Anxiety can Harm (or Help) for your Relationship

If you are struggling with anxiety, your partner is struggling with it, too. Because anxiety will affect the way you behave, even if--especially if--you try to hide it.

How can anxiety affect your relationship?

Anxiety and Relationships
Anxiety and Relationships

It can make you less social. When you are really anxious, it can be difficult to get out and socialize. Your partner wants to spend a weekend in Vegas, but you don’t want to fly. Your partner wants to go to a party, but you don’t want to deal with people. It doesn’t take long for this to be a problem. It can drive you to drink. Let’s say you bite the bullet and decide to accompany your partner to a party. Now that you’re there, you think you have to get rid of this anxiety so that you can talk to people. So you have a drink. Or two. Or six. Now your anxiety is gone, but so are you. This can end poorly. It can make you distant. If you have bad anxiety, and your partner doesn’t (or, at least, you assume they don’t), you might try to hide it from them. Or, you may manage your anxiety by withdrawing from interactions, or keeping them safely on the surface. None of which is helping your relationship. Or, on the other hand... It can make you controlling. You may be someone who deals with their anxiety by trying to manage and control your partner, by repeatedly asking for reassurance, and checking in on their behavior. Also not recommended for a good relationship.

Talk to your partner about your anxiety

If you are struggling with anxiety, it is usually a good idea to let your partner know. I almost always suggest that my clients invite their partner to one or more therapy sessions. For a few reasons:

It can help your partner understand your experience. You may assume that your partner understands what you’re going through. Or, you may assume that they’d never understand what you’re going through. Either assumption is bad if you don’t test it out. For example, your partner may be interpreting your anxious behavior for lack of interest in the relationship, or worse. It can help you understand your partner’s experience. Similarly, it can help you understand what it’s like for them, which helps you act more compassionately, and lets you know what kinds of changes you need to make. It can communicate trust to your partner. Many people (men especially) won't discuss their anxiety with their partner, out of fear that they'll be seen as weak, or worse. But expressing this kind of vulnerability is crucial, if your relationship is going to be vital and real. When you tell your partner about your anxiety, you’re telling them that you trust them. It can help your partner help you. Others’ reactions can be helpful or harmful. If you are struggling with anxiety, it’s not helpful for your partner to be dismissive of your experience, or to demand that you “get over it.” But it’s also probably not helpful for them to enable you to use it as an excuse. But your partner is probably not a therapist, and they’re definitely not a mind reader, so how else should they know what to do?

The good news here is that, as is usually the case with anxiety, the downsides can be turned into upsides with some know-how and effort. If you are willing to tell your partner about your anxiety, you can help overcome it, and strengthen your relationship in the process.