Insecurity and fear associated with anxiety can sometimes interfere with dating. Approaching your partner with empathy can support your relationship.
Anxiety disorders can sometimes lead to tough emotions that can be difficult to navigate, both for those experiencing them and their loved ones. If you’re dating someone with anxiety, you may not know how to best support your partner.
Leading with empathy and patience could be a good place to start, but there are other ways you can connect with your partner and understand the world from their point of view. You can strengthen your relationship and help your partner by taking an active interest in and willingness to learn about anxiety.
The most common anxiety disorders include:
- general anxiety disorder (GAD)
- panic disorder
- phobias (or a specific phobia)
- separation anxiety disorder
- social anxiety disorder
Other mental health conditions may be present along with anxiety, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or depression. These disorders can further shape how your partner’s anxiety shows up in your relationship.
Anxiety is the body’s typical reaction to stress and can kick your body into fight, flight, or freeze mode to protect you in dangerous situations. However, what you experience with an anxiety disorder goes beyond helpful anxiety and may interfere with daily life.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety disorders are marked by excessive fear or anxiety that is disproportionate to the situation and hinders daily functions. Only a doctor or therapist can diagnose you with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety symptoms can be physical, psychological, or emotional and can cause significant distress in some people.
Psychological or emotional symptoms can include:
- restlessness or feeling “on edge”
- difficulty concentrating or feeling like your mind is “blank”
Physical symptoms may also include:
- muscle tension and aches
- difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
- stomachaches and nausea
- trembling or twitching
- difficulty swallowing
- excessive sweating
- having to use the bathroom a lot
Fear and worry
Fear can cloud your thinking and interpretation of daily interactions when you live with anxiety.
Erica Alter, licensed master social worker (LMSW) and psychotherapist at Cobb Psychotherapy in New York, says, “When an individual experiences anxiety, their understanding of the world, themselves, and even their relationships can shift to a fear-based view.”
People with anxiety may want to plan or ask about small details involved in an activity or outing other people might not be concerned with. In extreme cases, anxiety and worry can prevent someone from enjoying activities they usually love.
Anxiety can influence every aspect of a person’s life, including romantic relationships. “Activities and situations that might bring ease, joy, and comfort to one partner might cause spiraling thoughts and sweaty palms to the other,” says Alter.
She explains that it can sometimes be difficult to enjoy social outings or activities together because one partner wants to leave early or not go at all, which may cause both partners to feel frustrated or helpless.
Challenges may arise if the partner with anxiety experiences fears related to the relationship itself.
According to Maggie Drake, LMSW, another psychotherapist with Cobb Psychotherapy, someone with anxiety may have racing thoughts and questions, like:
- What if I love them more than they love me?
- What if they cheat on me?
- Are they lying to me?
- Do they like someone else more than they like me?
- Are we going to break up?
- Is my anxiety going to ruin our relationship?
A constant stream of questions that erode confidence in oneself and one’s partner can eat away at the relationship.
People with anxiety tend to jump to worst-case scenarios by overanalyzing interactions with their partner, says Drake. Anxiety can make your partner question your closeness and the meaning behind your actions, even based on small changes in body language.
Your partner with anxiety might text or call frequently, perhaps seeking relationship status updates and validation, even if you reassured them recently. Consequently, the cycle of anxiety can be exhausting and challenging for both partners, especially if your partner’s anxiety is untreated, ignored, or criticized.
But when both people in the relationship are aware of anxiety and treat each other’s differences with gentleness and compassion, the relationship can become a source of strength. For example, you can work together to create a plan to attend an event, so your anxious partner knows what to expect, and you can enjoy a night out together.
Developing a relationship with someone who has anxiety may depend on approaching one another with empathy as you work through uncomfortable feelings. Compassion can help you deepen your connection.
It might take extra effort if you haven’t experienced an anxiety disorder, but every relationship worth your time will require effort, whether or not mental health conditions are involved. Here are some tips to consider:
1. Try to be curious
Alter and Drake suggest approaching the topic of anxiety with curiosity to learn more about the disorder and how it may affect your partner.
Try asking your partner questions about their experience of anxiety. Establishing a better understanding of where your partner’s anxiety comes from and the kind of situations that might trigger it can help achieve greater empathy.
“Anxiety about their boss disliking them at work is different from anxiety about their health during the pandemic, which is different from anxiety about whether or not you’re going to leave them in the middle of a disagreement,” says Alter.
2. Do your best to kick judgment to the curb
Try not to judge your partner’s anxiety as you develop a better understanding of their triggers. Even if their fears don’t sound real to you, they often feel real to your partner.
Your partner may be hesitant to share their fears with you at first due to stigma. They may have lost jobs, partners, or friends after sharing their feelings and challenges related to anxiety.
3. Consider learning their triggers
“Anxiety manifests itself in different ways for different people. Understanding things that set off or exacerbate your partner’s anxiety and the strategies that have worked for them in the past will allow you to better support them,” says Drake.
Drake warns not to try to “fix” them or “solve” your partner’s anxiety. This mindset is generally unhelpful and could potentially push your partner to feel misunderstood to the point that they stop sharing their feelings.
4. Active listening can be a powerful tool
Do your best to listen to your partner’s fears, triggers, and coping strategies. Drake offers some supportive responses for active listening:
- I am here for you
- you are not alone
- your fears, worries, and triggers are not silly
Try to be honest and patient. Remember that it’s acceptable to answer, “I don’t know.” Curing your partner’s anxiety isn’t necessarily possible, but you can be supportive and help them through it.
Romantic relationships might face some unique challenges when one partner has anxiety. But with empathy and understanding, the relationship can work and be rewarding for both partners.
A mutual sense of understanding, compassion, and acceptance can strengthen your relationship as you navigate some of the challenges associated with anxiety.
Learning about anxiety can be a significant first step in supporting your partner. The Anxiety & Depression Association of America offers support and information for spouses and partners, as well as anyone with anxiety.
You can also check many of the anxiety podcasts out there, including:
One of the most important things you can do can be to listen to your partner without judgment. Actively listening with compassion can help you understand each other better and grow closer to a fulfilling, lasting relationship.