Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

Anxiety and Relationships: How to Stop it Stealing the Magic

189,073 views

Anxiety and Intimate Relationships How to Stop Anxiety From Stealing the Magic

Intimate relationships are a mirror, reflecting the best and the worst of all of us. They can inflame our struggles or soothe them. When they’re right, they can feel like magic. Even when they’re completely right, anxiety can steal the magic and loosen the connection between two people who belong together. All relationships require trust, tenderness, patience and vulnerability. People with anxiety often have these by the truckload and will give them generously to the relationship. The problem is that anxiety can sometimes just as quickly erode them. 

If you’re someone who struggles with anxiety, there are plenty of things about you that would make loving you easy. All relationships struggle sometimes and when anxiety is at play, the struggles can be quite specific – very normal, and specific.

Anxiety can work in curious ways, and it will impact different relationships differently, so not all of the following will be relevant for every relationship. Here are some ways to strengthen your relationship and protect it from the impact of anxiety: 

  1. Top up the emotional resources.

    You’re probably super sensitive to the needs of others and give openly and abundantly to your relationship. Sometimes though, anxiety can drain those resources from the relationship just as quickly as you invest them. This is completely okay – there is plenty of good that comes with loving you to make up for this – but it may mean that you have to keep making sure those resources are topped up. Whenever you can, heap your partner with attention, gratitude, affection, touch – lots of touch – and conversation around him or her.

  2. Let your partner see you as a support too.

    Your partner might feel reluctant to ‘burden’ you with worries, particularly if those worries don’t seem as big as the ones you’re struggling with. People with anxiety have so much strength – it’s impossible to live with anxiety without it – so make sure your partner knows that it doesn’t matter how big or small their struggles are, you can be the supportive one sometimes too. The tendency can be for partners of anxious people to dismiss their own worries, but this might mean that they do themselves out of the opportunity to feel nurtured and supported by you – which would be a huge loss for both of you. Be deliberate in being the rock sometimes too. Ask, hold, touch. There’s nothing more healing than the warmth of the person you love.

  3. Let your partner in on what you’re thinking.

    Anxious thoughts are supremely personal, but let your partner in on them. It’s an important part of intimacy. You will often be thinking about what you need to do to feel safe, what feels bad for you and what could go wrong. You will also have an enormous capacity to think of other people – anxious people do – but make sure that you let you partner in on the thoughts that arrest you. Keeping things too much to yourself has a way of widening the distance between two people. 

  4. Asking for reassurance is absolutely okay – but just not too much.

    Anxiety has a way of creeping into everything. When it’s left unchecked, it can make you doubt the things that don’t deserve to be doubted – such as your relationship. It’s completely okay and very normal to ask your partner for reassurance. Too much though and it could be felt as neediness. Neediness is the enemy of desire and over time can smother the spark. Make sure your partner has the opportunity to love you spontaneously, without prompting – it’s lovely for them and even better for you. 

  5. Be vulnerable.

    Anxiety can effect relationships in different ways. In some people, it might stoke the need for constant reassurance. In others, it can cause them to hold back, to lessen their vulnerability to possible heartache. Vulnerability – being open to another – is beautiful and it’s the essence of successful, healthy relationships. The problem with protecting yourself too much is that it can invite the very rejection you’re trying to protect against. Part of intimacy is letting someone in closer than you let the rest of the world. It’s trusting that person with the fragile, messy, untamed parts of you – the parts that are often beautiful, sometimes baffling, and always okay with the person who loves you. It’s understandable to worry about what might happen if someone has open access to these parts of you, but see those worries for what they are – worries, not realities – and trust that whatever happens when you open yourself up to loving and being loved, you’ll be okay. Because you will be.

  6. Be careful of projecting anxiety onto your relationship.

    Anxiety can be triggered by nothing in particular – that’s one of the awful things about it – so it will look for a target, an anchor to hold it still and make it make sense. If you’re in an intimate relationship, that’s where the bullseye will sit, drawing your anxiety into its gravitational pull. This can raise feelings of doubt, jealousy, suspicion and insecurity. Anxiety can be a rogue like that. That doesn’t mean your relationship deserves your anxiety – most likely it doesn’t – but your relationship is important, relevant and often in your thoughts, making it a lavishly easy target. Remind yourself that just because you’re worried, that doesn’t mean there’s anything to worry about. Worry if you have to, but then see it for what it is – anxiety, not truth. You are loved and you have anxiety and you are okay. Let that be the truth that holds you. 

  1. Analysis leads to paralysis.

    There’s a saying – ‘Analysis leads to paralysis,’ – because it does. ‘Is it love? Or lust? Or am I kidding myself? What if my heart gets broken into tiny jagged pieces? How will it ever work if we don’t like the same music/ books/ food/ movies? What if we book the holiday and the airline goes on strike? What if one of us gets sick? What if both of us get sick? What if we can’t get a refund? Or pay the mortgage? What if he gets sick of me?’ Yep. I know you know how it sounds. What you focus on is what becomes important, so if you focus on the possible problems they’ll absorb your energy until they’re big enough to cause trouble on their own. They’ll drain your energy, your sense of fun and your capacity to move. You probably already know this, but what to do about it. Here’s something to try … Set a time frame in which you can act as though things will be fine. So for example, worry from 10-3 each day and after that, breathe, let go and act as though things will be fine. You don’t have to believe it – just ‘act as though’. You’ll have another chance tomorrow to worry if you need to. Be guided by the evidence, not the worries that haunt you at 2am. 

    You Might Also Like
    The Things I've Learned About Anxiety - That Only People With Anxiety Could Teach Me

     

  2. Come closer. No. Go away.

    When you focus on every detail, things will get wobbly. You might focus on the things that aren’t right with your partner or your relationship, while at the same time looking for reassurance that your partner loves you and is committed. This can cause you to push your partner away, (‘You’ve disappointed me,”) then pull him or her close, (‘Tell me that you love me. You do love me, don’t you?’). Have a chat with your partner and if it is a familiar process, set up a safe way for your partner to point out when it’s happening. Agree on what that will look like. When it does happen, be careful not to hear it as a criticism – it’s not – it’s your partner asking for some stability with the way you love each other.

  1. The tough conversations can bring you closer.

    All relationships have to deal with tough stuff now and then but anxiety can make things more threatening and bigger than they are. The temptation might be to avoid talking about difficult issues with your partner, because of concerns about what it might do the relationship. Difficult issues don’t go away – they fester until they reach boiling point. Trust that your partner – and you – can cope with a hard discussion. Relationships are built on trust, and trusting that your relationship can power through difficult conversations is an important one.

  2. Let your partner in on what it’s like to be you.

    We humans are complex creatures and bringing someone in closer to you and your story – even if it is someone who has been with you for a while – is the lifeblood of intimacy. People change, stories change, and even in intimate relationships it’s easy to lose touch with the person who fall asleep next to at night-time. Let your partner in on what your anxiety is like for you. Talk about your thoughts, how anxiety is affecting you, your work, your relationship, your partner, and how grateful you are for the love and support. 

  3. Let your partner know what triggers you.

    Is there a particular situation that’s tends to set your anxiety alight? Crowds? Strangers? Difficulties of exit? Loud music in the car? Being late? Talk to your partner so that if you find yourself in the situation without warning, he or she will understand what’s happening for you.

  4. Be patient. The quick fix isn’t always the best.

    As a way to feel better and ease your anxiety, you might be tempted to press for a quick fix to a problem or issue within your relationship. You might become frustrated with your partner’s desire to wait or put off committing to a course of action, or their resistance to keep talking about the issue, but be open to the fact that your partner might see things differently, sometimes clearer. Breathe, talk, and don’t assume that your partner is taking time or pulling out of the conversation because of a lack of commitment or because the issue isn’t important enough. 

  1. Make sure you’re looking after yourself.

    Being in love is crazy good but it can take your attention away from looking after yourself and on to looking after your special person. We all tend to do this but for people with anxiety it can be particularly problematic because once you’re off-balance, the ripple can bring other things undone. Taking good care of yourself is so important. Eating well (a healthy diet rich in omega 3, low in processed carbs and sugars), as well as regular exercise and meditation will help to build your brain against anxiety. If looking after yourself feels selfish, think of it this way: it’s not really fair to expect your partner to support you through your anxiety if you’re not doing everything you can do to support yourself. Think of self-care as an investment in you, your relationship and your partner. Remember too that anything that’s good for anxiety is good for everyone, so talk to your partner about chasing a healthy lifestyle together – cooking, exercising and meditating together … nice.

    You Might Also Like
    When Someone You Love Has Anxiety

     

  2. Understand that your partner will need boundaries

    For the relationship to stay close, healthy and connected, boundaries built by your partner can be a great thing. Understand that boundaries aren’t your partner’s way of keeping you out, but as a way to self-protect from ‘catching’ your anxiety. You might be worried and need to talk about something over and over, but that’s not necessarily what will be good for you, your partner or your relationship. Your partner can love you and draw a bold heavy underline between the last time you discuss something and the next time you want to. Talking is healthy, but talking over and over and over about the same thing can be draining and create an issue where there isn’t one. Know that your partner loves you and that boundaries are important to nurture love and grow the relationship, not to push against it. Talk to your partner about what he or she needs to be able to feel okay in the face of your anxiety. Invite the boundaries – it will help to keep your connection strong and loving and will help your partner to feel as though he or she is able to preserve a sense of self without being absorbed by your worries. Worry is contagious so if your partner wants to draw a boundary (eventually) around your worry, let it happen – it will help to preserve the emotional resources of the relationship and will be good for both of you.

  3. Laugh together.

    This is so important! Laughter is a natural antidote to the stress and tension that comes with anxiety. Laughing together will tighten the connection between you and when there has been a stressful few days (weeks? months?) it will help you both to remember why you fell in love with each other. Anxiety has a way of making you forget that life wasn’t meant to be taken seriously all the time. If it’s been too long since your partner has seen the shape of your face when you laugh (which will be beautiful and probably one of the reasons he or she fell for you in the first place) find a reason – a funny movie, memories, YouTube … anything.

Falling in love is meant to be magical, but getting close to another person isn’t without it’s highs and lows at the best of times. From the ecstasy of realising that someone pretty wonderful is as moved by you as you are by them, to the agony of self-doubt and possible loss, to the security, richness and sometimes stillness of a deeper love, intimacy is a vehicle for every possible emotion. Anxiety does effect relationships, but by being open to its impact, and deliberate in responding to it, you can protect your relationship and make it one that’s strong, close and resilient.

Like this article?

Subscribe to our free newsletter for a weekly round up of our best articles

153 Comments

Alejandra

Hi I have had anxiety for the past 5years I started to get anxiety during my senior year in college I was a full time student and had two jobs I had to take it easy I had panic attacks on a daily and thankfully I managed to control it by working out. Soon after that I started a new relationship I love my boyfriend to death he’s the sweetest man I know and I would do anything for him, unfortunately I have experienced a tough past in my past relationships being cheated on and betrayed. My anxiety increases the most when I’m in a relationship and lately I’ve been having more anxiety in my relationship we’ve had a rough patch and somehow I feel like that has made a toll on me, I panic when he takes forever to reply to me i get nervous when he goes somewhere after he gets out of work it’s rare for him to do that he’s a predictable man and when things aren’t in “routine” I panic and get anxious and start assuming the worst. I feel bad I know he doesn’t deserve it but I can’t seem to get control of it help ??

Reply
Gab

I have been suffering from extreme relationship anxiety. My boyfriend is an absolute angel he is so good to me and always makes sure to reassure me that he loves me and if he isn’t around it’s because he is working. Even with all his reassurance I still feel anxious when he takes lo to text back or has to work overtime. I fear that it’s beginning to annoy him but he does his best not to show it and always wants to help. I really feel hopeless because I cry myself to sleep every night when I should be feelin so lucky that I have such a great boyfriend. Anyone have any tips that keep these thoughts away when your significant other isn’t around?

Reply
Andy

I’ve only been in 2 relationships both lasting about 3 months. I felt so trapped I could barely breathe. Every time she tried to hold my hand or touch me, I would literally jump. Both times I ended up in hospital from stress. Outside of those 2 times I have never had any signs of anxiety or mental illness. I’m 40 and too scared to try dating again in case it has the same effect.

Reply
Melisa

Hi my name is Melisa and I’ve been in a relationship for almost 3 years. Things started off great. I was an undergrad student, completely focused and would be graduating with honors. Then, I started to go on a decline, losing motivation, feeling lethargic and it just took a complete toll of everything, including my relationship.

Fast forward 2 years later and things have gotten worse. I’ve tried to be completely transparent and explained the triggers, ask for him to point out any signs of the anxiety and yet, while I go thru it and battle instead of compassion, he gets extremely defensive and angry. Small minor misunderstandings and misconceptions of what I’m trying to express (in a very non-combative way), get taken far left and now I’m the one who is in the wrong for having feelings. I understand that my feelings are just that, feelings. They very well be doubts and fears that deserve absolutely no time or focus, yet when I’ve asked to be corrected or reassured, all I get is instant defensiveness. He takes the things I express as personal attacks and then says, “I’m so tired! I’m not doing this and I’m not doing that! Nothing will ever be good enough for….etc”!

I have literally took the time and placed effort into my approach and I never say things like that! I never say “you…., or you….”. I always say “I would like this…..or it would really mean a lot to me if….” I don’t yell or attack him. I’m very gentle in my tone and I listen to constructive criticism because I do want things to be successful, and always am ready to stand to be corrected. A lot of times, I will say, “this is the way I feel; however, maybe I’m in my feelings and could be wrong. If that’s the case, please let me know”. No response. Just silence or then aggressively saying, “well if that’s how you feel, what you’re basically saying is this…”. It’s like at that point, I don’t know if it’s my anxiety getting the better of me, or if my feelings are in fact valid. All I have to go off of, is my feelings and nothing more. No facts, no contradiction, reassurance in anything.

I am lost and although I know my anxiety gets the best of me at times, this is not what I want. I’m trying my best and I literally believe that I already do some of the things listed in this article, but maybe I’m doing something wrong. All I’m asking for is for him to listen to understand rather than simply to respond. I may need compassion and some reassurance during these times. Am I really asking for too much?

I’d also like to state, we do not live together (15-20 min distance). We only get to see each other maybe once a week (Sunday or one day during the week), and that is ALWAYS in the evening (after 9pm) and stay the night. The next morning, we get up (6am) and we are both off to assume work….etc. Although, I appreciate every moment spent together, I’ve expressed the need for more quality time and how it’s important for relationships in bonding….etc. Seeing someone once a week for 2-3 hours (only at night then you go to sleep), is great and acknowledged, but face-to-face interaction is vital. When my anxiety builds, I don’t always have that hand to hold mine or a simple hug, because the lack of quality time, so at times it reinforces and/or amplifies my level of anxiety that I’m literally trying to quash. I’ve explained this, I’ve asked for patience and understanding…..and I’ve taken the gentle approach to saying, “when we are together, we have such a great time and I’d like more of it and it would mean a great deal to me if we could both set aside that time for one another”. Please keep in mind that I’m not the one who’s consumed, as I’m constantly free, yet I include myself in saying, “if WE can set aside time”. This is to avoid the misconception of me attacking him. Seriously……am I wrong for feeling like wanting to spend time with man is wrong? Am I wrong for wanting an actual date during the day??

For all readers, I do not think he is cheating. He works 12 hours a day, 5-6 days a week and is a widower with 2 boys (ages, 9 and 7). Given that said, my requests always consider those aspects in his life, and it’s also important to note that we spent more time together before, so why the lack of it now? Work is the same, schedule is the same and he has family members that are available to watch the boys, as they have before.

So I say all of this to say, yes! I do believe my anxiety is hindering my ability to cope and deal with things in my life, especially my relationship. I’m aware of it very much and I don’t like it. I try very hard to be as open about it 100%, yet I don’t know if it’s just that, that’s having such a detrimental impact within my relationship. I feel like I’ve reached the point of no return and it’s all my fault. I get made to feel like, #1 my feelings are complaints, #2 I’m wrong for having feelings, #3 my feelings are always personal attacks, #4 I’m wrong for asking for more quality time that is not just me/him coming over late pm to leave early am AND I’m unappreciative when I express my wants/needs and #5 I’m the cause of this all because he’s just tired and just needs “peace”.

I feel like an utter failure.

Reply
Karen Young

Melissa you are NOT a failure! From what you are saying, your needs and wants sound very reasonable and very understandable. We all have our ‘stuff’ – the things we need to grow through, and the secret to a successful, loving relationship is being with someone who can support you through your stuff, not make it worse. Of course, we all have a responsibility to continue to grow, but the people we choose to be with can make this harder or easier. It’s easy to take it personally when things don’t happen in a relationship that you need, but sometimes it isn’t about either of you separately, but about the combination of you. No relationship is perfect, but the ones that work are open to each other and to the needs of the relationship. Keep talking about what you both need, and listening to each other about what you might be doing that is getting in the way of the relationship moving forward. Then, it is for you to decide whether or not the relationship is able to work towards giving you both what you need.

Reply
Tatyana

Hi, I’m only 15 but I’ve been struggling with anxiety for 6 years. I was getting a lot better and my life felt a lot clearer and I met a guy through friends who I’ve fallen in love with and he loves me too, I felt a lot stronger around him. But recently I relapsed and now I feel a lot weaker around him, he’s had previous relationships with people who have anxiety/depression and it’s had a large impact on him. I’m really scared of hurting him, and I’m scared of not being able to improve again because of how much I care about him. I don’t want to drag him down, but I don’t want to lose him. Do you think taking a break for a short time would work? So I can get back on my feet? Because everything I used to love about being around him I now hate, everything feels dislocated.

Reply
Karen Young

Tatyana – I know it’s been said a lot but communication really is key. It’s so important to let him know how you are feeling. Try to do this from a position of strength, perhaps something like … ‘this is how I’m feeling – just wanted to let you know but I don’t need you to do anything about it. I’m working on it and I’m going to be just fine.’ This will help him to understand what’s happening for you, without feeling the need to ‘fix’ it, which can sometimes be overwhelming.

The truth is that in all relationships we have to learn about each other and what works and what doesn’t. The only way to do this is by talking about it what you need, what the other person needs, and what can make the relationship work better for both of you. You have so much insight and clarity around what you are feeling – that’s so wonderful! Self-awareness is such a healthy, important thing, but it can be difficult. The more aware you are, the more you can see your impact on people, understand their impact on you, and do things in a way that strengthens you. Anxiety is something that happens to you sometimes. It doesn’t define you and it doesn’t define your relationship. You are strong, insightful, brave and open-hearted – remember that.

Reply
Yvonne

After nearly 30 years in a relationship that was toxic I have taken the decision of ending this marriage. I am now starting a new relationship with an old friend , we always felt something special between us, but I was married and he respected that. As soon as he found out that my marriage was broken, he just walked in my life. I feel very anxious because he is with someone else and he is telling me that he will end it to be with me. We have been together for the last 5 months and I am starting to be anxious about the situation. In addition, at the moment I am with a lot of problems starting the process of separation and divorce in a not amicable way with my ex, I also started a new job, etc. I feel I am at my worst moment and he has been my fantasy for many years and I can’t believe this is happening to me. What can I do not to get anxious every time he doesn’t answer my text, the phone?. He has told me that is going to take a while for him to sort out his life and also mine. Should I stop asking him to leave his partner?
I have found your article very interesting and I have made notes about it, but I would appreciate any tips to help with my anxiety, because I don’t want to appear as a needy person to him. I also have many battles at the moment and they are all very complicated, feeling like a single mother of two children, not only emotionally but also financially in addition to the above. Thank you.

Reply
Karen Young

Being in a relationship with someone who is also in a relationship with someone else is going to create stress and anxiety, if there is any expectation of exclusivity. Having said this, it is not for you to ask him to leave his partner. The decision about whether or not to end the relationship is one for him and/or his partner. If he leaves because you told him to, rather than for reasons that feel right for him, there is a lot of potential for fallout. It’s a risky game for you if he gives up his relationship ‘all because of you’ or ‘does that all for you’. In relation to your anxiety, the strategies for dealing with anxiety in your relationship can only go so far if you are looking for security and certainty in a relationship, and you are in one that feels fragile or uncertain. You will find many ways to deal with anxiety on this link http://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/anxiety/

Reply
trad

Who ever is reading this..i hope will be able to give me some insight..

I started dating this woman 3 months ago. It was basically love at first site..she fell into my world unexpectedly. She told me she loved me about a month ago. I said it back of course. She truly is great. She isn’t as emotional as me and sometimes I over think.
I think it may be anxiety/insecurities. I think rediculous things..like if she doesn’t have an orgasm while i have sex with her i’m not as good as her ex boyfriend, or if we don’t have a plan to see each other right away or if i cant come give her a hug and kiss before i go to work it means maybe she doesn’t care to see me. Sometimes after sex i wonder if i satisfied her enough. The other night we were having sex and she asked me after i came if i could start back up right away. For me it wasnt going to work i need time in between and she kinda blurted ” IS IT GONNA WORK?” i felt like crap. Then i was apologizing after. She said you think that matters to me? Basically assuring me it was going to be ok.

(WE TALK ALL THE TIME THROUGH TEXT) If i bring up the fact that im feeling anxious..she tells me that its going to be “ok”..or i feel she just gets fed up and tell me to “stop tripping”. Like i stated above, sometimes ill offer to come giver her a hug and kiss before work but she says “not like this” meaning she thinks shes too ugly to be seen by me, which she has lots of self confidence issues with that way she looks, the way she has sex with me. She says shes not confident sexually with me yet. Even though i tell her shes beautiful all the time. Then when i send her emotional messages i feel like an idiot because i realize i’m acting to emotional for her maybe and lessening her love for me? She tells me to tell her anything that’s on my mind, but i feel she cant stand some of my anxious thoughts when i need to share them with her.

Everything seems to be fine when we are hanging out with each other. We hold hands when we drive, in public, cuddle lots when we are at home together. She HATES when i stare at her..and will literally push me away. I look at her because she actually is stunningly beautiful and I like to take in what is sitting in front of me. Her safe place is when she jumps on to me lets me hold her in my arms while shes got her legs wrapped around me. I rock her back and forth and give her lots of kisses. (Not sure if thats relevant or not).. I picture her being my long term girlfriend..sometimes she drops subtle hints about the future…like she didn’t want to scare me but she was looking at wedding dresses the other day..or her dad will eventually call me his son in law..she shows love in the opposite way that i show. We are kind of ying and yang.

I realize space and distance is important. I sometimes feel like i’m not doing enough for her, even though i know i am. I feel like my world is stable and im usually well organized in my life. But sometimes my thoughts get the worst of me and i need reassurance. I want to feel like i can gain reassurance from her if im feeling anxious without her thinking im some sort of nut. She asked me “seriously, how does your brain even get to these places?” as if shes at the end of her rope. We always talk through text when we are apart but suggested we start talking on the phone. Sometimes i read text messages differently and unsure of her tone. I’m constantly overthinking and am trying to stay positive when i have my anxiety moments. Its probably once a week where i feel unsafe in my deep thoughts..

One thing to keep in mind about her is that she tells me to “be patient” with her.
She is currently not working and suffers from fatigue and anxiety and depression. She says shes gotten better. I figure shes trying to become independent as well and get back on her two feet without me constantly trying to tell her im there for her etc..

Anyways..I feel better that I’ve ranted..

Can someone help me out and give me some decent advice on how to manage this?

Reply

Leave a Reply

We’d love to hear what you’re thinking ...

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay Connected



Contact Me

karen@heysigmund.com



























Pin It on Pinterest

Share This