Couples and Anxiety

Anxiety can cause serious relationship problems. Since it typically robs people of self- confidence and turns life into a struggle, people think they don’t have much to offer in their relationships. Sometimes they spend so much time with the struggle they are not as involved in their relationships as they might want to be. Anxiety often causes feelings of shame, so people try to hide the anxiety and its effects from their partners. When that happens, their partners may think that they are withdrawing from them.

Alternately, if partners are told about the anxiety and how it operates they can be involved in working against it. For example, the voice of anxiety usually has people focus on what might go wrong. A partner can counter that voice through gentle and consistent reassurance. It is important for the reassurance not to become pushy, since anxiety often begins because of the pressure of cultural messages to perform. Reproducing that pressure in the couple relationship may exacerbate the problem. Instead, the partner can help the person focus on what is going well and what is most interesting and pleasurable. If the partner is aware that anxiety stands in the way of certain goals, they can join together in reaching these goals a little bit at a time.

Questions for Couples

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  • Has anxiety come between the two of you? How?
  • Have there been times that it could have come between you but didn’t? What did each of you contribute that helped you keep anxiety from coming between you? Are there things you could generalize from that experience that may be helpful again?
  • If you were to think of yourselves as a team against anxiety, what might that lead you to do?

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