How to Cope When Your Partner Suffers From Anxiety

When your partner is in the throes of an anxiety disorder, the illness can quickly become the main focus of the entire household. In fact, research found that couples in which one partner suffers from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are twice as likely to have relationship problems.

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Although that study was specifically related to GAD, anxiety disorders come in all flavors, from panic disorder to social anxiety, phobias, OCD, and PTSD, just to name a few. Altogether, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety, making it the number one mental illness in the US. And yet, only about a third of those people ever get treated.

So, if your spouse is suffering from anxiety, what can you do?

1. Recognize the effects on your life

From chores to earning a paycheck, an anxious person might not be able to take on his or her fair share, leaving the "well" partner with all the responsibilities. Besides the extra workload, partners of anxiety sufferers tend to start to disrupt their own routines to make allowances for the "anxious" one -- from avoiding social situations to accommodating any range of phobias -- and that can quickly start to limit life as if you both were suffering from the same illness. The point is, it ain't easy living with someone suffering from anxiety, and you need to recognize fully the toll it's taking on your life, in addition to your partner's.

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2. Take care of yourself

Make sure you have the right support. Whether it's extra help around the house, a gym membership, or your own individual therapy sessions, it's critical you take care of yourself too so you have the strength to support your partner through his or her fight against anxiety.

3. You cannot "fix" this 

Since you're used to be a superhero who handles everything from bringing home the bacon to knocking out the dishes, it would only seem natural that you should be able to "fix" your anxiety-plagued partner with the same special brand of efficiency. Right? Wrong. You can't fix an anxiety disorder with any amount of love or understanding. All you can do is help your partner seek treatment and encourage him or her through that process.

4. Enlist professional help

Don't go it alone. Learning to live with anxiety, or a partner suffering from anxiety, is no simple task. Dr. Carla Marie Greco Manly, a relationship expert and clinical psychologist, suggests the best place to seek help for an anxiety disorder is a medical professional, since many of most recognizable symptoms of anxiety can be physical.

5. Develop an "anxiety tool kit"

Anxiety episodes, according Dr. Manly, can present themselves in all sorts of ways, from an acute panic attack to a mild episode that can be addressed with simple calming techniques, including breathing, yoga poses, and even anxiety medication. Work with your partner and his or her health care provider to determine what works best for him or her -- usually by good old-fashioned trial and error.

"Once an 'anxiety tool kit' has been found effective, the steps can be listed, printed out, and posted in a handy location for ready reference. The sufferer may find great relief simply by knowing that an outline of care and support is readily available," Dr. Manly recommends. 

Any relationship comes with its own set of foibles and issues -- and anxiety disorder presents its own set of complicated challenges. The most important thing you can bring to the relationship, according to Dr. Manly, is judgment-free, empathetic support and compassion. It's also essential that you de-program any thinking that you can control the anxiety disorder through any number of heroic and self-sacrificial efforts. Ultimately all you can control is how you react. The rest is up to your partner.

 

Image via Aleshyn_Andrei/shutterstock

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