My girlfriend/boyfriend has anxiety

Discovering your girlfriend or boyfriend has an anxiety disorder may feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. With our guidance you can help them through anything from panic attacks to them blaming you for everything.

Boy trying to comfort girl

What can you do when reassurance just isn't working?

How do I handle my partner with anxiety?

How can you help your partner and yourself? Try following these steps.

Don’t judge: Their fears won’t vanish just because you think they’re irrational, and they can’t just decide to snap out of it.

Be patient: Recovery is likely to take a while, so don’t expect overnight miracles.

Avoid pandering: Don’t bend over backwards to accommodate their fears and worries. That just maintains their condition.

Look after yourself: Make sure you look after your own needs too. It won’t help either of you if you don’t.

Be reliable: Don’t change arrangements at the last minute, or fail to do what you say you will – that just feeds the anxiety.

Expect ups and downs: If they’re getting better, chances are they’ll have a relapse at some point. It’s totally normal.

How to cope when they’re freaking out

If you know your partner has anxiety, you don’t need to wait for an actual attack before you figure out how to handle it.

You can get information from organisations like Mind, Anxiety UK and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, but as everyone is affected in different ways your boyfriend or girlfriend is the best source of information.

Ask what triggers their anxiety, how they feel and what helps. Don’t pressurise them to talk, but let them know you’re willing to listen.

Helping is one thing, but don’t take over. “It’s tempting to step in and do things for them,” says Professor Chris Williams, a patron of Anxiety UK. “If they’re anxious about going shopping, you might say you’ll do it, but that reinforces their belief that they can’t. It’s better to help them do it themselves.”

What if they’re being unreasonable and panicky?

Seeing someone have an anxiety attack can be an unsettling experience, and it doesn’t help if they give you a tongue-lashing in the process. Do tell them if you’re upset, but wait until they’ve calmed down – they can’t discuss your hurt feelings while in the throes of a panic attack.

Try to describe the feeling rather than acting it out. If you’re angry, losing your temper and shouting won’t help, so you might say: “I feel angry about what happened earlier and I’d like to talk about that.”

Anxiety doesn’t give your partner the right to do or say anything, so don’t let it become an excuse. If your partner keeps pushing your limits, or they’re being horrible regardless of whether they’re actually having an attack, it’s time to speak up.

Reassuring them doesn’t work

Frustrating, we know, but it’s frustrating for them, too. In any case, offering reassurance doesn’t actually help. It maintains the situation rather than encouraging your partner to change things.

“Reassurance becomes addictive,” says Chris. “You can never have enough. Don’t get into a pattern of giving it. Tell your partner if you like something about them, but say it when you want to and not because you feel they’re seeking reassurance.”

How do I keep my own life?

“Don’t suddenly try to change yourself, or change how you relate to people,” says Chris. “If you start trying to second-guess your partner or act differently, you’ll be presenting a false picture. You both need to be honest.

“You want to feel you’re both getting things out of the relationship and enjoying yourselves,” he says. That might mean doing some things without your partner. “If you love football and they can’t handle going to a match, that might be something you do without them.”

How can I encourage them to get help?

There’s loads of help available, from talking to your GP to using self-help resources like Living Life to the Full, but you can’t force your partner to get help.

“Pick a time and place to bring it up and think about what you want to say. Try to keep it as specific as possible,” says Chris. “Don’t say: ‘I think you’re suffering from anxiety’. Try to pick a time when anxiety might have got in the way.”

“You might say: ‘Remember when we were invited to that party? I’d have liked to go, but it seemed to be difficult for you. I’ve noticed that before. Can we talk about whether there’s something we could do that might help?'”

Chris suggests using an information leaflet as a talking point, as you can read out specific examples and ask if they’ve ever felt like that. “That can help you have the conversation,” he says. “The fact that the leaflet exists shows how common it is – they don’t write leaflets for just one person.”

What if they won’t discuss their anxiety?

You can encourage your boyfriend or girlfriend to get help, but you can’t make them.

“Sometimes people don’t want to talk about it because they feel scared or guilty,” says Chris. “All sorts of strong emotions can be involved. You can’t force them to talk about it, but you can tell them you’re concerned.”

Photo of comforting couple by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • Do you want to understand your relationship better? Love Smart helps you work it all out.
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By Anne Wollenberg

Updated on 22-Dec-2015