Is anxiety affecting your relationship?
Discussing your anxiety disorder with your boyfriend or girlfriend can make you feel, well, anxious. The Mix is here to guide you through handling your relationship as well as your mental health.
Telling your partner you have anxiety
Talking about anxiety can seem like a daunting prospect, but you’re not dropping a huge bombshell. “Anxiety is very common. All of us face it sometimes,” says Professor Chris Williams, a patron of Anxiety UK.
“Most of us have friends or relatives who are scared of things like wasps, heights or flying, so most people understand the concept,” he says. “It doesn’t mean you’re totally different from everyone else.”
How to start talking about anxiety
Get the conversation started by following these steps.
Plan what to say: “Think through what you’re going to say in your own words,” says Chris. “Be honest and remember how normal and common these things are.”
Pick a good time: Find a time that’s calm and quiet – don’t try to talk to your boyfriend or girlfriend when they’re distracted or in a hurry.
Keep it practical: Chris recommends giving specific examples. “Tell them you have difficulties getting the bus or being in a crowded place, rather than simply saying: ‘by the way, I have anxiety.'”
Explain things clearly: People mean all kinds of things when they talk about anxiety, fear, or nerves, so explain how you’re actually affected.
Help them relate: You could remind them of a time when they felt nervous or scared, like a job interview, and ask them to imagine feeling like that on a regular basis.
Don’t overload them: People can only take in so much information. “Just as you wouldn’t say everything about yourself on a first date, consider how much to say at the beginning,” says Chris.
I get anxious about my relationship
It’s normal to have some worries in a relationship. Do they still fancy you? Are things going well? “It becomes a problem when these very normal concerns dominate your thinking and you keep going over and over them,” says Chris.
“It’s all too easy to build things up in your head and assume you know what other people are thinking. Don’t try to read people’s minds,” he adds.
Try not to keep asking your partner for reassurance. “It’s normal to want to hear nice things, but if you’re constantly asking for answers, praise and reassurance, it becomes unattractive and clingy.”
It won’t help you, either. Constant reassurance actually stops you from getting better as you’re not moving past your insecurities. “The problem with reassurance is that you can never have enough of it,” says Chris. “It just leads to more checking.”
Is it the relationship or my anxiety?
If you’re feeling anxious about problems in your relationship it can be hard to tell if you’ve got a genuine reason to be upset, or if your anxiety is doing all the talking inside your head.
So long as your partner’s not being abusive, you could try discussing it with them. Avoid attacking them, though – try to keep things as neutral as possible.
Do say: “We seem to be spending less time together. Have you noticed that too? If there’s something on your mind, could we talk through it together?” Don’t say: “You don’t want to see me. I bet you’re cheating on me. Why don’t you love me anymore?”
It can help to imagine a friend is describing the issue – what advice would you give them? You might want to ask someone you trust for an objective opinion, or try posting on The Mix’s noticeboards.
What if I feel guilty that they have to put up with my anxiety?
All relationships need some give and take. Wouldn’t you be understanding if your boyfriend or girlfriend was having a hard time? It’s fine to expect the same from them.
You might feel bad, but those are your feelings and concerns. Don’t assume your partner agrees. If they’re happy to support you, that’s their choice. And if they’re upset or frustrated, those feelings are about the illness – they’re not about you.
Anxiety doesn’t cancel out the reasons why they fancied you in the first place, so try not to lose sight of your strengths. After all, there’s more to you than your condition, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
My boyfriend/girlfriend just doesn’t understand
The fact is that you might not get the support and understanding you were hoping for. “Sometimes people don’t really want to listen or understand for all sorts of reasons,” says Chris.
“It may come from their own upbringing if their parents haven’t done illness or talking very well and they feel uncomfortable discussing these things. Or they could find it tough because of an issue in their own life.”
You could try giving them information from places like Mind or the Royal College of Psychiatrists. But if they really don’t get it, you might need to question whether they’re the right person for you.
“It’s important to feel you can trust your partner and tell them about important things,” says Chris. “Living a lie isn’t a good way to be in a relationship.”
By Anne Wollenberg
Updated on 29-Sep-2015
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