11 Unexpected Habits People With High-Functioning Anxiety Have In Relationships
If someone has high-functioning or mild anxiety, they might notice that — while not super intense — their anxiety can still impact their life in surprising ways. Take relationships, for example. Having anxiety in a relationship might mean someone develops habits that affect how well they communicate with their partner, how they handle conflicts, or even what they feel like doing as far as couple-y activities and dates go.
Mild anxiety has the potential to hold a couple back from being happy, and it can keep them from feeling secure. But that doesn't have to be the case. "The impact that anxiety has on a relationship is determined by how each member of the couple handles the anxiety," Natalie Moore, an LA-based mental health expert, tells Bustle. "First off, the anxious individual needs to be doing all they can to manage the amount of anxiety they're bringing into the relationship, whether that means utilizing meditation, psychotherapy, psychiatry, life coaching, and/or alternative treatments."
Their partner can help by being understanding. As Moore says, "The partner of the anxious individual needs to do their best to not take things personally nor get defensive when anxiety comes up." And, of course, all of this can be achieved with communication. "Both people need to have open communication about how they can maintain their connection despite anxiety getting in the way at times." Here are a few habits people with mild anxiety tend to have in relationships, as well as how to handle the resulting conflicts that can arise.
1. They Might Try To Test The Relationship
Even mild anxiety can cause a person to read into things, and feel incredibly insecure as a result. So if someone with high-functioning anxiety suspects their partner might not be fully committed, they may begin to test the relationship.
"For example, if someone feels insecure in the relationship because [they] believe [they are] always the one initiating texting ... then that person may stop initiating texting or even start ghosting," clinical psychologist Crystal I. Lee, PsyD, tells Bustle. While anxiety may not account for 100 percent of ghosting situations, it can certainly explain a few.
"This can be extremely frustrating because the testing usually happens repeatedly, not just once or twice," Lee says. "To balance it out, you and your partner should be very open and honest about what is happening and discuss what other ways to address ... relationship-related fears."
2. They Might Do What They Can To Stay In Control
Nobody enjoys feeling like their life is out of control, but this can become heightened for someone who suffers from anxiety. And it can certainly begin to affect their relationship if the habit isn't kept in check.
"In an intimate relationship, this could manifest as an anxious individual limiting the activities that their partner does, especially if those activities involve any level of risk to the relationship," says Moore. Take, for example, a case where someone needs to go on a really long business trip while their partner stays at home.
For someone with anxiety, it can be all-too-easy for them to imagine this scenario leading to the end of their relationship — even though they're partner is trustworthy and that's 100 percent not the case.
When worries like these start to arise, the anxious partner should be honest with their partner, and let them know what feels OK and what doesn't, so they can work together to figure out ways to make each other feel secure.
3. They Might Feel The Need To Constantly Check In
Going off that, when someone feels out of control, it can lead to habits like "checking in" with their partner — sometimes to an unhealthy degree.
"In the outset of the relationship, this anxious behavior can come off as loving concern and can actually feel good," Moore says. "Unfortunately, over time, the constant checking in can become tiresome and one may lose patience with their anxious partner, feeling as though their mate doesn't trust them to make sound decisions on their own."
Again, it can be helpful for an anxious person to be honest about their feelings, so their partner doesn't react negatively to an onslaught of "where are you!?" texts, or perceive a lack of trust in their relationship. By having honest communication, a couple can figure out ways to make the anxious person feel more comfortable.
4. They Might Become Codependent
It's not uncommon for anxious people to become a bit codependent in relationships, either. "Your anxiety may stem from a feeling of lack ... or feelings about needing to hold on," coach and relationship expert Andi LaBrune tells Bustle. "Unfortunately, having this symptom in your relationship — the core problem being the anxiety — leads to a one-sided fulfillment relationship. One partner will be always taking, to replace the negative effects of the anxiety while the other partner continues to feel drained."
When that happens, therapy can come in handy, to make sure things don't become unbalanced. While it's great if one partner wants to help reassure their anxious partner, it can't necessarily be their job 24/7. The anxious person should make an effort to learn a few coping skills, so their relationship can remain healthy.
5. They Might Withdraw
Anxiety can be tough to deal with, so it's not surprising that even a mild case of it can make a person want to withdraw — even if it starts to have a negative impact on a relationship.
As Lee says, "This can be tough because relationships inevitably have ups and downs, and it doesn't feel good when your partner withdraws at the moment when you want to lean in. Having a conversation about this pattern can help stop it, but your partner may need extra outside support to learn how to tolerate the negative emotions before [they] can stop avoiding them."
6. They Might End A Relationship Prematurely
Anxiety can make a person see the worst side of things — this is the whole "black and white" thinking so many therapists talk about — and as a result, they may get into the habit of breaking up with their partner small things.
As life coach Nina Rubin, MA tells Bustle, "It can create insecurity and [someone may] end a relationship prematurely. It can also cause arguments or make the non-anxious member of the couple more anxious. Anxiety can be contagious!" It's important that each partner remembers that ultimatums or breaking up will not help solve their problems. Instead, trying to talk things out rather than giving up altogether may be the best option.
7. They Can Overthink Or Over-Complicate Things
Since anxiety makes a person's brain go into overdrive, it makes sense why people with high-functioning anxiety might fall into the habit of overthinking or over-complicating their lives — especially when it comes to tricky things like relationships.
"People with anxiety tend to overthink and over-complicate things, which in turn causes them to act in ways which the situation does not call for," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert with Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "They can’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak, and this blinds them to the nature of their present reality."
That's why talking about anxiety is so important, so both partners can be on the same page. When one person is anxious, and begins to overthink things, the other partner will be more understanding.
8. They Can Second Guess Everything
Relationships work best when both partners are confident and all-in, in terms of their commitment to each other. But anxiety can certainly get in the way. "One detriment of anxiety is that people second guess themselves and doubt their partner’s authenticity," Rubin says. "People become jealous or distant when suffering from anxiety. Anxiety also affects people with connection. When we are anxious, we usually withdraw. This can rupture the bond of the couple."
9. They Can Be Irritable
Even a mild dose of anxiety can cause someone to feel and be extremely irritable, which can have a major impact on a relationship.
"This may lead someone to be extra snappy to their loved one," Jessica Snyder, LCP, of Psychological Health Services, LLC, tells Bustle. "This is often because when someone is anxious their sensory experiences are often heightened; thus when others approach them through the senses (touch, sound, etc.) they become overwhelmed and snap in irritation to try to set a boundary."
The remedy here is to set up boundaries before these irritable moments happen, so both partners know exactly what the other needs. If someone has anxiety, they might want some time alone after work, for example, so they can decompress from their day before talking to their partner.
10. They Might Put Things Off
Being part of a couple means putting in a similar amount of effort, so the relationship feels fair and balanced. And yet, when someone has even mild anxiety, it's often easy for them to drop the ball.
"Tasks that are doable one day, might be insurmountable the next," Lindsay Ryan, a board-certified family therapist, tells Bustle. "Going to the grocery store might be doable on a Monday morning for a person with anxiety, but the thought of having a grocery list a mile long, and being in a building full of strangers on a Saturday? We'd avoid that like the plague."
This can leave the anxious person's partner feeling like chores and responsibilities are falling solely on their shoulders, and that can lead to arguments. So, to prevent unfairness, an anxious person can again be honest, and know when to ask for help.
11. They Can Seem Selfish
When someone's dealing with anxiety, it's not uncommon that they turn inward, which Snyder says, "leads them to struggle to connect and engage in a back and forth manner with those in relationship with them."
This habit can make them seem a bit "selfish or closed off ... when in all actuality the person with anxiety is simply trying to protect themselves." Everyone needs downtime, but especially those who are struggling with anxiety.
And that's why communication is key. Instead of leaving their partner hanging — and wondering why these issues are cropping up — it's important that the anxious person be honest about their feelings. That way, it's an issue they can work on together, as a couple.