Do they like you as much as you like them? Are you boring them? Are they hiding something from you, like a secret fetish, another girlfriend, or three kids and a spouse in Manitoba? Questions like these, along with a certain level of anxiety, are expected in a new relationship. However, for those of us with anxiety disorders, the same concerns can be persistent and overwhelming.
Even in happy, healthy relationships, anxiety can pop in like an uninvited, unhinged party guest. At best, it puts a damper on your evening, and at worst, it can create tension, stress out you and your partner, and strain the relationship.
Knowing how anxiety can manifest in a relationship, and how to handle it, can help you and your significant other cope and overcome.
Anxiety in relationships: Are you dependent, avoidant or both?
While everyone's experience is different, people with anxiety may demonstrate one of two types of behaviors in relationships: dependence or avoidance. Some exhibit elements of both.
In the throes of love, it's normal to want to be around your significant other 24/7. However, there's a difference between being close to someone and being dependent on them. If you feel like you need to always be around your partner, and the thought of being alone is unsettling, you may be dependent.
Dependence can also present as needing constant reassurance, a need that stems from our proclivity to overthink, catastrophize and prepare for the worst-case scenario(s). It can relate to fear of judgment and difficulty in making decisions as well.
For some people, dependence can manifest in more significant and potentially destructive ways, such as lashing out if a partner doesn't text back quickly enough or trying to control their partner's behavior to ensure they're always within reach.
On the flip side, some people with anxiety use avoidance tactics as a means of self-preservation. For instance, rather than risking rejection or judgment, or expressing frustration, sadness or worry, they ignore their feelings and remain closed off. From the outside, this behavior can appear cold and uncaring.
Avoidance is akin to procrastinating on a task you're stressed out about. It doesn't do anything to solve the problem or even really allay your worries. Instead, it's a temporary solution that could compound the issue.
Dependence, avoidance and anxiety in general can be stressful for you and your partner.
Identifying your anxious thoughts and feelings is the first step to coping—but that's easier said than done, right? Personally, my mind can rapidly spiral into a black hole of doom, and, admittedly, there are times I can't get out of it unassisted. But certain techniques offer at least a life raft, if not a ladder, out of the abyss.
One of the simplest but most effective methods is to remind yourself that your emotions, such as anger or suspicion, might result from anxiety rather than reflect reality. Step back and examine the situation facts first, without judgment. If you're still upset, talk to your partner, but try to leave assumptions and preconceptions out of the conversation.
Some people find mindfulness techniques, such as grounding exercises and meditation, to be helpful. Simply put, mindfulness can improve awareness and help you focus on the present rather than being swept away by intense emotions and instincts.
The ideal treatment for you will depend on a few factors, including your diagnosis. But counseling, psychodynamic therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can all be beneficial to your health. CBT provides techniques to pinpoint anxious thoughts and address them before they mushroom out of control, whereas psychodynamic therapy focuses on self-reflection and self-examination to determine the roots of emotional distress.
Cooperation is key
Those of us with anxiety often worry we're a burden to others, which can make us reluctant to disclose our disorder at all, let alone tell a partner when we're having a hard time. However, unless your partner is entirely oblivious, in which case your relationship may have much bigger problems than your mental illness, they're likely to notice something's wrong. Although it's difficult, communicating what's going on and what you need will aid you and your partner.