What To Know About Dating Someone With Anxiety

What To Know About Dating Someone With Anxiety

Anxiety is completely normal and extremely common these days. While it can sometimes feel overwhelming, it doesn’t have to keep those who suffer from it from living a full, healthy life — including enjoying healthy relationships. However, it does sometimes affect a person’s behavior, which you’ll need to be aware of if you’re dating someone with anxiety.

“Anxiety is the most common mental health concern in the United States and affects approximately 18% of the adult population each year,” explains therapist Tricia Johnson, LCSW. “It is a reaction to the stress that we experience in our lives, and often, being in a relationship can be stressful. In relationships, behavior may shift and a partner may start to shut down, pull away, or behave in a passive-aggressive manner or they may become more controlling of the relationship, angry, or overly critical. Sometimes when a person experiences anxiety, they say and do things they don’t really mean as a way to test the relationship.”

Here are some tips for moving forward and creating a healthy, loving relationship.

How to communicate with a partner with anxiety

  1. Offer empathy above all else. You may not understand exactly where they’re coming from, but you can attempt to put yourself in their shoes. “Empathy is usually the best path,” psychologist and relationship coach Dr. Wyatt Fisher tells Bolde. “Create space for your partner to vent and discuss their anxiety without giving them any advice unless they ask for it. Usually, they want to feel supported and that’s best accomplished through empathetic responses to their feelings.”
  2. Truly listen to what they have to say. Don’t talk over them or try to explain their own feelings to them. Instead, take an active listening role and truly absorb what they’re saying. Not only will this allow them to relieve themself of some of their fears, but it will also help you understand them and their perspectives more.
  3. Ask how you can help. When you’re dating someone with anxiety, chances are you’ll want to do whatever you can to help. Sadly, sometimes there isn’t anything to do. The best thing you can do is simply be there. However, if you truly want to do more, don’t simply spring into action. Instead, ask your partner if there’s anything in particular they need. If they say yes, do it.
  4. Be direct and honest. Because people with anxiety can panic over seemingly small things, you want to be clear and upfront. Don’t lie to spare their feelings or only tell them half of a story. Be straightforward, honest, and blunt. It’s the best way to make them feel like they can trust you and help them feel secure.

What not to do when dating someone with anxiety

  1. Don’t try to use logic to assuage their fears. When you don’t have anxiety, it’s easy to focus on logic and avoid getting carried away with irrational fears. However, anxiety isn’t logical. It doesn’t follow a particular set of rules, and you can’t talk someone out of it. Avoid the temptation to try and explain away their fears. It won’t work and will make them feel worse.
  2. Don’t act like you know everything. You may not suffer from anxiety, but that doesn’t mean you know everything. Anxiety isn’t the result of ignorance. One of the worst things you can do is take a holier-than-thou attitude and speak as if you’re the authority on mental health conditions. Unless you’re a licensed therapist, keep your opinions to a minimum. (And if you are a therapist, you still shouldn’t pathologize your partner.)
  3. Don’t baby them. “Just because your partner with anxiety experiences events in their lives that feel scary and intimidating, it’s still necessary to have difficult conversations and communicate openly with them,” Johnson says. “Holding back on these conversations or censoring yourself will only cause more harm in the long run–for you, your partner, and your relationship.”
  4. Don’t judge them. When you’re dating someone with anxiety, it’s important that they feel safe to share their thoughts and fears with you. Make sure they know you don’t judge them or think less of them for their struggles. Their anxiety doesn’t make them less than or lacking in any way. Instead, offer them support and unconditional acceptance.

Challenges your relationship might face

  1. You might struggle to understand your partner’s perspective. “Anxiety is stressful for any relationship because the fears feel real for one person in the relationship, but are often not present for the other partner,” Johnson explains. “The non-anxious partner often struggles to understand the root of the fear and how to support their partner through the anxious episodes.  This lack of understanding can lead to a disconnect in the relationship if there isn’t open communication.”
  2. You may argue more than normal. Because anxiety can often lead to paranoia or insecurity, you may fight with your partner more often than in past relationships. Clear communication is the key to resolving these issues quickly and directly. However, if these disagreements become too frequent or toxic, you may need to seek the help of a professional.
  3. Your partner may need more reassurance than usual. Especially in the beginning, you may find yourself having to reassure your partner that you really like them, that you’re interested in them, and that you’re serious about pursuing a relationship with them. This should settle down the longer you’re together, but anxiety may make them worry at the beginning that they’re getting their hopes up for nothing or that you’re too good to be true.
  4. You might need to make most of the decisions. This isn’t true in all situations, but it is in some. When dating someone with anxiety, you may find they struggle to make decisions. This is because they don’t want to make the wrong ones or to disappoint or upset anyone. In these instances, you may have to take the reins to alleviate the pressure they feel. Get comfortable in a leading role.
  5. It may take longer to establish a basis of trust. Dating someone with anxiety means committing to doing what it takes to build trust. However, don’t expect this to happen overnight. It’s likely your partner will need extra time to truly settle into the relationship and believe that you’re around for the long haul.

Things to remember

Anxiety is completely normal and extremely common, and your partner isn’t weird or defective for suffering with it. However, it does sometimes affect a person’s behavior in a relationship, which you’ll need to be aware of.

“Anxiety is the most common mental health concern in the United States and affects approximately 18% of the adult population each year,” explains therapist Tricia Johnson, LCSW. “It is a reaction to the stress that we experience in our lives, and often, being in a relationship can be stressful. In relationships, behavior may shift and a partner may start to shut down, pull away, or behave in a passive-aggressive manner or they may become more controlling of the relationship, angry, or overly critical. Sometimes when a person experiences anxiety, they say and do things they don’t really mean as a way to test the relationship.”

While anxiety isn’t an excuse for bad behavior, you should try to extend some extra understanding. If, however, they’re using their struggles as an excuse for disrespecting you, treating you poorly, or making unfair demands, you have every right to call it quits.

Jennifer Still is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience. The managing editor of Bolde, she has bylines in Vanity Fair, Business Insider, The New York Times, Glamour, Bon Appetit, and many more.