About 18% of the U.S. population struggles with an anxiety disorder. It’s the most common mental illness in the country.
A recent study found that the number of people dealing with some form of anxiety, not necessarily an anxiety disorder, is on the rise. About 40% of Americans reported experiencing serious anxiety when polled. So, even though only 18% percent of Americans have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, nearly half of us deal with anxiety on a regular basis.
People who struggle with anxiety and anxiety disorders can have a hard time maintaining relationships because of their anxiety. But that doesn’t mean that dating someone with anxiety has to be hard or that the relationship won’t work. It just means you’ll have to do a little extra work to be a supportive and understanding partner.
Here are some important tips for dating someone with anxiety:
1. Learn About Their Anxiety
One of the best things you can do as the partner of someone with anxiety is to learn about their anxiety. This means both learning about anxiety as a mental illness and learning specifically about your partner’s anxiety.
Take the time to do some research about anxiety. Focus specifically on the different ways anxiety can show up in people’s lives. The tricky thing about anxiety is that it looks different for each person. So, learning all the ways anxiety can manifest will help you pinpoint when your partner is struggling.
On top of doing your own research, ask your partner to talk about their experience of their anxiety. Learn from them how their anxiety shows up in their life. Ask them about the circumstances and topics that trigger their anxiety. When you have this information, you’ll be better able to support them through difficult situations.
2. If They Cancel Plans It’s Probably Not About You
People with anxiety often struggle with keeping appointments they’ve made, which includes that date they made with you last week. There are many reasons for this, which depend on how their anxiety is currently showing up in their life.
They may cancel plans because they’re exhausted from dealing with their constant, anxious thoughts. Or they might cancel because the actual date is making them anxious – they’re wondering if you’ll be happy to see them, if they’re dressed ok, if you really like them at all, if they picked the right restaurant and on and on. Or they might cancel because they accidentally overbooked because they forgot to write down the date.
But one reason they probably didn’t cancel is because they don’t like you anymore or don’t want to see you. Chances are they really do want to see you, but their anxiety is so overwhelming they just can’t get past it.
So, don’t take it personally. Give them a pass and make another date.
3. Don’t Try to Fix Their Feelings
Feelings are really tough for people with anxiety. They tend to get overwhelmed pretty easily, and feel things really intensely. And when they have big feelings and get overwhelmed, their anxiety takes over. This makes it hard for them to be rational.
In American society we’re not taught how to handle big feelings. Most people get uncomfortable when they see other people having a hard time. Their first instinct is to try to find a way to fix the big feelings so they won’t be uncomfortable and so the person having the big feelings won’t be so upset.
While the intent is good, there’s no way to fix feelings and there’s definitely no way to fix anxiety. If you try to fix your partner’s feelings or their anxiety, they’re likely to feel like you’re being dismissive or not understanding.
The best thing you can do is let them talk about their feelings and offer reassurance. If you feel comfortable doing so, you could try to talk them through some grounding exercises like deep breathing or naming things they see in the room, which can help them get a handle on their anxiety.
But know that you’re not capable of fixing their feelings. All you can do is to support them while they’re having feelings.
4. Boundaries Are Really Important
Setting boundaries with people we love is tough for all of us. But it’s especially tough for people with anxiety.
Anxiety has a tendency to manifest as codependency in romantic relationships. Your partner knows that you love them and want the best for them, so they will turn to you to help them when they’re really struggling. And, of course, you’ll want to do whatever you can to help them.
The important thing to be aware of is how much help you can give and what is beyond your capacity to give. You are not your partner’s therapist. You cannot give them the clinical support they need to deal with their anxiety.
You’re also not their emotional repository. You can’t carry all of their feelings for them and you can’t be their sole source of support.
Since your partner with anxiety is not likely to maintain these boundaries, it’s up to you to set and enforce boundaries. If you feel your partner isn’t respecting the boundaries you set, you may need to re-evaluate the relationship.
5. Practice Your Own Self-Care and Regulation
Practicing self-care and finding methods for regulating through tough feelings and situations are important skills for anyone. But they’re especially important skills for someone whose partner struggles with anxiety.
In order to be present for your partner with anxiety, you need to have the emotional capacity to do so. That means you need to be taking care of your own emotional and physical well-being. Take the time to engage in practices and hobbies that fulfill and nourish you.
Dating someone with anxiety also means that you’ll run into some tough situations. You need to practice your coping skills so that when you encounter tough feelings, you know how to deal with them and deescalate yourself.
Taking care of your mind, body, and soul is crucial to being a supportive partner to someone with anxiety.
Dating Someone With Anxiety Doesn’t Have to be Hard
Dating someone with anxiety requires work, but so does any healthy, functioning relationship. People with anxiety can be amazing partners, especially when they’re supported by amazing partners. If you keep these things in mind, your relationship will thrive.
For more information about how to be a supportive partner to someone with anxiety, check out our blog.