A friend was recently clinically diagnosed with anxiety neurosis. Among other concerns, she was worried about what her partner would think when he gets to know he’s dating someone with anxiety. It’s one thing to say you’re feeling ‘anxious’ about a situation, but to see it written down on a medical prescription pad can bring on a terrifying feeling of finality. But it can also help the person connect the dots, understand their past in a kinder light, and know how to cope and ask for what they need.
Let’s be clear – dating someone with anxiety might get a little difficult or frustrating at times, but it’s more than possible to have a joyful and solid relationship when dating someone with anxiety and depression (the two are usually found to go hand in hand). It might take more work than the average relationship, and it is wise to be aware and prepared before you enter into such a connection.
You must know your limits, as well as be fair to the other person, if you’re dating someone with anxiety. They deserve a partner, after all, who understands and respects their mental health. So, it is integral to the success of such a relationship that you understand how anxiety works and how it manifests in romantic relationships.
We asked counselor Neelam Vats (certified CBT and NLP practitioner), who has over two decades of experience helping children, adolescents, and adults cope with issues related to depression, anxiety, interpersonal relationship, and career concerns, for insights into dating someone with anxiety.
While anxiety can be triggered by major life events such as depression after a breakup, the death of a loved one or work-related stress, it can also come about as a result of several seemingly small happenings building up over time. Neelam says, “Anxiety is a condition, not a disease. It is harmful to refer to someone with anxiety, or any mental health condition, as ‘crazy’. We need to remember that they are suffering from a condition that is not within their control.”
What You Need To Know If Your Partner Has Anxiety – 5 Things
Dating someone with anxiety needs a high level of understanding, not just about the condition itself, but how it’s going to show up in a relationship. Neelam outlined some important things to know if your partner has anxiety.
1. You are not on the same page
“When dating someone with anxiety, understand that you’re probably coming at the relationship from entirely different perspectives,” Neelam says. Someone riddled with anxiety may not feel safe getting close to someone, or even revealing their condition, and as a partner, it would be great if you can help feel emotional safety in a relationship.
She adds, “During arguments/ discussions, you may feel that your partner is being irrational or overly emotional. Understand that the binaries of logic and emotion do not always apply to people with anxiety. It may seem like their reactions come from an irrational or illogical space, but this is deeply real for them and must not be dismissed even if you disagree with them.”
2. Your partner may avoid certain places or situations
“Avoidance is a key feature of anxiety,” says Neelam. It’s possible that an anxious partner has identified certain triggers for their condition and they go out of their way to avoid these situations, for fear it will bring about an anxiety attack. These may include social events such as parties, job interviews, meeting a partner’s family, and going anywhere where there’s a crowd or strangers.
This could mean you’re dating someone with social anxiety. It’s important to talk about these possible triggers before heading into a potentially stressful situation, and to make your partner feel as safe and comfortable as possible, though, of course, a lot of the work needs to be done by them too.
3. They are often tired
While chronic fatigue and exhaustion can be a part of anxiety, it’s mainly living in constant fear or worry that tires them out. “When your partner says they’re tired, even if it seems to you as though they haven’t done much all day, understand that living with anxiety itself is tiring.
Related Reading: 9 Ways To Deal With Relationship Anxiety – Tips From Experts
“They might also be trying to tell you that they’re afraid of exerting themselves too much at the moment because they need to regulate their physical or mental faculties first,” Neelam says. Don’t make them feel ‘lazy’ or ‘slow’ – don’t even use those words jokingly when they say they’re tired. Your anxious partner has enough to take on as it is.
4. Anxiety has a physical component
While anxiety is primarily seen as a mental health condition, physical and mental health conditions are rarely separate things. It’s all integrated, and the breakdown of one will show up in the other. For some people, anxiety manifests as overthinking, stress, sleeplessness, and so on. For others, physical symptoms may be more intense.
“Some people with anxiety disorder may be prone to panic attacks. These can be particularly frightening because the physical sensations are sweating, palpitations, shortness of breath, and so on. These symptoms are short-lived, but can be terrifying nevertheless,” Neelam says. Gestures or gifts to release stress are welcome here, but again, listening and understanding are integral.
5. Anxiety may arise from invisible factors
If you’re the sort of person who’s usually calm and organized, you might think you’re immune to anxiety. The truth is, stress can often be subconscious and due to poor stress management, you may not even be aware of it.
If this is the case with your partner, don’t expect their triggers to be obvious, or for them to be triggered by the same things more than once. While there are plenty of studies about anxiety, no two people’s brain activity works the same way. I know people who are triggered by deep breathing, the very thing that’s supposed to calm you down. Your job is to be a good listener and support, not judge.
How Anxiety Can Impact Your Relationship – 3 Ways
There’s understanding anxiety, and then there’s understanding how it’s going to show up in your relationship. They might say that love conquers all, but there’s no magical cure for anxiety, so don’t expect your partner’s anxiety to disappear from a bout of love-bombing. Whether you’re dating someone with relationship anxiety, or dating someone with anxiety and ADHD, it’s important that you know how it impacts your relationship.
Related Reading: 9 Signs Of Unhealthy Compromise In A Relationship
1. They appear closed off
“An anxious partner can often seem closed off. Closing off from a partner is just one way anxiety affects romantic relationships and can stem from an intense fear of rejection and not knowing how to deal with rejection in love,” Neelam says.
An anxious partner may shut down when they feel unsafe in a relationship – in an argument or any sort of conflict. They’re rarely assertive about their own feelings, so clamming up when they’re upset, angry, or uncertain is how they cope. Most of the time, when they’re giving you the silent treatment, they need to be coaxed out and assured that it’s safe for them to express themselves.
If you’re dating someone with ADHD, the hyperactivity and disorganization symbolizing this condition could make things difficult for the relationship. Learning what works for your partner and creating a safe space for them to be themselves and communicate openly is especially important here.
2. They sometimes assume the worst
“Dating someone with anxiety means being prepared to cope with their fears, and their assumptions that things will turn out in the worst possible way,” Neelam says. “This can make regular parts of a relationship – arguments and disagreements – extremely stressful and difficult to recover from.”
Related Reading: 9 Things To Do When Every Conversation Turns Into An Argument
In other words, dating someone with anxiety and depression could mean working a little harder to create joy sometimes. Their tendency to assume the worst can make small things seem too much, so you’ll both need to work on creating a strong and happy relationship.
3. Overthinking is a way of life
“People with relationship anxiety often overthink their partners’ and their own words and actions. At times, they might feel that there is something off about their relationship, even when there is no conflict,” Neelam explains.
Let’s face it, there’s enough emotional baggage in most relationships, even in those where no one suffers from anxiety. When dating someone with anxiety, a word, a look, an intonation can set them overthinking the entire relationship.
7 Tips For Dating Someone With Anxiety
So, you’re dating someone with anxiety, and you’re ready to do whatever it takes to make the relationship work. Here are some tips as you work through your relationship.
1. Become knowledgeable about anxiety
“It is important to educate yourself and become familiar with the type of anxiety that your partner is experiencing. Once you’ve put in the effort to learn and don’t blame them for their condition, you’ll no longer think that dating someone with anxiety is exhausting,” Neelam says.
Related Reading: 8 Common Fears In Relationships: Expert Tips To Overcome
Maybe you’re dating someone with relationship OCD, or maybe you’re dating someone with anxiety and ADHD. Anxiety has various forms and it’s important that you know what exactly your partner is suffering from. Read up on the condition, maybe join a support group or a community you can talk to and share your feelings and questions with. Remember, ignoring or shunning it won’t help you or your partner; knowing more about it will help you both cope better.
2. Identify your partner’s triggers
What is it that gets your partner’s anxiety going? “Some common triggers are caffeine, news, social media, conflict, negative thoughts, stressful situations, and so on,” Neelam says. You might already be aware of how social media affects relationships, but this is different. Once you know your partner’s triggers, or at least some of them, you can discuss ways to mitigate such a situation.
Now, you can’t avoid news, social media, or stress entirely, but you can support them by maybe devising a system where their exposure and, therefore, their social anxiety is minimized. It’s also important to come up with a series of actions that help with their specific kind of anxiety triggers.
3. Be an active listener
Practicing better listening in a relationship is always a good idea. But what is active listening when dating someone with anxiety? It’s all about showing them that you’re actually hearing them and their fears, no matter how unrelatable those worries or the magnitude of them may be for you.
Do not dismiss their fears or diminish them in any way. Remember, to them, these fears are absolutely real; in fact, these fears are the basis on which much of their lives operate. Listen attentively, offer supportive words where and when you think they’re needed, and just be present.
4. Practice self-care
Listen, it’s easy to get caught up in taking care of your partner when they’re riddled with anxiety. It can often be a chronic condition and it’s more about managing symptoms than curing it once and for all. But, you need to take care of yourself too.
Self-care in this case means taking time for yourself, and remembering that you have a life and an identity outside of this relationship and outside of your partner’s anxiety. Caring about them is definitely one part of your life, but if you’re exhausted or become resentful of them, it’s not going to help your relationship.
5. Prepare for panic attacks
“It’s important to learn the best ways to respond to their anxious state when an attack occurs,” Neelam says. For some people, the attack manifests in fear and paranoia. For others, there are more physical symptoms like mentioned earlier – shortness of breath, palpitations, dizziness, and so on.
Related Reading: 9 Ways To Practice Mindfulness In Intimate Relationships
Dating someone with social anxiety could mean these attacks happen in public. Sometimes, just sitting down immediately and taking deep breaths is helpful. Other times, talking about it and breaking it down into words makes it loom less large. Others require medication to cope. Whatever your partner needs, ensure you’re equipped with it.
6. Practice compassion
Never forget that your partner is more than their anxiety. “Notice all the good things about your partner and tell them about it,” advises Neelam. People with anxiety tend to make their condition their whole world and forget their other qualities.
Remind them that they’re smart, funny, fabulous people who happen to have a condition. Tell them they’re strong, that their lasagna is the best in the world, that they’re great at their job. It’s the little things that help more than you’d think.
7. Set boundaries
“I was dating someone with relationship OCD. They were terrified of being alone, convinced that if they so much as acknowledged another person’s attractiveness, they were being unfaithful,” says Harper. “I wanted to make things work, but I had to draw firm lines about how far I could go without compromising my own mental health.”
We love us some healthy relationship boundaries, and it’s especially important when dating someone with anxiety. They, too, will require space and time away from you at times to self-soothe, look after themselves, or do the things they love to do.
Seeking professional help is one way to ensure your partner gets the help they need. If you do need to reach out, Bonobology’s panel of experienced counselors are just a click away.
How To Support Your Partner With Anxiety – 6 Dos And Don’ts
When you’re dating someone with anxiety, there are specific ways to support them and let them know that you’re there. Here are some dos and don’ts for how to show support.
1. Don’t try to fix them
Like we said, an anxiety disorder is not a disease, but a condition, and one that could be chronic. It takes time, patience, and carefully curated management of the symptoms, but it’s not a headache that’s going to go away with a pill, so you need to make this a conscious relationship where you see them as an equal.
Don’t see your partner as a project to fix. Whether you’re dating someone with social anxiety or dating someone with anxiety and ADHD, it’s something they’re living with for better or for worse, as will you. There will be good days and there will be bad days, and there’s no time frame for when they will ‘recover’.
2. Don’t try to explain away their fears
Fears and phobias are rarely rational, even for those of us who do not suffer from anxiety. For those who tackle anxiety on a daily basis, they can take on terrifying proportions and cause them to react strongly. Whether it’s fear of intimacy, or fear of meeting new people, take it seriously.
Don’t try to explain away their fears to them. It can come off as condescending and make your partner feel as though you’re infantilizing them and their condition. Also, remember that many people with anxiety are aware that their fears aren’t entirely rational, but that doesn’t make them any less real or terrifying.
3. Do be honest and set expectations
While it’s important to be gentle when dating someone with anxiety, there’s nothing wrong with holding them accountable for their behavior. Mind you, you’re not blaming them for their condition, but it’s all right to gently call them out if they’re acting in a self-destructive manner.
Related Reading: Expectations In Relationships: The Right Way To Manage Them
“My partner has anxiety and depression, and sometimes he would refuse to go to his therapist and would skip his medication. It took me a while to realize that going along with what he wanted was detrimental to both of us. I had to let him know that I expected him to stick to his routine, to help me help him. Of course, he has full agency over his healthcare decisions, but he agrees he needs a loving push and a reminder now and then to stay on track,” says Mason.
4. Do understand that happiness looks different for different people
People with anxiety may be low on motivation and take longer to do certain tasks. Yet, they’ll celebrate their smallest achievements, because on some days, it takes a lot for them even to get out of bed. Don’t push them or make them feel like they’re less. Instead, encourage every step they take toward living life to the best of their ability. Help them be happy and find joy in their achievements, even if it’s different from your own. This needs to be one of your core relationship values.
5. Do make them feel safe
Living in a world where so many things trigger instant fear and panic is difficult and exhausting. When dating someone with anxiety, it’s important that you make them feel safe. This also entails identifying and working through your own triggers and stressors.
Related Reading: 8 Ways To Cultivate Emotional Safety In Your Relationship
Being their safe space doesn’t mean you become their go-to person for everything, nor is there a guarantee that their anxiety will magically recede when they’re with you. But make it safe for them to talk about their feelings and fears, and let them know that you’re right there when anxiety hits them.
6. Do live your life
Don’t make anxiety the nucleus of your relationship, or your life. People with anxiety work, go out, travel, have fun, and have full and rich lives. As a partner to someone with anxiety, your life needn’t be spent tiptoeing around their condition either. Be sensitive, be aware, but don’t let your lives stop. Anxiety can be crippling when it takes hold, but it’s also possible to live with it instead of living in fear of it all the time.
Dating someone with anxiety can make for an emotionally exhausting relationship, even for those who have read up on it beforehand and take care to listen to their partner talk about their experience of anxiety. Anxiety is not a diagnosis that comes easy, and even when it is diagnosed, people are often embarrassed to reveal it, or take it seriously. It is important to get into such a relationship with your eyes open and absolute honesty about the condition and how you’re going to tackle it as a team.
Anxiety in a romantic relationship could manifest in all manner of ways. Your partner, when anxiety hits them, may think that you’re going to leave them, that you’re cheating on them, or that the entire relationship is a lie. You need to ask yourself if you’re prepared and willing to take on such challenges before getting into this relationship.
If your partner is diagnosed with anxiety when you’re already in the relationship, you need to know that your relationship will change, as will your partner. Be careful to not turn this into a codependent relationship. Your partner needs to be able to state their needs and so should you.
It’s said that love is a verb, and this is especially true when dating someone with anxiety, where real action and effort is needed. We hope you and your partner grow in strength and love.
While dating someone with anxiety can be hard, it can also be extremely fulfilling. People with anxiety can be extremely thoughtful and sensitive, which makes them warm and loving souls.
People with anxiety disorders can absolutely be in relationships. Again, it’s important to be honest about your condition with your partner, seek the help you need, and it’s important for the partner to be supportive and sensitive as well.
Unfortunately, yes. The partner who suffers from anxiety could overthink the relationship to the point where they believe there is no love or desire left. On the other hand, their partner could also fall out of love due to the issues that go hand in hand when dating someone with anxiety.