The Key to Relationships When You Have Anxiety
It’s no secret that being in a relationship — while rewarding — often comes with challenges. Common issues like trust, being long-distance and financial concerns may be what comes to mind when we think about these challenges. But what we may not realize is that when one or both partners are struggling with anxiety, focusing on mental health can be an integral part of making a relationship “work.”
When anxiety is a factor in a relationship, what do couples do to weather this specific storm?
We wanted to know what the “key” is to making a relationship work when anxiety is in the mix, so we asked members of our mental health community who live with anxiety to share some insight.
Here’s what they shared with us:
1. “Honesty and understanding. It took me a long time to realize hiding my anxiety just caused more problems and lack of understanding. It was a hard thing to overcome, but it got rid of some of the anxiety about anxiety as [silly] as that sounds. Even me simply saying, ‘I’m getting anxious,’ helps us both navigate my anxiety better, and sometimes that means I just need alone time or I’m probably going to be quiet for a while (depending on how bad the anxiety gets). Communication is key for sure.” — Whitney F.
2. “Reassurance and communication. Being able to let them know you are there for them, asking them how they are through out the day. I really enjoyed when they would randomly send me messages to motivate me through the day or even buying me a small things because they thought I would like it. I have awful social anxiety [and] they would help me try to push through it to do things on my own. So when I’m by myself, I can have a little courage to do things.” — Ray W.
3. “My husband treats my mental illness the same as he would a physical illness. For example, if I had [a physical illness] and was too sick to go somewhere, he wouldn’t expect too much of me. The same with anxiety… he just understands that plans may have to be cancelled. He works very hard to understand my moods, because our marriage is important to him. It isn’t easy, but it is important.” — Christie B
4. “He’s brilliant! Turns television off so I can speak without distractions. He lets me explain everything that’s bothering me and what’s making me really anxious. He even reminds me of breathing exercises, etc. He’s very patient and understanding, but then he has always been like this anyway (very laid back). Oh! And loads of cuddles when I’ve finally calmed down. He’s just the absolute best! “ — Michelle L.
5. “My wife knows the times I don’t want to be asked too many questions and understands if I can’t answer or don’t feel ready to answer to not take it personally. [Her] just offering a hug or some physical comfort and reassurance is amazing.” — Matt R.
6. “I have really bad anxiety (among other things) and my partner’s patience with me and ability to reassure me without becoming frustrated is so important. I know I need to be told the same kind of things over and over again. I’m incredibly lucky I found my rock.” — Olivia R.
7. “I’m the one with anxiety, but the key isn’t to try to understand the anxiety. Just to be there. When my man says, ‘listen to my heart beat, and breathe’ as he hugs me, [it] usually helps. My hyperventilating slows down and my mind, too. Tight hugs or soft hugs.” — Alysha P.
8. “Understanding, acceptance, communication and support. Even though he doesn’t understand fully, he does understand enough to know being there for me and listening to my irrational fears helps a lot. I’m still working on being open with him because I still try to deal with it alone.” — Bree N.
9. “My fiancé and I both [have] anxiety and panic attacks. Our trick is to take turns being strong. If we happen to have panic attacks at the same time, we literally switch back and forth. That depth of understanding and support makes us strong, he’s my rock.” — Shannon D.
10. “My boyfriend and I have been together for almost eight years. The ‘key’ to our relationship when dealing with my anxiety is his untiring willingness to listen and try to understand even when he feels helpless to ‘fix’ the issue. He keeps calm in all situations and that helps bring me down from a panic state. Even when I feel I’m a burden, he always reassures me I’m his blessing, not his burden.” — Marissa M.
11. “Communication. Sometimes when I’m panicking I need him to hold me, sometimes I need space. We have key words that are short and easy to remember so if I’m panicking that’s all I have to say and he knows what to do.” — Erin W.
12. “Patience and forgiveness. Sometimes we fly off the handle in frustration, but it’s important to put our feelings in perspective and communicate how we really feel. Giving each other our space really helps, too.” — Leanna H.
13. “Doing little things for each other. If we have to call somewhere, he’ll do it for me because he knows I have wicked bad phone anxiety. I’ll surprise him with one of his favorite snacks if I know he’s feeling bad. I know it sounds cliche, but it really is the little things that remind us how much the other loves us!” — Sela M.
14. “Safe words. My husband and I both have severe anxiety and depression. When we are getting into that zone of despair or worry, we use the safe word to let each other know what’s going on when [we] can’t explain it.” — Caitlan B.
15. “I’m working on a crisis plan: grounding techniques, etc. so I can teach him to help me walk me through it when I have a panic attack. He always wants to help though so I thought of this to give him something to help with.” — Becca T.
16. “Space. I get overstimulated very easily, so sometimes I just need space to catch my breath.” — Mandi D.
17. “Honesty. I need to tell him when I need a hug or extra reassurance. When I do, our relationship is strengthened and our emotional intimacy deepens.” — Jen P.
What would you add?
Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.