Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive worry over everyday occurrences that usually do not produce fear in the general population. The worrying is almost impossible to control and can often negatively affect your romantic relationships. Romantic relationships are challenging. A healthy and prosperous romantic relationship requires patience, communication, hard work, empathy, and both individuals must be independently happy. Mental health disorders such as anxiety can interfere with a relationship if the individual is not aware of their signs and symptoms or if they allow their mental health disorder to go untreated. However, mental health disorders, in particular, anxiety does not have to break your relationship or put a strain on it to the point where it becomes difficult to enjoy. By understanding anxiety in general and how it affects both your partner and your relationship, you can love each other more deeply and connect in a new way. If you are struggling with anxiety, it is common to continuously ask yourself questions and doubt your relationship. The following are some typical examples of thoughts and issues that may keep you up at night:
- What if he doesn’t love me as much as I love him?
- What if she is lying to me?
- What if he is hiding something from me?
- What if my anxiety ruins our relationship?
- What if we break up?
- What if I’m always the first one to reach out?
Additionally, there are many anxiety-motivated behaviors individuals often encounter in relationships.
- Being angry and/or irritable
- Being controlling
- Being distracted and having trouble focusing
- Coming across as overly critical
- Avoidant or passive-aggressive behavior
Anxiety and co-dependency
Many individuals with generalized anxiety disorder have an intense desire for closeness to their romantic partners depending on them regularly for support and reassurance, which often leads to overdependence and co-dependent behaviors. In addition to being overly dependent, individuals with a generalized anxiety disorder also tend to overthink, plan for the worst-case scenarios and have an intense fear of rejection. These traits can place an enormous amount of strain on a relationship and can make both partners feel inadequate, stressed and overworked.
Avoidance in relationships
On the other end of the spectrum, some individuals with generalized anxiety became overly independent and detached from their partner and their emotions. They may avoid negative emotions by not revealing their feelings, opening up, or being vulnerable. An individual who is avoidant of close relationships may be described as cold, emotionally unavailable, lacking empathy, or even stand-offish. This can create a lot of negative energy and distance in a romantic relationship, which often leaves the other partner feeling inadequate and unwanted.
Managing your anxiety in your relationship
It is up to both you and your partner to understand your anxiety disorder and learn how to control it. One of the most important things is to keep in mind that your partner is not your therapist and should never act as if he/she is your therapist. We often try to want to “fix” our loved ones, but instead of acting as a therapist we should encourage our partners to seek professional therapy. Apart from going to therapy, one of the most effective ways to cope with anxiety in a relationship is to talk about it openly, honestly and directly with your partner. Do not try to hide it or be shameful of it but rather it is important to discuss your feelings openly. Managing your reactions is an important coping skill to navigate when your partner’s anxiety becomes overwhelming for the relationship. When your partner talks about his or her anxiety in the context of your relationship, it’s easy to take it personally and become upset. It’s easy to interpret the anxiety as selfishness, rejection or an attempt to create distance but instead, you must be calm, listen to your partner and understand it is the anxiety causing your partner to potentially act out. Managing your reactions is more important than managing your partner’s reactions as it can help you be there for your partner and set boundaries. If your partner’s anxiety causes you to flip out every time they bring it up, it will be impossible to support them. If your partner is taking steps to work on anxiety, remember to acknowledge that and “celebrate their strength” when possible.