Is your partner struggling with an anxiety disorder? In a given year, anxiety disorders affect about 40 million Americans, or about 18% of the adult population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. When you suffer from an anxiety disorder, your life is filled with a sense of fearfulness and uncertainty. Worries plague your life, making it difficult to engage in daily tasks and enjoy yourself. The more we know about anxiety, however, the more we understand how it impacts not just the individual who suffers with this problem, but also how it affects his or her relationships. Both partners face unique challenges when one has an anxiety disorder, and the normal problems that all couples face may also be exacerbated. It can be confusing and overwhelming when your partner has an anxiety disorder. It may feel as though you are powerless against the intensity of the anxiety symptoms, but, in fact, you can help. Here are 7 things you can do when your partner struggles with anxiety.

  • 1. Encourage your partner to seek out help. Therapy can be very effective for anxiety, as it can help your partner discover what is causing the anxiety and how to manage the symptoms. Encourage your partner to seek treatment, letting him or her know how much it can help. Go with him or her – your presence can be a key ingredient in the treatment process.
  • 2. Learn about the anxiety disorder. The more you know about what it is your partner is dealing with, the better able you will be to support him or her.
  • 3. Provide positive reinforcement. Be sure that you are creating a positive environment where healthy behaviors are being praised and supported rather than a negative one where fears, avoidance, or worries are criticized.
  • 4. Ask for specifics. Do not assume that you know what your partner needs. Request the specifics, listen carefully, and honor the response you hear.
  • 5. Do not engage in behaviors that will reinforce the problem. It can be easy to reinforce your partner’s avoidance or worries. If you partner is too worried to go get groceries with you, be mindful of the consequence of you agreeing to start getting all the groceries so your partner can stay home. Help your partner set small goals to move toward and help him or her take those positive steps.
  • 6. Expect setbacks. Know that moving past anxiety is a proces that involves a series of steps forward and back as your partner discovers ways to confront and overcome his or her fears.
  • 7. Get your own support. Maintain a support system of family and friends. Seek out the help of your own therapist. These people can be there for you when your partner cannot. Stay engaged in your own interests. Your well-being is just as important as your partner’s.

Contributed by Staff Therapist, Rachel Goldsmith