How Anxiety Can Strain Relationships

Ph.D., CPsychol., AFBPsS, Health Professional

When one partner has anxiety issues it frequently results in tensions. First, everyday problems within a relationship can increase anxieties, which leads to increases in anxious ways of thinking and behaving. Secondly, anxiety itself can have a huge effect on the relationship. If you suffer from anxiety the urge is to avoid situations that make it worse. Therefore you find excuses to avoid going to unfamiliar places or meeting new people and sometimes your anxiety even extends to avoidance of familiar situations or people. Worse still, you may agree to a vacation, or to attend a party or some other event, only to cancel it at the very last moment because you feel you simply can't cope. It's hardly surprising that anxiety behavior like this results in strained relationships.

Unfortunately relationship problems can vary according to the anxiety issue or disorder that is most prominent. The example previously given would be typical of a person with social anxiety disorder. But, in the case of  panic disorder, for example, there is often a strong need for reassurance. To meet this need a partner may be repeatedly called on to accompany the person to places they need to go. People with  OCD  may have other issues such as inventing all sorts of rules that people have to abide by - and they seek constant reassurance - as do people with generalized anxiety disorder.

Avoidance and the seeking of reassurance are common features of  anxiety disorders  but in terms of how relationships can suffer, two further issues arise. First is what me might think of as compassion fatigue. This is something common to many long-term conditions whether physical or psychological. It seems clear that people have varying levels of kindness and sympathy when personal problems in others arise. Tolerance  may  be enduring but more commonly it evaporates over time and can even reach a point where a partner becomes annoyed and starts to point the finger of blame at the sufferer for not sorting themselves out. For the sufferer the effects are marked. The feel misunderstood and abandoned at the very time they need understanding and support.

So, anxiety and relationships don't sit well together. For those who attempt to offer support they feel disheartened because their attempts fail. But I think it's also important that anxiety sufferers don't feel powerless in their relationship. As an anxiety sufferer you may not be able to do everything you or your partner want but there will be things you can say and do that may help relieve tensions and maintain the good things your relationship has to offer. I'll be considering some of these options in my next post.

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