When you first meet someone, it may not be immediately apparent that they are anxious, or suffer from an anxiety disorder. Not knowing that you’re dating someone with anxiety can make the initial stages of the relationship stressful and confusing for both you and your partner.
The most important aspect to consider and address is that their anxiety often is not your fault. Anxiety disorders can be complex and difficult to understand if you have never experienced them yourself.
However, just because you’re dating someone with anxiety doesn’t mean your relationship has to suffer in the anxiety bubble forever. There are a number of ways to help alleviate tension and anxious thoughts to ensure your relationship continues to grow and blossom despite the mental health challenges your partner may be facing.
Below are some of the best tips we have to offer when dating someone with anxiety.
1. Take time to learn about anxiety and how to date someone who suffers with anxiety
Anxiety is a completely normal sensation that all humans have and need in order to survive. Without anxiety, our in-built alert or danger system wouldn’t function properly, so we’d be ill-prepared to jump out of the way of a moving car, or run from that bear in the bushes.
In the case of dating someone with anxiety, you will need to learn about what ails them so you’re able to better cater for their needs. Reading up on anxiety and how it feels for people will not only help you sympathise with their struggles, but also make them feel more comfortable about it, which in turn should lead to a stronger relationship.
There are different types of anxiety, so it’s important to talk to your partner and learn what causes them anxiety. It may be generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, certain phobias, stress, depression and other triggers or cues that bring on anxious sensations.
2. Listen and try to sympathise
Arguably the most important part of dating someone with anxiety is learning how to listen when they talk about and explain their anxiety. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about their anxiety because they may find comfort in talking about it. Ask what their triggers are (what causes them to feel anxious) and what they wish people knew about their anxiety. Make sure you listen to them, don’t interrupt them, this is a delicate topic for many and deserves respect and recognition.
By simply listening and trying to understand what they’re going through, they will feel heard and accepted. One of the biggest benefits of listening to your partner’s anxious thoughts is that you feel less alone in the world, and that goes a long way.
3. Talk to them about their triggers & what makes them anxious
Triggers is the term used to define situations or feelings that can bring on, or “trigger” anxious thoughts or anxiety in general. Learning about what triggers your partner will help to avoid those situations or help comfort them if these situations are unavoidable. It may be that they want you to be with them when walking into triggering situations so they’re better able to cope and understand that their triggers can be managed (but is entirely dependent on the context of their triggers).
It may also be useful to ask what coping mechanisms or strategies have worked for them when dealing with panic episodes. This way, if they are ever placed in this situation, you’re better able to help them through it. Some helpful questions might include:
- What are your triggers?
- How do you usually manage anxious situations?
- What would you like me to do in the event of a triggering situation or panic attack?
- What can I do to help?
4. Don’t take their anxiety personally
One of the most common issues when it comes to dating someone with anxiety is that you assume you are the problem. This is where communication is crucial so that you’re able to talk openly about their anxiety and understand this is not a personal attack on yourself.
It’s very simple to misinterpret their anxiety as a problem with you or the relationship in general. It may be that their anxiety is making them seem distant, distrustful and rejecting, but that may not be anything to do with you.
Top tip: If they have mentioned that they’re an anxious person or that they suffer from an anxiety disorder (such as social anxiety), ask them about it and how you can make it easier for them.
5. Emotions are natural, do not fear theirs
When dating someone with anxiety, it’s not uncommon to witness them acting in a way that may seem irrational given the context. For example, if they suffer from social anxiety, they may break down and cry when in social situations that are too intense for them. In such situations, it’s important to remain calm and comforting to their needs.
The worst thing you could do is point out that their behaviour is irrational, or tell them “nothing is wrong”, this will only make things worse. Be mindful and approach the situation delicately, it’s likely they’re already worried that their anxiety is driving you away, so don’t add fuel to the fire. Take a breath and console your partner, make them feel safe and secure and listen to what’s going through their mind and talk it out.
6. Support your partner, even if their anxiety is making things difficult for you
According to Paulette Sherman, Psy.D., a New York City-based psychologist and the author of Dating from the Inside Out, if you’re dating someone with anxiety, it’s not uncommon for you to adopt some of those anxious traits. Although we all have anxiety, we all experience it in different ways, but being constantly exposed to a certain type of anxiety can become contagious. Sherman explains that “even if you aren’t normally anxious, you may get caught up in the feeling of it, [which] could then trigger that feeling in you.”
Living vicariously through their anxiety triggers can become a problem for you and the relationship. Remember, this is their fight, not yours. They are your first priority, so do your best to remain calm and rational when they can’t.
As briefly mentioned, there are a number of ways to help your anxious partner mitigate their anxiety and yours (if you suffer with it). Popular solutions include mediation, yoga, reading, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques. Therapy is renowned as the best solution to address anxiety (CBT being a leading practice), as it looks at addressing the core issues that make you feel anxious and exploring the reasons why they make you feel that way.
7. Do not be their therapist
Easily confused and easily done, it’s important to remember that being supportive and listening to your anxious partner does not make you their therapist, and more importantly, you shouldn’t be. Your main goal is to be as supportive to your partner as possible, you are not responsible for “fixing” their anxiety or even managing it, that’s on them. Your job is to support your partner and be there for when they come calling.
Do not become their therapist, as this is not natural in a relationship and can blur lines and make things very messy. Be supportive, but don’t be their entire support system, this is inappropriate and will likely become too much for you to handle.
8. Everyone has baggage, anxiety is no different
It’s unlikely that anyone walks into a relationship without some form of baggage because everyone has baggage! Yes, not everyone has GAD or anxiety that affects their day-to-day living, but everyone has something that ails them, and anxiety should be treated similarly by showing a little sympathy. Everyone has challenges, everyone has worries, concerns, speed bumps that cause problems every day, anxiety is no different.
Be kind, listen, be supportive and try to understand. You may never truly be able to empathise with your anxious partner, but this isn’t essential for a healthy relationship to flourish. Be on the lookout for the betterment of their mental health as well as your own.
Need a Date Coach to Help Dating with Anxiety?
Maybe you’re looking to understand more about how to date someone with anxiety but need help? This is where our date coaching service may be useful. We have helped several couples of all backgrounds and ages address problems in their relationship to make theirs stronger. If you’re struggling with anxiety in a relationship or looking to learn more about how to date someone with anxiety, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our team.