Anxiety & Relationships
Almost all couples have their share of challenges. However, when half of a couple has an anxiety disorder, both partners face a new set of challenges, and other challenges may be exacerbated.
Family and household routines are often disrupted, and special exceptions made for the anxiety sufferer. Many times, the spouse or partner will take on additional responsibilities to help alleviate the other’s anxiety. This can become quite overwhelming.
One area that may be impacted is financial, as anxiety can make it difficult to get or keep a job. Therefore, the spouse or partner may become the sole breadwinner.
Social life can also be greatly altered because a person with an anxiety disorder tends to avoid social activities. The social life of the partner can suffer as well because of this, creating a feeling of isolation in both partners.
Spouses and partners may feel sad, depressed, or scared for themselves and for their partner or spouse. Anger and resentment may also appear in these relationships, which can create guilt for feeling this way.
How do we support and encourage our loved ones?
First and foremost, LEARN. Learn as much as possible about your loved ones’ anxiety disorder. Below are suggestions you may find helpful in your relationship if your partner or spouse is suffering from an anxiety disorder.
DO NOT TRY TO FIX THEM
Be this person’s spouse or partner, NOT their therapist. Let them know you love them and would like them to feel better. Don’t assume you know what your partner needs. Ask how you can help. LISTEN….just being heard can alleviate tension, stress and guilt which will ease anxiety.
HELP THEM FEEL SAFE
One of the greatest fears of a person suffering from an anxiety disorder is that they’re unlovable just because they’re anxious. Telling them not to be afraid of something is not a good idea. Your partner likely knows that their fear isn’t rational but reinforcing that will not help ease their fears.
Anxious people tend to be perceptive and will sense if you are keeping something from them or lying, even if it is with good intent. Talking and letting your partner or spouse know what’s going on will keep his or her mind from spiraling into high gear.
Do not stop your life or give up your interests and hobbies. If you have to go by yourself to a family function or social gathering, it may actually be a relief to both of you. (Just remember to check in and let them know you’re thinking of them and that you will be home when you said you’d be home.) You will be happier, healthier, and better prepared to face challenges.
Playing an active role in the treatment of your partner’s anxiety disorder will be beneficial to everyone involved. Ultimately the responsibility lies with the patient but having you in his or her corner will help reassure them and keep them on the path to recovery. Couple and Family based treatment programs are offered by many mental health professionals and increasingly recommended. Having a partner or spouse who understands what the anxious person is experiencing can be comforting and help alleviate the stress. The partner or spouse may be able to detect possible triggers and situations and help his or her loved one control anxiety responses in certain situations.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT YOU
It is extremely important for partners of those with an anxiety disorder to take care of themselves. You can do so by maintaining a support system of family and friends to confide in and can support you emotionally during difficult times. Setting boundaries is essential. If your partner is refusing to seek treatment or unwilling to participate in anything to become well, you will need to discuss your expectations and offer suggestions as to how to improve the situation.