Being a significant other to someone with an anxiety, or any kind of mental illness for that matter, can be a daunting thing, especially if you have no experiences with the disorder. Anxiety can cause many different problems, especially in your point of view, you do not understand why your partner is freaking out about something small or a larger thing.
As a person who deals with anxiety, and has had relationships, I can tell you that it is not easy. In my experiences, my anxiety had become the third wheel in my relationships. While I was lucky to have a partner who wanted to understand, dating someone with anxiety can be tricky, and I hope this list becomes a resource of everyone who has a partner who has an anxiety disorder. While these tips pertain to people who have anxiety, these also pertain to all mental illnesses-from depression to eating disorders.
1. Communication is key. This is crucial in any kind of relationship, but this is especially crucial in a relationship with a person with anxiety. Ask them about what makes them anxious, ask them about what triggers a panic attack and talk to them about the things they can do to help make them feel better. The more talking you do, I think the better off you are.
However, with that being said, dating someone with anxiety can be overwhelming. If you feel like they are leaning on you too much, be sure to tell them (in a nice way, naturally). I am the first to admit it is not the easiest thing to date me because of my anxiety. With that being said, I also think that if my boyfriend should speak up if he is feeling like he is lost in my anxiety, because I feel like anxiety can consume the relationship as well. Therefore, if you are feeling like that, then please speak up.
2. Do not ever make them feel guilty or tell them how to feel. One of the worst things that anyone can do with someone who has anxiety is make them feel guilty for their anxiety, or tell them to stop feeling anxious over something so small. Whenever I hear that, I want to slap someone in the face, and say “if I could control it, don’t you think I would?” By saying that, you are shutting them out, and making them feel even worse then they already are. Instead of saying “stop being anxious,” replace the sentence with “I do not understand how you are feeling, however I would like to try to. Can you tell me what is going through your head?” This sentence is ten times better because not only are you opening up communications, but you are also making them feel like they can come to you for support, and not pushing them away.
3. Remember they are not just their anxiety. As I mentioned in my sermon, I am a lot more than my anxiety. That is something I want every guy I date to remember. Sure, I deal with this thing called anxiety. But, there is more to me than that. I am sure that every person out there who deals with any kind of mental illness can attest to that. Chances are, there is a reason why you are with that person, and attracted to them, whether it may be because of their sense of humor or the things you both have in common. Therefore, remember that their mental illness is not the whole part of them.
4. Come to a therapist appointment, if you want. In my last relationship, my ex-boyfriend attended a therapist appointment with me to further learn how to manage my anxiety, and become a support system.
While I do not think it is a necessary thing to do, I do think it is something that is beneficial for both communication factors and to help understand exactly the circumstances of your anxiety is. In addition to that, I think it is important for partners to do this, just because it can help create an honest communication with each other, and learn more about anxiety/whatever if not familiar with it.
5. Take care of you. Just because you are dating someone with anxiety, and needs constant support, does not mean that you have to give up everything just to be there for them. Going through a year’s worth of therapy helped me learn to manage my anxiety on my own. However, from time to time, I lean on the support of friends and family. Leaning too much in any relationship can lead down an unhealthy path.
What I want partners of anxiety patients to know is that they do not have to feel like they are on call consistently. As I could imagine (and hope for that matter), you have a life outside of your relationship, whether it is work, school, friends and family. Sometimes, if your partner is having a crisis, you just can not be there for them for whatever reason. And that is okay, and if your relationship is a healthy one, your partner understands that. You need to take care of you, which is something that is important. This includes making sure that you are getting your work done, making sure you do things that are fun for you and making sure you do things that make you happy.
However, I would also like to add that whenever you are able to talk to them, you should aspire to let them know that you are there for them to offer support when needed. That alone can mean the world to them.
6. Be patient and let them feel what they need to feel. Anxiety is often the combination of several thousand feelings at once pulsing through your brain. When I have a panic attack, I am hysterically crying, and feel like I just can not breathe from the weight of the anxiety. Panic attacks come from all sorts of triggers (which is important for you to learn about them), and as I mentioned earlier, some of them you might not understand. Being able to support them and be patient with them is a combination of traits that I think everyone who has a significant other with anxiety needs to have to make the relationship successful.
However, it is important for you to remain patient and let them feel that anxiety. The more you do this, the more comfortable and supported they feel. Speaking more you do not let yourself feel that anxiety, the more destructive it can be.
So while you do not understand why your significant other may be crying in a corner, remember to remain patient with them, hold their hand if you are able to and if you are not able to, just say that you care/love them, and will always be there for them.
I can speak from experience by saying anxiety is tough, and is especially tough to deal with in relationships. With that being said, constant communication and discussion can be your weapons in dealing with its craziness.