Things You Need to Know if Your Partner Has Anxiety

January 11, 2020

Your plus one is trapped in a wormhole of worry and refuses to leave the house. You’ve been down this road before, and it sucks, not just for your partner, but for you, too.

“Anxiety doesn’t live in a vacuum,” says psychologist and author Dr. Carolyn Dyche, director of the Anxiety Treatment Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan.” Even in the most loving of relationships,” she says, “if a partner has anxiety, it can really strain the relationship and weaken trust and intimacy, and it can be frustrating when neither is getting their needs met.”

Viewing anxiety as his problem or her problem can only go so far, because it can also kill your partnership if you let it fester.

Once you understand how anxiety hijacks your loved one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, you’ll be better able to defuse a tense situation, and the two of you can begin to work as a team to resolve anxiety-induced struggles in your relationship.

You disagree.
Dage explains that this might make it seem like the two of you are speaking different languages, which, in fact, you are.

You’re speaking “logic” and your anxious partner is speaking “emotion.” No wonder there’s a communication breakdown! “It’s like you’re getting lost in translation,” she says.

Your partner may avoid certain places or situations
Avoidance is a key feature of anxiety disorders. Unless you’re both on the same page, it can cause a rift in your relationship.

If grocery shopping pushes all of your partner’s anxiety buttons, you may be the one to handle this chore. But after a while, you’ll resent it. And your anxious partner may never chip in because therapy involves doing the things that trigger anxiety, Daitch explains.

“I’m tired” is code for “I’m scared.”
Yes, anxiety can be exhausting, says Jeremy Taylor, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Anxiety Treatment and Research at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. but if your loved one is always “too tired” to leave the house, that could be an excuse.

People with social anxiety worry that they’ll “do something embarrassing,” he says. To avoid looking foolish, they skip outings that might make them uncomfortable.

There’s a physical component to anxiety
“A lot of people feel their anxiety in their gut or chest or neck,” Daitch says.

Panic attacks can be especially scary because the physical sensations can sometimes mimic a heart attack, but these symptoms are short-lived.

If you know your partner isn’t in any real danger, give her space to acknowledge the thoughts that trigger anxiety and time to take some deep breaths.

You’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Your partner gets agitated about things. But do you really understand what he’s struggling with?

“Some people just don’t disclose in detail all the depths, all the scary parts of their anxiety to the people who are theoretically closest to them,” says Taylor.” They’re trapped by their own anxiety.”

Setting a calming example can help them
The last thing you should do when your partner is stressed out is get excited about it yourself.

“We actually mirror each other’s neurotransmitters,” explains Daitch. Staying calm and compassionate may help prevent that anxious moment from boiling over.

Find a way to connect
Think of a time when you felt anxious about something – your fear of heights or a traumatic event that left you – and multiply that by 10. That’s how your anxious partner feels, Taylor says.

Tapping into your own experience can help you empathize with your partner.” Just listen and connect,” he suggests, “because that will open up all communication.”

It’s okay to offer validation and support.

Your partner may be ashamed of his anxiety. It’s good to acknowledge how he’s feeling.

He’s nervous about driving again after his recent accident, and you can totally understand that. But you trust him. He’s so much stronger than he thinks he is.

“Supportive, but not enabling,” explains Daitch. What you don’t want to do is drive him around.

Your partner may need professional help.
Everyone has anxiety at times, but when it disrupts a person’s life and relationships, it’s time to seek help. It can be an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are super treatable, Taylor says. Visit the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapists and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America for resources and help finding a therapist.

Know when to mark it.
A person can only do so much to comfort. At some point in therapy, Tyler gives the non-anxious spouse permission to “not talk to the anxiety.”

They devise a plan together. When the anxious spouse starts to go down the “what if” rabbit hole, the partner can gently say, “Look, I’m not going to feed it, and it’s not because I don’t care about you. Rather, it’s because I care about you too much.”