also affects the people they are close with, particularly in a romantic relationship. It’s important to tackle anxiety as a team and educating yourself can relieve a lot of the stress.
Firstly, there must be acceptance. Abandon all ideas that you can change or fix your partner. It’s unfair to pressure someone to live up to your idea of how you think they should be, and this can result in them feeling like they have failed you. It also makes your love appear conditional. One common fear of anxiety sufferers is that their anxiety makes them inherently unlovable. Let your partner know that your love and support is unconditional, and you want them to feel better because you love them — not because they have to be well in order to be loved. Remind them as often and as naturally as you can that the two of you are in this together, and that you’re not going anywhere.
Communication is of paramount importance, and one of the most effective ways to cope with anxiety within a relationship. Talking about it openly, honestly and directly with your partner, opens the dialogue and creates a safe space for them to confide in you. Remember that anxiety is not logical or rational, and the worst thing you can do is be critical, dismissive or make fun of your partner. Dealing with a partner who has anxiety requires keen emotional intelligence, patience and the resilience to not take it personally.
On the flip side of this, you must avoid treating your partner as if they are too fragile. Another common fear of the anxious is worrying about their anxiety being a burden to others. Anxious people are actually very perceptive and will notice immediately should you pull back or withhold things from them. Even if you don’t want to worry or upset your partner, treating them like an adult is the only way to help them manage their anxiety in a healthy way. Too much mollycoddling also leads into potential risk of enabling and reinforcing your partner’s maladaptive anxious behaviours. Find the balance between supporting and remembering that your partner’s anxiety is not your responsibility.
What is often neglected in a relationship where your partner is anxious, is making equally sure that you are taking care of yourself. Establishing boundaries is crucial to establishing a healthy dynamic, and there are some behaviours that are unacceptable whether your partner has a mental health problem or not. Insults and accusations should be off the table, anxiety attack or no, and do not be afraid to let your partner know where your line is. When you care for someone, it’s tempting to support them by trying to act like their therapist. However, you’re not a therapist and trying to play that role will be emotionally draining and can lead to resentment towards your partner, which will ultimately be toxic for the relationship. If your partners anxiety is really affecting their life, encourage them to seek professional help.
Anxiety isn’t just a source of stress in a relationship, it’s an opportunity to understand and love your partner more deeply and connect with them on a more intimate level. People with anxiety are perfectly capable of having healthy, and successful relationships and there’s no reason why yours shouldn’t be too.