Your question: Why is my boyfriend’s anxiety ruining our relationship?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Anxiety, in small doses, is necessary for our survival. However, when anxiety is too intense and recurrent, it affects the quality of life, generating work, academic and interpersonal relationship problems.

It is possible to have anxiety and be in a healthy relationship. Anxiety does not have to define a person. However, it is common for people with anxiety to experience problems in their relationships because the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety can affect the dynamics of the relationship.

Research has shown that adults with anxiety problems are likely to have complicated relationships (1). This is because their anxiety tends to affect couple communication.

If you are a partner of someone with an anxiety problem, you face several challenges. It is common for people with anxiety to repress their problems and avoid talking to others about their anxiety because they feel like a “burden” and don’t want to upset others.

It is necessary that if you value your relationship, you understand that anxiety is not a sentence. Just as anxiety does not define your partner as a person, it does not have to define your relationship. There are strategies you can implement to prevent anxiety from affecting your couple’s bond, and this requires a mutual effort.

To cope with anxiety, you must first know the source of the anxiety. Through this information and recommendations you will learn to better understand your partner and his or her anxiety problems, and to understand that with dedication and sufficient professional help, relationships can survive anxiety.

Why does anxiety affect your relationship?

To understand anxiety, it is necessary to see it as a process that escapes logic and reasoning. This means that people with anxiety have abrupt and uncontrollable thoughts that send them negative, and often illogical, messages that feel real.

A person with anxiety who is in a relationship may have insistent worries that the other person does not really love him or her, is cheating on him or her, or is lying to him or her all the time. This is not because the person with anxiety does not love their partner, but because their anxious thoughts take control of their life.

Some of the most common causes of anxiety affecting relationships are:

Work and academic stress

Studying and working are stressful activities. Work and studies can cause intense anxiety in people because of the responsibilities and demands involved. Your partner may be dealing with a lot of pressure at work or school. This in turn affects the relationship, because your partner spends too much time on his or her responsibilities and not enough time on your relationship.

Dependency and insecurities

As I mentioned, people with anxiety may have insistent thoughts and worries about the state of their relationship, even if they are not logical. People with anxiety may be very dependent on their partner, and have constant insecurities about their relationship.

Among these insecurities are: suspicions of unfounded infidelity, constant indecision about decisions they must make as a couple, aggressive communication, and imagining catastrophic scenarios involving their partner.

Avoidance and isolation

On the other hand, people with relationship anxiety tend to avoid and isolate themselves from their partner when they feel anxious, causing communication problems. Because they feel that their anxiety is a problem or a “burden” to their partner, they avoid telling them when they are dealing with a problem and prefer to avoid and pretend that everything is fine.

What can you do as a couple?

Naturally, these problems caused by your partner’s anxiety have an impact on your relationship. Anxiety can lead to mistrust and communication problems in a couple. Therefore, to cope with this problem and improve both as individuals and as a couple, you must understand that your partner will have difficult times struggling with his or her anxiety.

It is advisable to see a professional, such as a psychologist or a couple’s therapist, if you feel that the situation is not improving.

Breathing exercises

When a person experiences an anxiety attack his or her entire body goes out of control. Therefore, breathing exercises that help relieve the feeling of anxiety are useful. You can help your partner practice breathing exercises when he has anxiety by serving as a model for him to imitate.

Ask him first if he wants physical contact. If so, hold his hands. Close your eyes and inhale slowly for 4 seconds, then exhale slowly for 4 seconds. Keep a slow rhythm. Notice that your partner is doing the same. Practicing this exercise for 5 to 10 minutes a day is quite helpful in combating anxiety, and will teach your partner to do it when he or she is on his or her own.

Confronting thoughts

People with anxiety may have extremely negative, abrupt thoughts that are often unrelated to reality. Your partner may be calm and out of nowhere, feel anxious because he had a thought about his performance at work or the debts he has to pay.

You can help him by asking him what was going through his mind at the time he started to feel anxious. Never judge or minimize the cause of his anxiety; instead, help him find an alternative, more positive way of thinking. For example, if his thought is “I am a failure at my job,” an alternative, positive thought would be “I am doing my best at my job and I am working hard to correct my failures.”

Practice patience and empathy

It can be frustrating to be in a relationship with someone with anxiety, because they tend to hide from you how they feel and avoid topics of conversation related to their anxiety. Therefore, you need to be patient and understanding, giving them space to express themselves in your time and manner about what is bothering them, making it clear that you will be there to listen and support them when they are ready.

Recommend seeking professional help

Although emotionally supporting loved ones is very important to help them combat anxiety, it is not the only strategy and decision to be made. It is necessary for him to attend psychological consultation for his own good, to work through the feeling of anxiety that generates discomfort in his life. By helping him to get an appointment with a psychologist (you can even accompany him on the day of the consultation as a show of support), you are allowing him to take control of his life and learn to regulate his own anxious symptoms.

In my experience…

Anxiety does not define your partner or your relationship. Although it may be difficult to cope with the difficulties caused by your partner’s anxiety, you need to take stock to help you make decisions. Are the good times more than the difficult times you have with your partner? It is a question that, when answered, will give you an idea of how to start acting.

If the answer is yes, it shows you that your relationship has valuable aspects that make you happy, and that the difficulties caused by anxiety are an obstacle that you must face together to improve your relationship. If the answer is no, you need to evaluate and reconsider whether you are willing to do everything possible for your relationship to improve.

Either way, the decision is in your hands. Wanting to help a partner who is struggling with anxiety is natural, but we must understand that we cannot save anyone from their problems. In the end, your partner is the one who must deal with the problems caused by his or her anxiety.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!