Strategies for Loving Someone who has Anxiety

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.

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Intimate Partner Violence Series: Part IV – "Tell me, is my Relationship Healthy?"

Last month (in honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month) I decided to develop an Intimate Partner Violence Series that is intended to equip individuals with the information necessary to 1) determine if they are in an abusive relationship, 2) develop a safety plan for while they are in the relationship, 3) seek support and resources to help them get out of the relationship and finally 4) identify signs of healthy relationships. This series is intended to be educational in nature and is not a substitute for seeking professional help. Please seek the help of a therapist in your area. Today’s post is Part Four and the final installment of this series. If this is a topic that has special relevance for you, please follow the above links for previous articles.

If we didn't receive good (or any!) modeling from our parents about how to be in a healthy, loving intimate relationship, it can be hard to know if we're "doing it right." When I got into my first serious relationship in college, I honestly didn't know what a healthy relationship looked like, and unfortunately wound up in an abusive relationship for almost 5 years with someone who at the time I thought was a "perfect boyfriend" and who I assumed I'd spend my life with. It wasn't until having friends and family intervene that I became awake to the fact that I was in a very unhealthy relationship and needed to leave.

Not once did I receive education in signs of intimate partner abuse or the cycle of violence as an undergraduate in psychology nor as a graduate student in counseling. Had I been aware, I might've been able to notice the warning signs and leave sooner. I hope you, the reader, keep yourself informed of traits of healthy and unhealthy relationships so you can avoid the pain of abuse and have a satisfying, lifelong relationship with someone you love. Please read on for my round-up of characteristics of healthy relationships:

 
 

1 | Communication

One thing that I often tell psychotherapy clients is that your partner is not a mind-reader! Just because you wish your partner new what you needed and could meet your needs all the time doesn’t mean that they can. In a relationship, we need to take responsibility for our obligation to keep our partner informed of what we’re thinking, feeling, needing and expecting so that we don’t find ourselves constantly resentful and disappointed. If you and your partner are in sync with your communication, this is a strong indicator that your relationship is headed in the right direction.

2 | Vulnerability

This is a tough one for people because making ourselves vulnerable can be an intensely uncomfortable and difficult task, and can be even harder for those who’ve experienced much betrayal, deception or trauma in past relationships. However, as risky as it can feel, making ourselves vulnerable to our partner allows us to be fully seen and loved by our partner and help us resolve conflicts with love instead of anger. If you and your partner allow yourselves to be vulnerable with one another, then you will likely find it easier to connect on a deeper level and move through challenges with ease.

3 | Honesty

Transparency in a relationship allows it to grow and thrive. Knowing that your partner is in the loop about your actions will allow you to be more present in your interactions with them and prevent guilt and shame from creeping in. If you and your partner find it easy to admit transgressions to one another and share information – even if it might hurt the other – then you’re likely in a relationship with a high level of honesty and integrity.

4 | Trust

What I often tell my psychotherapy clients is that trust is the foundation of a relationship – without it, there’s not much of a relationship at all – it’s more like two people living parallel lives, loosely connected to one another. In a relationship where the trust is well-established and strong, the couple’s bond can withstand ambiguity and fear, because their trust in one another serves as the bedrock of the relationship – unshakeable, despite challenging external factors.

5 | Boundaries

As much as we want to experience closeness with our partner, in order to have a thriving relationship, we need to balance that out with maintaining healthy personal boundaries. Relationship boundaries are limits that we set within the relationship – for example, people can have boundaries around their time, their personal space, their finances, how they expect to be treated by their partner among many other areas. It’s important to establish clear boundaries and uphold them, in order to prevent feeling taken advantage of by our partner.

6 | Fun

One of the many benefits of being in a relationship is the ability to share the enjoyment of life with your partner. We’re wired for connection, so it makes sense that we would be naturally inclined to seek a life partner with whom to share fun times with. If you and your mate are cracking each other up, having a blast on dates, and fully engaging in the moment, chances are your relationship is healthy and thriving.

7 | Intimacy

A hallmark of healthy relationships is the intimacy shared between the partners. Physical intimacy is a pivotal aspect of a healthy relationship for many couples, but is not always necessary. For partners in long-distance relationships, or partners who choose to abstain sexually, emotional intimacy can be enough to satisfy both partners. Intimacy, in this sense, indicates sharing deeply with that person and letting them in on parts of you that you don’t share with just anyone.

8 | Loyalty

Of course many couples choose to have polyamorous relationships, but in a monogamous relationship there is an expectation of physical and emotional loyalty to one another. In a healthy relationship (whether monogamous or polyamorous,) both partners honor the agreements and expectations set forth at the beginning of the relationship about what is acceptable (and unacceptable) behavior. Also, remember that emotional affairs can cause as much (if not more) damage than physical affairs.

9 | Equity

Equity and equality are two different, yet similar, ideas. Saying that a relationship should have equality would be unrealistic, because each partner has different strengths, abilities and resources to contribute to the relationship that will never be equal – that would simply be impossible to achieve! But to say that a relationship is equitable means that both partners are contributing what they can and treating one another with dignity and respect.

10 | Reliability

In order to feel secure in your relationship, you need to know that you can count on your partner – whether it be expecting them to show up for a date when they say they will, or being able to drop everything and come help you in a crisis situation. Without dependability, we’ll feel like we’re on our own within the relationship. Knowing that our partner is available to us makes us feel closer to them and safer in general because we know we have support when we need it.

I hope you found today’s post informative. Although there are many other qualities of healthy relationships that I could identify, theses are the ten that really stood out to me when I sat down to write this post. Please leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to add or ask.

If you feel that you are in imminent danger, please seek help immediately, by calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or by calling 911. If you are not in immediate danger, but would like to find someone to talk to, you can find a therapist at PsychologyToday.com or if you are in the Los Angeles area, feel free to contact me for therapy. This is the final article in this series. Be safe 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.

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