Entering into a romantic relationship with someone can be a challenging and stressful endeavor at times. That’s because when two separate and distinct individuals decide to share their lives as one, there will always be growing pains — even with the most compatible personality types.
However, if one of the individuals has an anxiety disorder, those challenges will become much more difficult. The daily struggle of dealing with anxiety can be complicated but trying to navigate a significant other’s anxiety can be almost impossible at times.
It’s important to remember there will be ups and downs in any relationship, but having a shared understanding, compassion, and patience with one another can make dealing with anxiety disorders manageable. Here are a few things you can do if your partner suffers from an anxiety disorder.
Research Anxiety Disorders
The best way to help anyone is to try to educate yourself on what they are experiencing. One of the easiest ways to do this is to simply read up on and research medical opinions of anxiety disorders and consume first-hand experiences and stories.
The overview for an anxiety disorder is when someone frequently has intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. This anxiety can involve repeated episodes of sudden intense anxiety and terror that culminate in a peak of negative emotions known as a panic attack. Not only are these intense feelings of panic difficult to control, but they are generally disproportional to the actual issue and can last for quite a while.
Some of the more common signs and symptoms of anxiety include:
- The feeling of being nervous, tense, or restless
- A sense of impending danger and panic
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
- Increased sweating
- Feeling tired and weak
- Issues with concentration
- Trouble sleeping
- Gastrointestinal problems
Listen to Your Partner
One of the cornerstones of any healthy relationship is communication. Arguably the ability to communicate may just be the single most important aspect of building a solid relationship with someone.
When it comes to anxiety disorders, no one will know better about your significant other and their struggle than they would. While research can go a long way towards educating yourself on anxiety, it is important to understand specifically what your partner is going through.
Anxiety is often activated by certain “triggers,” and not everyone’s will be the same. Learning exactly what triggers your partner can go a long way toward avoiding those situations if possible or helping to guide them through them if they are not.
You should talk with your partner and come up with your own specific response to a panic attack but here is a list of things you will want to include:
- Stay together and remain calm.
- If medication is used to help battle attacks, then help get your partner their medicine.
- Make no assumptions and ask specifically what they need.
- Speak in short and simple sentences.
- Be predictable and avoid surprises at all costs.
- Help slow down their breathing by counting to ten or breathing along with them.
Show Your Support
Despite an estimated 40 million adults (age 18 or older) having some form of an anxiety disorder, only roughly 36.9% receive treatment for them. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness, with 18.1% of the population having them, but they do not seek help due mainly to negative social stigmas.
If you are dating someone with an anxiety disorder it is absolutely paramount you support them as best as you can. Sometimes they may be resistant to your help, and that is okay too. They may be feeling embarrassed about their disorder so staying warm and supportive is all you can do at that moment. Listen without judgment to what they say and make sure they know that whenever they are ready you will be available to help and support them.
Don’t Take It Personally
It’s important to remember that your partner’s anxiety is not about you. Sometimes this disorder will cause them to act irritable toward you or generally distracted. It helps to remember that this behavior is not because of what you’ve done; it’s because of their anxiety.
If you find them acting out of character or overly emotional for the situation at hand, then take a step back and calmly, without judgment, think about whether or not their anxiety is causing this behavior. Instead of getting offended and making the situation worse, ask if there is anything you can do to help. Sometimes just talking about an issue will go a long way toward soothing anxiety.
Keep Your Own Anxiety in Check
One of the least helpful things you can do in the event of a partner’s panic attack is to panic yourself. Although not always possible, it’s important to try to remain as calm as you can and avoid becoming reactive and stressed out.
Experimenting with yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises can go a long way towards reducing anxiety. Additionally, it’s important to note that while taking care of your significant other may be a priority, it’s equally important that you don’t neglect your own mental health either.
Communication is a two-way street, and talking about what you’re feeling is important too. A relationship must be built on understanding each other, so make sure they know what you are thinking and feeling as well. Ignoring your own mental health could result in codependent behavior, which can lead to more complicated relationship issues.
In a nutshell, codependency is when one person plans their entire life around pleasing another person. This behavior is not fair to either member of the relationship. Finding a balance of being supportive but not codependent may be difficult and take some work. However, if the relationship is to remain healthy, then it’s important to find this balance.
Consider Couples Therapy
Dealing with anxiety disorders can be incredibly draining both emotionally and mentally. Dating someone with an anxiety disorder will mean that you are the most important person in their emotional support system. To avoid getting overwhelmed, it’s important that you are not the only person in their support system. That’s because having to constantly sacrifice for your partner can lead to built-up resentment and, from a mental bandwidth standpoint, it can be literally exhausting.
Couples therapy can help to solve some of these issues. Having a licensed professional get involved can help you and your partner better understand each other, contend with the anxiety itself, identify triggers, and teach you how to support each other in healthy ways. Communication can be challenging, even between two people who truly care and love each other, so bringing in someone with an outside perspective can go a long way toward pointing out and repairing issues.
Separate Your Partner From Their Anxiety
The person you are dating is more than just their anxiety disorder. Although their anxiety may cause intense experiences that overwhelm and influence your partner’s behavior, it’s important to remember that’s not who they are as a person.
The person that you love enough to dedicate your time and support to, even as they are dealing with anxiety, is still that person you fell in love with — even when they have their down days.
Being patient and compassionate is all that you can sometimes do. But if you love someone and you want to help them through their anxiety, it may be worth dealing with the ups and downs in exchange for the happiness you share.
Communication and honesty are the best weapons in this fight. Remembering who and what you are fighting for will help you stay grounded. Try not to let their anxiety cloud or change your feelings toward them.
Dating someone with an anxiety disorder can be very challenging at times, but with communication, honesty, and patience, it’s possible to get through it together. Every relationship comes with its own unique problems. With enough compassion and understanding, anxiety disorders can be solved.
Anxiety doesn’t have to only be a detriment as it can be used as an opportunity to better understand your partner and eventually love them even more deeply. While it may cause several issues at the beginning of the relationship, it will also force other issues to be addressed.
Often in the early stages of relationships, people will sacrifice their own happiness to please their partner. They may go along with something they aren’t comfortable with or act in a way against who they are in order to please their partner. By dealing with complications from anxiety, honest and true communication becomes extremely important almost immediately.
The only way to deal with anxiety is by learning about your partner and being honest with each other.. Anxiety can affect your relationship negatively, too but it can also be a benefit and even an important building block to a healthy relationship as well. It just depends on how you and your partner manage it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or just need some tools to manage your relationship and your partner’s anxiety, it can be very helpful and relieving to talk to a professional therapist.