Anxiety can impact our health, both mentally and physically, creating situations where we experience panic and fear and a sense of being extremely tense, and overwhelmed by what we are going through.
There are several levels of anxiety, from the most manageable stress before an important interview to severe anxiety which paralyzes us. Anxiety does not only affect the person who is experiencing it but can also deeply affect our relationships. In fact, it is common for those who have a partner who is experiencing anxiety to feel affected by it too.
Anxiety can deeply impact intimacy and trust
When someone is deeply worried about what is going to happen, it becomes very difficult to pay attention to the needs of their partner as the focus is elsewhere. Those with partners suffering from anxiety might feel that their partner is so overwhelmed by what he or she is going through, that their needs are not relevant to their anxious partner. That level of attunement which is so important to create intimacy and trust suffers because of this, and partners of people suffering from anxiety might experience a sense of frustration, helplessness, and isolation that might seriously impact their relationship and well-being.
Take a Moment to Refocus
What might help is to become aware when thoughts stray from the present moment and gently focus back on the here and now. Sharing openly about what is worrying us with our partners might help the other understand more about what we are going through and break the pattern where anxiety and fear push us to withdraw and isolate or attack.
Talking about anxiety might not be easy, as when we are feeling overwhelmed it might be difficult to find the words to express what we are feeling, yet taking a short time to find the time and space to take a breath and quiet emotions, might help us better express what is worrying us and not let emotions bottle up and feed anxious thoughts.
If your partner suffers from anxiety, approaching them with kindness and giving them the space and time to express themselves can help them communicate better what they are feeling.
Someone who is focused on their fears and worries might put a lot of pressure on a relationship.
Sometimes our fears might push us to be defensive. This might make the partner of someone going through an anxious time, feel resentment and anger towards the selfishness their partner might project, and they will not be able to reassure their loved one.
A point of contact is to become aware of what we are feeling and share with our partner why we are behaving the way we are. Taking a moment to contain our emotions and focusing on showing compassion to our partner who might be feeling overwhelmed by the thoughts going through their head might help to effectively contain the situation from escalating further.
A final note
Anxiety can be extremely limiting. Negative thoughts can affect intimacy and sex, and potentially drain joy and our sense of freedom. Learning not to take a situation too seriously and experimenting with humour can help. Finding the time to laugh and play might help heal a relationship where there is too much heaviness in ways which can be very effective.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Sonya Galea is a family therapist with Willingness Team. She works with families and couples experiencing couple relationship issues and parenting struggles.
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Pallarito, K., MacIntyre, M. (2022, May 24) 10 things you need to know if your partner has anxiety. Health. What to Know if Your partner Has Anxiety (health.com)
Raypole, C., Saripalli, V. ( 2021, Sept 20)How to support your romantic partner if they live with Anxiety. Psychcentral.com. Romantic Partner Living with Anxiety? Here’s How to Help (psychcentral.com)
Tye, K. (2022, Apr 11) How to stop Anxiety from destroying relationships. Good Therapy. GoodTherapy | How to Stop Anxiety from Destroying Relationships