Being in a relationship with an anxious partner can feel like hard work! If you’re looking to experience some more ease within your partnership, please read on for my insider tips on how to maintain your composure while dealing a partner’s propensity for anxiety. These tips will also help you foster a healthy relationship with your anxious special someone:
1 | Manage expectations
Understand that even if your partner is working hard to manage their anxiety, it's only natural for an anxious person to want to know as much as they can about any given situation – it can help them feel more "in control" and therefore safer. Keeping this in mind, managing your partner's expectations about future plans will save you both much strife. For example, if you and your partner have plans and something changes or new information is presented that only you are aware of, let your partner know! They will be so grateful to have been brought up to speed about new developments so that they can make adjustments, if necessary. Anyone who has an anxious partner can attest to the fact that their mate does not like to be surprised with last-minute curveballs!
2 | Don't take things personally
Remember that your partner's anxiety has been there much longer than you have! That said, don't take it personally when something you've done or said "makes your partner anxious." Your action or statement was simply a trigger for what was already there. I know it's very hard not to react with feelings of shame or guilt when we've triggered a partner – so take deep breaths and engage in some positive self-talk, like "It's going to be okay. My partner will get through this and so will I. I am a good person and I'm trying my very best."
3 | Avoid taking on your partner's anxiety
If you haven't noticed yet, anxiety is contagious! So, take good care of yourself. When you notice anxiety beginning to take hold, give yourself some space and time to re-center. Do some self-care, whatever that looks like for you. Pop in some headphones and listen to a guided meditation. Remember that you don't have to be pulled into the anxiety vortex just because someone you love is feeling that way.
4 | Practice compassion
As much as we love our partner it can be so frustrating to see them in a state of anxiety, especially when they are being completely irrational. Remind yourself to look at the big picture – although the situation may look like small potatoes to you, it feels like the end of the world for your partner, so practice compassion. Imagine what it might be like to feel such intense fear for no apparent reason. This will help you stay connected with and empathic to your partner during freak-outs. Your groundedness will also rub off on your S.O.
5 | Find outlets
Because you're in a relationship with someone who has anxiety, you might feel as though there are certain topics of conversation or areas of life you need support where you just cannot go with your partner at this time. But that doesn't mean you should keep that all bottled up! You are going to need some serious friend support so that you can discuss whatever you need to whenever you want to. There are also some awesome books on the topic that you can read. A colleague and friend of mine, Lissah Lorberbaum, co-wrote "Anxious in Love" which delves deeply into this theme.
6 | Timing is everything
To make this relationship thrive, you and your partner will have to become masters of communication. One skill in addressing issues with your partner will be timing. An anxious person might have a really hard time with a text that says "we need to talk" sent in the morning when you're not seeing them until the evening. Your poor S.O. may spend the entire day ruminating only to find out you wanted to talk about redecorating the guest bathroom! Obviously, some issues can't wait and need to be addressed immediately. For ones that are less urgent, find a time to talk when your partner can be calm and receptive to the information being presented.
7 | Use systematic desensitization
If there's an activity you're into (say, rock climbing, dirt biking, surfing, etc.) that terrifies your partner, you shouldn't have to give up your hobby just to quell your partner's anxiety! Instead, expose them to it slowly over time by engaging in a mild version of the activity (i.e. an indoor rock wall or a short ride) and then ramping it up over time (i.e. more challenging versions of the activity.) This will give your partner a chance to build new neural networks associated with these activities – the more times you come back safely, the more their brain will be reinforced that there's no need to worry.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful for better navigating a relationship with an anxious partner. Now I’d love to hear from you! What helps you keep your cool among your partner’s anxiety? What absolutely does not work? Please share your insights in the comments section below. Thanks for reading and be well!
about the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.