Anxiety and Relationships By: Sarah Kahan, LCSW
Chronic anxiety has an impact in many areas of a personâ€™s life; at work or with the relationships we have, and most significantly with our spouses.
Anxiety and relationships are a tricky combination, because when someone is already struggling to keep their emotions and fears in check, becoming emotionally entangled with and vulnerable to another person can be confusing, overwhelming, and challenging. Relationships act as a mirror. They reflect our insecurities, mistakes, and unpleasant habits. Persistent fear and worry are defining characteristics of anxiety, and we tend to project our anxiety onto whichever situations are in the forefront of our minds.
Unfortunately, worry in the context of a close relationship commonly manifests as jealousy, suspicion and insecurity. A person struggling with anxiety may have an overwhelming fear of being abandoned, alone, and unlovable, even if their spouse has not indicated any reason to think these things. They tend to require a great deal of reassurance, which can be draining to their partners, and that adds to the stress of the situation. Those who are able to recognize their irrational or anxious behavior end up blaming themselves for acting out the same patterns over and over again and feeling helpless to stop it.
Conflict is a normal part of relationships, but it can escalate more quickly and cause additional problems when anxiety is involved. Some common problems that cause the escalation is not feeling like they are in a supportive relationship and the inability to do normal relationship activities such as going out and socializing.
Communication in relationships is always very important but when anxiety gets in the way, communicating effectively becomes a challenge. Anxious partners tend to avoid discussing serious issues with their spouses because they worry how any kind of confrontation might negatively impact the relationship; therefore, many points of contention are left unresolved until they boil over. We want the people in our lives to accommodate us, to act sympathetically; and to understand our struggles, and the way to achieve those things is through communicating what our needs and struggles are.
The first step to fixing the destructive influence of anxiety in a relationship is to recognize that the problem exists. Relationships are much more likely to implode when one spouse has an undiagnosed/unacknowledged anxiety disorder. The next step is to sit down and explain your anxiety to your spouse. This requires that you are an open book â€“ you owe your spouse much more than the bare bones of your diagnosis. You need to explain your anxiety in-depth, including the specific ways it impacts your day-to-day life as well as your thoughts and feelings. Once the spouses of anxiety sufferers have a more complete understanding of the condition, they often feel some of the weight lift off their shoulders and are more equipped to react appropriately to their spouse. Understand that in order for your spouse to remain healthy in the relationship, he or she will need to set some boundaries. This may feel uncaring, but in reality these boundaries maintain a supportive and loving connection with you. Also, take the appropriate steps to manage your anxiety, whether it is working with a mental health professional, or focusing on self-care such as eating right and exercising. We can get so wrapped up in our anxiety that we may neglect ourselves so every once in a while take an inventory on how you are feeling and make sure you implement steps that will make you feel better.
Please remember that anxiety is a treatable disorder and there is a high rate of improvement. It takes effort and persistence but the results are worth it!
Sarah Kahan, LCSW supervises access/Intake @ OHEL Childrenâ€™s Home and Family Services. Individuals interested in the many programs that OHEL offers please contact OHEL at 1(800)-603-OHEL. Like us on Facebook at OHEL Childrens Home and Family services and follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/ohelfamily or email firstname.lastname@example.org.