Approximately 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, and I can tell you from personal experience that anxiety seriously affects relationships. So if your partner is an anxious person, here's the one thing to know about dating someone with anxiety: It's not easy.
Even though I can't speak for my ex partners, I think I can safely say that watching your partner struggle with anxiety — especially untreated anxiety — is really tough. Although I'm just now able to admit this, I've actually struggled with anxiety since childhood. I remember having my first anxiety attack at my parents' dinner table when I was seven years old. Since then, I've had plenty more — and my exes were present for more than one of them.
To be clear, I don't think anxiety prevents me, or anyone else, from being a good partner. Actually, I think it's safe to say that I'm a damn good partner most of the time — and I feel like that's partially because of my anxiety rather than in spite of it. Anxious people are typically over-thinkers, which can be annoying, but it also means we're generally just naturally more considerate of other people's needs. That said, I'll be the first person to admit that dating someone with anxiety can be really hard sometimes — because no matter how irrational our anxiety is, you'll never be able to "fix" it.
The world is a much scarier place for someone with anxiety, and in turn, relationships — which are scary enough as is — can be scarier for us, too. Though I've written plenty of negative (but very true) things about my exes, I can't pretend dating someone with anxiety is always pleasant. So if your partner is anxious, then read on. Here's what you should know about dating someone with anxiety.
1. Anxious People Don't Always Seem Anxious
Anxiety disorders are complicated, and they affect everyone differently. In my experience, though, even super-anxious people can seem mega chill much of the time. (Especially if they, like myself, prefer to use cannabis as a natural anxiety reliever.) But just because an anxious person is good at hiding their anxiety — or is fortunate enough to have days and even weeks at a time where their anxiety is manageable — doesn't mean their anxiety is gone.
Since there's still such a stigma surrounding mental illness, most anxious people (like myself) have gotten really good at hiding their anxiety over years and years of practice. So even if an anxious person is freaking out on the inside, unless they know you super well, they're probably going to mask it. Don't make the mistake of thinking anxiety always has outward symptoms.
2. Your Partner Might Not Be Ready To Accept They Have An Anxiety Disorder
Like I said, it's only been in the past year that I've started to accept that my anxiety isn't normal. Even now, there's still a part of me that doesn't want to accept this, because it makes me feel emotionally weak. Plus, I have lots of really good days. I still worry that the people I love will think I'm making it all up just to get attention, or that they'll think I've fabricated my anxiety disorder. In reality, though, these thoughts just further prove that I have a problem, because they're not based in fact. My family and friends have never said any of these things to me and they've actually been mostly supportive, but it's still work for me to believe that they aren't judging me.
Remember that it's not your responsibility as a partner to force this realization, though. All you can do is be supportive, because ultimately, your partner is the only person responsible for their mental health.
3. It’s Definitely Not Anyone's Fault
People with anxiety don't choose to be anxious, but that doesn't make you responsible for their anxiety, either. I'm not saying there aren't ways you could be unintentionally, or even intentionally, contributing to your partner's anxiety. (For example, a few years back when my anxiety and depression had gotten pretty bad, one of my exes used to say to me, "Nobody likes a crying girl." As you can imagine, that was unhelpful in many ways.)
But if your partner has anxiety, it's important for you to remember that their anxiety isn't about you. Unless you're just a total jerk, more often than not, your partner's anxiety is going to be completely unrelated to you and your relationship with them. Don't try to make it about you, because it's not uncommon for someone with anxiety to be anxious without even knowing why themselves.
4. ... But You Should Try To Pay Attention To What Triggers Your Partner
As we've established, anxiety isn't rational, so you shouldn't expect to understand why your partner is feeling anxious. However, you should try to be aware of any anxiety triggers your partner might have. Ask your partner if they know what sets them off. They might not know the answer to that question right now — either because they haven't even accepted that they have anxiety or because they're not very self-aware — but you should consider asking them.
If they know their triggers, then as their partner, you should know them, too. If they don't know their triggers, your sincere curiosity might encourage them to pay more attention to what triggers them in the future.
5. Anxiety Can Be A Lifelong Struggle
Your partner's anxiety might be situational rather than chronic. Chronic or not, though, your partner's anxiety can absolutely be managed — through counseling, meditation, medication, exercise, diet, or all of the above. But anxiety is a real illness, so if you're dating someone with anxiety, don't expect them to be "cured" of it someday. Instead, understand that mental illnesses doesn't just disappear.
Personally, it's not uncommon for me to go so long without having an anxiety attack that I start to think I'll never have one again. I always do, though, so even if your partner seems OK for months at a time, know that this doesn't mean their struggle is over.
6. For Some People, Anxiety & Depression Go Hand In Hand
If your partner does suffer from anxiety and depression, they may not struggle with both of these illnesses simultaneously. (Personally, I tend to deal with anxiety daily whereas my depression is situational and not super severe.) Also, as we've already established, they may have long periods of time where they struggle with neither.
Again, none of this is your fault. Just be aware that anxiety and depression sometimes feed off of each other. So if your partner is anxious, they could be at risk for depression, too. Don't ever think it's your job to make them well, but do listen to them, because depression can be life-threatening.
7. If You Can’t Be Supportive, You Might Need To Leave — And That's OK
I would never encourage anyone to leave their partner just because they struggle with anxiety. That said, if your partner's anxiety is too much for you to handle right now, and you don't think you can stay with them without becoming unsupportive, then maybe you shouldn't be with them right now. I'm not saying it won't suck, because it will — but unless you can find a way to be supportive, you're not doing your partner any favors by staying with them. Know that it's OK to break up if that's what you need to be healthy and happy — because your needs matter, too.
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