Since it can have such a big impact on your life, including relationships, there may be a few qualities you'll want to look for in a partner if you have anxiety. That's not to say your partner needs to have these qualities, or that having them will necessarily make your anxiety go away. But it certainly won't hurt to be with someone who's calm, patient, supportive, etc.
After all, "it can be hard to understand it if you’ve never experienced it firsthand," Heidi McBain, licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in women’s mental wellness, tells Bustle. "So, it’s helpful to have someone in your life who is willing and able to learn about your anxiety and help support you as best they can."
When your partner is understanding, it's easier to be yourself without worrying the anxiety is taking a negative toll. "You don’t want to end up in a relationship where you feel judged by your partner because of your anxiety," McBain says. "Also, if you’re looking for empathy and they are telling you to 'suck it up and get over it,' then you’re not getting your needs met in this case either."
Of course, other qualities can come in handy, like if your partner gently encourages you to step outside your comfort zone, or look for new ways to cope with your symptoms. Only you'll know what you need if you have anxiety, but experts say finding someone with many of the qualities listed below can be helpful, too.
1. They're Understanding
"It’s one thing for a partner to lack education about how anxiety can express itself, but it’s another to shame a person for having anxiety," Lauren Cook, MMFT, a clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy, tells Bustle. "You want a partner who will be understanding of your experience and who won’t act frustrated or judge you when anxiety spikes up."
This means they don't bully you, diminish how you feel, or make it seem silly. Instead, they look for ways to support you instead, possibly by asking questions or reading up on the topic of anxiety, in order to better grasp what it all means. Or simply listening, and do their best to see things from your point-of-view.
2. They're Comforting
"Let’s say you’re having a panic attack," Cook says. "Some people prefer to be alone while others want emotional support during that experience." So talk to your partner about what you need, in order to make sure you're both on the same page.
"It’s crucial that you have a partner that can respect your communicated needs, giving you either the space or the closeness that you need in those moments of heightened distress," Cook says.
3. They Gently Challenge You
That said, it's really great to have someone in your life (like your partner) who helps you to push back against anxiety, on occasion. "Having a partner who kindly encourages us to [go] to that party when we have social anxiety, or not run out of the room if we see a spider, can actually help us overcome our fears," Cook says.
Instead of giving into your fear and letting it get the best of you, they might offer suggestions for moving past it. This can help you take small steps outside your comfort zone, which might eventually lead to bigger steps.
Of course, this is something your partner can learn over time, especially if you make it a priority in your relationship.
4. They're A Good Listener
If you're going through a tough time, nothing will feel better than being with someone who truly listens. "People with anxiety need to feel heard by their partners," Rachel Levenson, PhD, clinical and forensic psychologist, tells Bustle. "Almost everyone else in their world dismisses their worries. Telling someone who is anxious 'don’t worry' doesn’t help! A good partner will listen to concerns and validate them."
Good listening skills also means it'll be easier for your partner to understand more about anxiety, if they don't already. Listening really is everything when it comes to learning the best ways to help.
5. They're Present
Since anxiety can make it feel like you aren't tethered to the ground, being around a person who is present can make a huge difference.
"You’ll want to be with someone who has the ability to put other things aside and focus on you when you ask for support," Rev. Connie L. Habash, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Being present means they are right here, attentive to this moment (and to you), open and receptive."
6. They Aren't Afraid To Communicate
"A person with anxiety is especially prone to fearing that their partner is unhappy but not sharing," Levenson says. So being with someone who isn't afraid to communicate their feelings, likes, and dislikes is key.
"Make it a point to talk to your partner regularly and frequently," she says. "Schedule 'quarterly relationship meetings' if necessary, so that time is set aside for each partner to talk about how things are going and what they need."
7. They Focus On Commitment
Stability is another thing you won't want to worry about if you have anxiety, so connecting with a partner who shares a lot of the same values, like commitment, can be immensely helpful.
"People with anxiety are prone to magnification and ruminative thoughts," Levenson says. If your partner demonstrates commitment in the relationship, you'll be less likely to magnify small slights into major concerns about the stability of the relationship, she says.
Of course, it's still important to do your own work, whether your partner has this quality or not. By being aware of this tendency, and possibly working on it in therapy, it doesn't have to have a big impact on your life.
8. They Like To Make Things Fun
It can be exhausting to deal with the daily ups and downs of anxiety, which is why you may want to be with someone who knows how to keep things light, when the moment calls for it. Things like exercise and laughter releases endorphins, Levenson says, which can make you feel good. And when we feel good, "our worries seem small."
9. They're Patient
"When you’re dealing with worries and fears, the last thing you want is someone who will be tapping their foot for you to make up your mind or getting frustrated with processing your emotions," Habash says. "Having a partner who is willing to wait it out until you can sort it out and will be patiently by your side while you’re calming down is essential."
These are qualities you can look for in a partner, as well as ones you can work on establishing in any relationship. Keep in mind, though, that taking care of yourself is the most important thing. Practicing self-care, going therapy, and finding other ways to reduce anxiety will all help you to manage your symptoms.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.