Dating someone with anxiety can feel very overwhelming and stressful, especially once your partner’s behavior shifts. They may start to shut down, pull away, and behave in a passive-aggressive manner, or they may become more controlling, angry, or overly critical.4 Sometimes, they may say and do things they don’t really mean as a way to test the relationship.
Relationship anxiety or stress can revolve around a variety of issues ranging from how to communicate effectively to general sexual anxiety or sexual performance anxiety. Anxiety may also look different in men and women, which is important to understand as you try to help your partner cope.
It’s also important to remember that you won’t be able to change or fix their behavior, but by following these tips, you can work together to support one another and improve your relationship.They probably won’t cure your partner’s anxiety, but they will help you feel more confident in your relationship and will give you a greater understanding of what they’re going through.
The following are 17 tips for dating someone with anxiety:
1. Become Knowledgeable About Anxiety
Anxiety is very common in the United States, but it is not “one-size fits all” and there are many different types. It’s important to educate yourself and become familiar with the type of anxiety that your partner is experiencing. Anxiety disorders often develop from a complex set of risk factors including, genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.4
2. Know What Triggers Your Partner’s Anxiety
Anxiety triggers are different for each person, but the types of triggers are usually similar. Being aware of these triggers is a great way to be proactive to better help manage them in the future. Some common triggers are caffeine, the news and doom scrolling, negative thoughts, social media, conflict, and stressful situations. Once you and your partner are aware of what triggers the anxiety, you can work to either avoid those situations or build skills to cope with the feelings they bring up.
3. Be An Active Listener
Dealing with anxiety may feel very difficult and isolating for your partner. When you practice active listening, your partner will feel heard and valued. The first step of active listening is to pay attention and utilize non-verbal cues such as eye contact, nodding, and using open body language. This includes turning toward the speaker with arms uncrossed to convey that you are interested in what they are saying.
Next, it’s important to use reflections. When reflecting, you will repeat back what someone has just said to you, but in your own words.3 This shows that you didn’t just hear the other person, but you are trying to understand them. It’s also important to ask open-ended questions, or questions that encourage elaboration, rather than just a yes or no response. The primary goal in active listening is to understand the speaker’s point of view, even if you don’t necessarily agree.
4. Consider Couples Therapy
If you’re in a serious, committed relationship and your partner is experiencing anxiety in a way that’s impacting your relationship, it may be time to consider couples therapy. A couples therapist is trained to be a neutral party who can help you identify patterns and provide honest feedback and psychoeducation. Finding a couples therapist may seem overwhelming, but there are resources to help you find a therapist that will be a good fit for you.
5. Practice Self-Care, Too
When you’re worried about your partner, it’s easy to neglect your personal self-care. Just like the flight attendant says before take off, “Secure your own oxygen mask first before helping others,” it’s also imperative to first care for your own mental health needs. Your personal self-care practice may include exercise, eating well, meditation, hobbies, time with friends, etc. Determine what you need right now, listen to your inner voice, and then start taking care of yourself.
6. Prepare for a Panic Attack
Panic attacks are brief moments of overwhelming fear or anxiety. They may include symptoms such as a racing/pounding heart, sweating, trembling, shaking, racing thoughts, a sense of terror, or a tightening in the chest.4 The experience can be frightening, but they don’t actually cause any physical harm. Panic attacks are typically brief, but very intense and can often appear to come on at random.1 They are often, however, linked to a specific source.
If you are with your partner during a panic attack, you may feel powerless and unsure of how to respond. The best thing to do is stay calm, let them know that you are with them and that they are safe, and remind them that it will pass soon. If you know that they experience panic attacks, it may be helpful to be prepared in advance and find out what techniques have historically been helpful.
7. Validate Them When They’re Insecure
Insecurity may also play a role in your partner’s anxiety. This insecurity could stem from multiple sources, such as relationships and body image. You may not agree with their level of insecurity, but you can still validate them through listening, offering empathy for the emotions they are experiencing, reflecting back what they have shared, normalizing their feelings, seeing the situation through their perspective, offering physical touch to connect, and using open body language. Validation creates an environment of safety and trust which will help your partner feel more secure.
8. Learn the Best Ways to Respond to Their Anxious State
Each person has learned to manage their anxiety differently and has a variety of coping skills that they can utilize as needed. Sometimes people find it helpful to be around others when they are feeling anxious, others prefer being alone. Learn which type of person your partner is. How can you best support them when they are in an anxious state? Be specific with your questions, practice active listening, and offer validation. This is their anxiety and they are their own best expert.
9. Encourage Individual Therapy
By now, you’ve probably done a bunch of research and know all about anxiety, but despite all of that information, your partner (and relationship) may benefit from your partner seeking an individual therapist for support. Getting help from a therapist will empower your partner and provide them with tools to help them learn how to manage these anxious feelings on their own. A great way to get started is to search an online therapist directory to find someone who specializes in anxiety.
10. Attend Your Own Therapy
Being in a committed relationship with someone who is dealing with anxiety isn’t easy. Your partner’s anxiety may bring up intense emotions, either from your past or about your current relationship. This is completely normal but may lead to unfavorable reactions toward your partner. Seeking out individual therapy for yourself will help you learn how to cope with your partner’s anxiety, as well as, learn how to provide support to your partner.
11. Focus on Small Wins and Be Patient
Sometimes with anxiety, it feels like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back. Your partner may learn some tips to help counter the anxiety, put them into practice for a while, and then stop using them and resort to old behaviors. Learning how to manage anxiety is a practice, and it won’t always be perfect.
12. Practice Compassion
As Brené Brown says in her book Atlas of the Heart, “Compassion is the daily practice of recognizing and accepting our shared humanity so that we treat ourselves and others with loving-kindness, and we take action in the face of suffering.”2 We aren’t necessarily going to be able to fix things for our anxious partner, but we will be with them during the difficult times.
13. Get Curious About Your Own Behavior
How are you responding to your anxious partner? Are you noticing any patterns or behaviors that are out of character for you? It’s possible that your partner’s anxiety may be triggering for you. Pay attention to your own behaviors, recognize patterns, and get curious. If it feels like you’re struggling to cope on your own, you may want to consider seeking professional help.
14. Set Boundaries
Boundaries are how we clarify our own needs in a relationship. They are about keeping ourselves safe, not about controlling the other person. When in a relationship with someone with anxiety, it’s important to be very clear about your own boundaries. You can still be compassionate and understanding, but also know and clearly communicate what types of behaviors you will not tolerate in the relationship.
This will provide your partner with clarity about how you operate and your expectations for the relationships. Some healthy boundary requests may be: no name calling, no threats, or insults. Boundary violations happen in relationships and this opens up an opportunity to communicate the importance of the relationship and re-establish the boundary.
15. Invest In the Relationship
Distraction is a skill that we can use as a couple or individually to temporarily take a break, so we are better able to manage and handle our emotions.When using distraction as a couple, it can provide an opportunity for the two of you to connect around something unrelated to anxiety. Some ways to invest in the relationship are by having a date night (at home or out), a weekend away, working out together, or through couples therapy.
16. Find Positive Ways to Manage Your Own Stress
Having a partner with anxiety may lead to feelings of heightened stress. It’s important to acknowledge and accept that this is truly something that can cause life stress and then find ways to manage it.
Some scientifically proven examples of ways to reduce stress are: exercise to boost endorphins, practice deep breathing to send signals to your brain to calm down and release anxiety, practice mindfulness and attempt to focus on doing one thing at a time. Feel free to incorporate any other stress reduction techniques that feel right for you. The world could definitely use less stress.
17. Notice The Good In Your Partner
When interacting with a partner with anxiety, it’s easy to only recognize the tough moments. The times of heightened anxiety, the tension, and conflict. To build and strengthen your relationship, try forming the habit of seeing and affirming the good in your partner. The first step in affirming is noticing. Catch them doing something well (whether it’s large or small) and then genuinely give an affirmation. This is a habit of caring and will help to change the dynamic in a relationship, but especially during times of heightened stress.3
What NOT To Do When You Have An Anxious Partner
When dating someone with anxiety, there are certain things you may want to avoid to prevent them from experiencing more stress or anxiety.
If you’re dating someone with anxiety, don’t do the following:
1. Don’t Judge Them – Pause and recall everything that you have learned so far about anxiety. Having an anxiety disorder is not a choice. Know that if your partner feels judged, those feelings may trigger additional feelings of anxiety, creating a vicious cycle.
2. Don’t Explain Why They Shouldn’t Be Afraid – You may have some new knowledge about anxiety, but unless you have experienced anxiety, please avoid using these words. Instead, try saying, “You are safe” or “I’m here with you.”
3. Don’t Act Like You Know Everything – Your partner is their own best expert. Only they know how they experience anxiety, and it may be similar, yet different each time. Respect that your partner knows everything about their anxiety. Not you.
4. Don’t Blame Them – We often blame because it provides us with a quick escape from guilt. Unfortunately, blaming another person for a behavior keeps us in a negative place and doesn’t allow us to focus on solutions.
5. Don’t Make Assumptions – Each incident of anxiety is different and each person will respond in a different way. Sometimes specific ways to cope will work one day, and not another day. Allow your partner with anxiety to take the lead. They are the expert.
6. Don’t Baby Them– Just because your partner with anxiety experiences events in their lives that feel scary and intimidating, it’s still necessary to have difficult conversations and communicate openly with them. Holding back on these conversations or censoring yourself will only cause more harm in the long run–for you, your partner, and your relationship.
7. Don’t Recommend Drugs for Their Anxiety – With the rise of legalized cannabis and all of the information on line about anti-anxiety medication, it may be tempting to recommend drugs to help treat your partner’s anxiety. Stop and instead recommend that your partner go see a doctor. Psychiatrists are trained to fully evaluate and diagnose a mental illness and will be able to explain all treatment options available.
Final Thoughts on Dating Someone With Anxiety
Dating someone with anxiety may feel scary and overwhelming at times. It is also an opportunity for you and your partner to learn how to communicate more openly and get to know one another more intimately. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help you on your journey.