Love and Anxiety: How to Help an Anxious Partner

October 7, 2021

What if he doesn’t love me? Is he cheating? He’s late, what if he isn’t coming home? I found a receipt in his pocket for two lunches today, who did he eat with – another woman? I’ve gained ten pounds, will he stop loving me? He didn’t say “I love you” back, does that mean something? When he looked at me yesterday, he didn’t look like he used to – is he falling out of love?

Imagine having all of those thoughts within a matter of two minutes. And then, imagine that they continue to play over and over again day in and day out. That is what it is like for someone who is living with anxiety. The voices of self-doubt are endless, drowning, and exhaustive.

Anxiety and love sometimes go hand in hand. The very thing that you find comfort in, a relationship, might be the very thing setting off your anxiety. After all, when you have nothing to lose, there is nothing to be anxious about. If, however, you allow yourself to get close to someone, or to even rely on them, that can be extremely anxiety-provoking. But even outside of relationship anxiety, some people have a hard time calming the inner voice. And if you have a partner who can’t seem to find security, it might be challenging to live with and to know how to help.

The Inner Voice That Drives Anxiety

Infographic Showing How Others Perceive Anxiety Vs. How it Really Feels

Living with anxiety is like being followed by a voice. It knows all your insecurities and uses them against you. It gets to the point when it’s the loudest voice in the room. The only one you can hear.”

Anxiety is that inner voice that doesn’t stop. And it isn’t the inner voice giving you a pat on the back and boosting your self-esteem. For the person with anxiety, that inner voice is their fear monger, their naysayer, and their worst-case scenario perpetrator. The constant churning and ruminating can become exhausting, not just to the person who experiences a high degree of anxiety, but to anyone close to them. In fact, studies show that anxiety disorders can influence marital satisfaction.

There are many forms of anxiety, from generalized anxiety to extreme phobias. And the degree of severity impacts the person and the people in their lives in varying degrees. Although you can’t stop someone who has high anxiety from feeling the way that they do, there are ways to help them navigate through their fears, while at the same time finding a way to also care for yourself. 

The Grim Truth About Anxiety and Relationship Challenges

An ADAA research study found that people who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder reported not being in a supportive and healthy relationship more than those without it.

They were also twice as likely to have one prominent problem in their relationship, like incessant arguing. And anxiety sufferers were three times less like to be intimate regularly with their partner. Although the study’s results pertain to just generalized anxiety disorder – they most likely would be true for people with other forms of anxiety.

If you are having a hard time navigating the intricacies of someone you love with an anxiety disorder and also a hard time watching them ineffectually navigating themselves, these are ways to help.

Do Your Homework

If you love someone and think that they have an anxiety disorder or have been diagnosed with one, it is crucial to understand what it is and how it will not only affect them; but also you. When the things you have been doing in the past are not working, seek better ways to deal with your partner and your relationship.

By understanding what is going on, it might help you to be more empathetic. Or, at least, it might help you to see that sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with you. If you know what the symptoms are, you can work on the way to lessen them together.

Encourage them to get treatment

For someone with anxiety, thinking about getting a professional treatment can be anxiety-provoking. No one wants to admit that they need help. And since they have likely been dealing with their anxiety their whole life, it might just seem to them that it is just how things are. Encourage them to seek treatment, but not in a “there’s something wrong with you” way.

They are probably aware of their problems and don’t need you to point them out. What they do need is encouragement and support from you to say that you want them to get help, so they don’t have to live the way that they do. If you make it sound as if there is something wrong with them, you will only grow their anxiety that they aren’t enough. And they will probably feel as if they have failed to be who you want them to.

Reinforce Good Behaviors Instead of Punishing Bad Ones

The best way to deal with a person suffering from anxiety is to praise their good behaviors and downplay their not so good ones. If you punish them for what is probably mostly out of their control, you will only make them feel worse about themselves. Trust me, whatever it is that you think you are doing by punishing them, they are already doing much worse to themselves.

If you withhold love, avoid them, or beat them up about the times that their anxiety gets out of control, you won’t be able to break those patterns that are so destructive to you both. Instead of brow-beating them when they do something out of fear, continually praise them when they overcome their anxiety and do things that are not easy for them. Focus on the positive and try to forgive them when they mess up.

Measure Their Progress According to Them, not a Gold Standard

Instead of thinking that the goal is for them to let go of anxiety completely and live an anxious-free life, consider the small victories. If you have an unrealistic goal about who they should be and how they should change and behave, you are setting them up to never live up to your expectations. And for the person who is already living in an anxious existence, never measuring up to your gold standard is going to set them down a course of feeling never good enough.

Don’t Assume That you Know What the Problem is or What They are Thinking

Comic of girl: how anxiety looks on the outside vs how they feel on the inside

One of the hardest things for people living with anxiety is that you can’t possibly imagine what or all that is going on in their minds. If you assume you know what is driving their anxiety, I can almost assuredly tell you that you do not. Their worries and fears aren’t the same as yours.

So to pretend that you know or understand where they are coming from, or dealing with, is unrealistic. Instead of just reacting according to what you think their thought processes are, ask them. If you take the time to ask what they are afraid of or what their thoughts are, you will find yourself on the same page. Otherwise, it will probably feel like you can’t communicate because you can’t help when you don’t understand one another.

Don’t Try to Change or Fix Them

We all have a grand idea of how people should be and behave. But it isn’t fair for you to try to fix them by pressuring them to live up to what you want them to be. If they can’t live up to your expectations, that will make them feel as if they failed you.

And with failure comes more fear and anxiety. It is crucial to provide your partner with unconditional love. When you try to pressure someone into submission, it sends the message that they have to behave in a certain way to be loved. Tell them that you want them to feel better because they are loved.

Don’t Minimize Their Fears or Convince Them They Are Unwarranted

Deep down, your partner knows that their fears aren’t always entirely rational. And also that what they worry most about will probably never happen. But telling them how irrational their feelings are isn’t going to make them want to get help, it will only embarrass them. Instead of trying to convince them that their feelings are unfounded, question them about how they feel.

When you allow them to voice their worst fear, it brings it to light. And in doing is, it shines a spotlight onto them, where they can be examined and neutralized. Most importantly, don’t ever poke fun at their feelings or make them feel ashamed. If you ask them to self-edit their emotions, they will come to the conclusion that they are exaggerating a situation.

If you make them feel stupid or silly for their thoughts, they are more likely to bury them. And once buried, it is difficult to get to and extinguish them. That will only make their anxiety worse.

Be As Honest as Possible and Set Boundaries 

If you are going to be running late, say so! There is no reason to make your partner, who is already prone to anxiety, sit and wait on you. Having predictability is about the most essential thing in the life of someone with anxiety.

Also, if you have something in your life that you know will probably set their anxiety on high – do not try to hide it from them; talk it through. Having an anxious partner can sometimes feel as if you are dealing with a child, but you aren’t. When you treat them as if they are fragile and keep things from them, it creates an even worse scenario.

When they find out that you aren’t being entirely honest with them, it will only increase their anxiety, not extinguish it. Most people with an anxiety disorder already have a heightened sense of worry that something is amiss. If they feel as if they can’t trust that you will let them in, they will always be worrying about what you aren’t telling them. 

Give Them Security

Young Man Relaxing On Sofa In Living Room

One fear that many people who have anxiety disorders experience is that they aren’t lovable. After all, they know that their anxiety is overwhelming and hard to take. What you see from the outside is probably just a fraction of what lies beneath the surface. The best way to curb their anxiety is to give them reassurance regularly.

As naturally and often as you can, remind them that you aren’t going anywhere and that you are in it for the long haul. If you need to, just send the same text over and over. You will be surprised at how profound a difference you can make to their day by just letting them know that you will always be there. And also, that they are not only lovable; but loved by you. It might seem redundant and overkill, but it will never be for the person who is dealing with anxiety.

And although it might seem to you that the more you give, the more they require; if you can provide them stable ground, you might look a significant difference in their behaviors. Once you can establish a bond with them where they feel your relationship is real and concrete, it is like providing them with a floor to stand on and walls to lean against when they need you most. 

Quick and Actionable Tips

  • The three-letter phrase “It is okay,” can never be overused! – two simple words are usually enough to calm the churn
  • Sometimes they just need you to listen – Even if their thoughts appear to jump all over the place, and you don’t know where they came from or where they will go – just listen. Allow them to go off the rails sometimes
  • Even if there is no solution, they just need someone to share in their angst
  • Don’t tell them that they are overreacting – Things might seem irrational to you, but you don’t have a clue what is going on behind the scenes. If it is real to them, remember; it is real
  • Promptly answering emails and texts is more important than you have any idea – You probably notice that they answer every message with lightning speed. If they send you a message simply say, “I can’t talk right now, but we will discuss it later”. Silence is an anxiety sufferer’s worst nightmare; it allows the inner voice free time to play. Not answering adds additional stress to their lives that you can’t imagine, and, unfortunately, they can’t control
  • It isn’t a lack of trusting you; it is the fear of talking – To someone with anxiety, the thought of losing someone is terrifying. Remember, their inner voice is telling them worst-case scenarios about a situation, not about who you are or what you are capable of doing. After they accuse you, they hate themselves for it
  • Don’t be upset by a string of texts – If you aren’t by your phone and you pick it up to find four texts and six missed can’t, try not to be angry. When anxiety takes over, rational thought takes a hiatus. And the more fearful they become, the more it feels like they are grasping at straws
  • Try to accept their apology, even if you can’t understand – People with anxiety are highly empathetic, almost tragically. If they sense the slightest bit of annoyance or upset tone from you, they will immediately apologize. And then they will continue to bend over backward to make things right. They are trying to make you happy, even if sometimes their anxiety makes you miserable
  • Know when you can and can’t help – Someone with anxiety will probably never admit that they can’t handle something. They are always the “yes man,” and not only want to please by taking things on but also won’t say when it is too much. When you notice that life is overwhelming them, a simple hug or phrase from you is enough. You can try to help them, but many are used to handling things on their own. That can make you feel helpless, but take heart, they know that you can’t help even if it sounds as if they are asking you to. Just knowing someone cares enough to ask is usually sufficient to set them back on course
  • Once they find solid ground, life will be amazing – If there is one thing that someone with anxiety is often good at – it is love. Their strong suit is in their ability to show those they love what is in their heart and how much they appreciate you. Once you can see them for who they are, not the anxiety that can overtake them, you will see how much they truly adore you.

But It Is Your Life too!

As hard as it is for a person with anxiety to carry on some days, it can be just as hard on the person who loves them. Being in a relationship with someone with an anxiety disorder is not easy, and watching them suffer can wear you down. But even when your partner is having an extremely rough day, you have to carry on with your own life.

If you have obligations that you can’t or even don’t want to miss, don’t. It isn’t abandoning them if you have to do something for yourself. In fact, it can be healthy for both of you. If you stop living your life the way that you want, then you will likely build up a whole lot of resentment, which is never good in a relationship. If you do go, however, try to remember to check in with them while away.

And also to reassure them that they are missed and loved. Because while you are away, their mind will probably be filled with a whole lot of inner talk. And if you don’t want to come home to someone who has been negatively badgering themselves all day, it is best to stop the beast with just a few small texts. Tell them that you are still around and that you still love them, to help stop their anxious feelings.

Self Care is Highly Important

As we discuss all the ways that you can help your partner deal with their anxiety, it is important to understand that you have to care for yourself too. People living with a partner with anxiety typically take on more roles for child-rearing, home tending, and other responsibilities. That can leave you feeling tired and potentially resentful.

And the worst part is that you might feel guilty about being resentful. It is alright to be upset, loving someone with anxiety is not the easy road to go down. But if you support them by getting them the help they need to calm their mind through honesty, your challenges will lessen. And you might see a completely different person’s surface.

Maintain Your Support System

Living with someone with anxiety is not easy, and it will take a lot of support to support them. Have people in your life with whom you can confide in honestly. It can start to feel like you are both out on an island together. And living with someone with anxiety can begin to make you feel isolated. Your relationship certainly can’t survive if it is just two people feeling alone and helpless.

Seek Professional Help for Yourself too

As much as you need to get your partner the professional help they require, you need to seek advice for yourself. You are probably dealing with a lot of issues on your own like resentment, sadness, and hurt.

And being able to talk about those things with someone who understands what you are going through is highly critical for you both. After all, you can’t take care of someone else if you aren’t taking care of yourself. So although it is your partner who is dealing with emotional issues, they are affecting you, and you need to address them for your mental wellness.

Living with anxiety is neither easy for the person experiencing it or those who love them. If anxiety is having a profound effect on your relationship, you both need to get the help you need to live a healthier and happier existence.

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