When we start a relationship, we're often prepared for some of the challenges - both silly and serious - that come with dating someone new. Some people have overbearing parents. Some people struggle with their finances. Some just chew food to loudly. In the dating world, there are issues that can come up which put stress on the relationship, and it is up to you as a couple if it's worth overcoming it.
Dating someone with anxiety, however, can represent an entirely new challenge. Men and women with anxiety are often amazing people. But the anxiety itself almost becomes the relationship's third wheel - a distressing friend that always seems to come with you wherever you go.
But that doesn't mean the relationship has to struggle. It just means you have to understand more about what it means to date someone with anxiety - just as you would have to understand someone with a different culture or different set of values. This piece provides an overview of many of the most important questions you may have about dating someone with anxiety.
QUICK OVERVIEW: What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a mental health disorder. There are different forms.
- Generalized anxiety is when someone has an always-present anxiousness in most situations.
- Panic disorder is anxiety that causes severe, sometimes debilitating anxiety attacks.
- Social anxiety is when a person is feels anxiety in social situations (think: shyness, but with stronger physical symptoms).
- Obsessive compulsive disorder is when a person has recurring, persistent thoughts that cause them stress, and they have to find an outlet to get rid of those thoughts.
- Post traumatic stress disorder is when a person experienced a trauma so severe that their minds and bodies are always on edge.
Anxiety is more than just "nervousness." It is a condition that has both mental AND physical symptoms, and one that is caused by the chemicals in the brain. Anxiety is treatable, but it is not something that the other person has much control over in the moment. They cannot wish it away. Their brain will not let them.
What's it Like to Date Someone With Anxiety?
Dating someone with anxiety is not unlike dating someone without anxiety. Some people are funny. Some people are smart. Some people are fun to be around. Even though the anxiety may feel like it has a heavy presence on your dating life (and there may be days where it does), the dating process of feeling out each other and seeing if you have a connection is no different.
Where anxiety tends to affect relationships has to do with how the couples support each other when a person has an anxiety disorder. When you're dating a man with anxiety, for example, you may find he's sensitive about it, since many men are taught that they have to be brave and anxiety is a sign of weakness. If you're younger and dating a girl with anxiety, you may find she's still coming to terms with her own anxiety among other stressors, like college life.
Here's a cheat sheet for what you may need to know dating someone with anxiety:
- They do not want to have anxiety.
- They cannot control their anxiety.
- There are reasons that they may not be ready to get help.
- Their anxiety is something you may have to get used to.
- They still need to be a good partner to you.
There may also be situations when you have to adjust plans or change your expectations when something triggers your partner's anxiety. Learning these and coming to terms with them will help your relationship be better.
**Note that dating can also give people anxiety. Dating is scary, even for those without an anxiety disorder. The person you're seeing could be experiencing anxiety because of the relationship, either because of it a trigger (such as for those with social anxiety) or because of past trauma.
What Are Anxiety Triggers and How Might They Affect Your Relationship?
Some anxiety occurs at what seems like random times. But other people have triggers. Triggers are events or situations that may cause a surge in anxiety.
- Someone with social anxiety may have a hard time with public spaces or crowded parties.
- Someone with panic attacks may have anxiety when they feel strange physically.
- Someone with generalized anxiety may have more anxiety right after an unexpected occurrence.
Triggers are different both for different people and different forms of anxiety. Learning your partner's triggers will help you know how/when to care for your partner and potentially how to avoid triggering the anxiety yourself.
Most partners that have struggled with anxiety for a while can tell you their triggers. Make sure you're open to listening and avoid being judgmental, even if a trigger feels strange or irrational. Anxiety is irrational. It doesn't make it any easier for them to control.
What Can You Do to Make Your Relationship Better?
If you have found yourself in a relationship with someone that has anxiety, and you're enjoying that relationship, then you might be asking yourself what you can do to make it work. Anxiety can make relationships more challenging. But they don't always have to.
The following tips can help you address your partner's anxiety in the best way for both of you and reduce the stress it has on you as a couple.
- Talk to Your Partner and Ask Questions - Your partner knows their anxiety. It's okay to ask them questions about their triggers, what they think about, and what they need from you.
- Let Your Partner Talk to You - Sometimes, your partner may just need to talk. During periods of anxiety, the act of telling you what they're feeling may be how they cope. Even if you've heard it before, letting them talk and listening can help them a lot, and bring you two closer.
- Reflect on Your Own Differences Before Being Judgmental - Anxiety can be a big deal in a relationship. But it's also just one part of your partner, and you may find that you also have baggage or issues that affect your relationship as well. It's helpful to remind yourself that everyone has their own issues, and anxiety doesn't have to be worse or better than anyone else's challenges.
- Address Your Own Mental Health - When you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, addressing your own mental health (your stresses/anxieties) can both benefit you and benefit your partner, who will likely feel better the happier and calmer you are.
- Learn - There is so much information about anxiety out there. If you research that anxiety on your own time, you may learn more about anxiety - and your partner - so that you understand them better and know how to handle different situations.
Above all else, treat your relationship like you would any other. Anxiety is a mental health disorder, and might feel strange to you if you've never been with anyone that struggled with it. But it's just another form of "baggage" that most people bring with them into a relationship, no different than many other situations.
Continue to date if you feel a connection. End the relationship if you don't. In the interim, learn more about anxiety so that you can be the best partner for your boyfriend or girlfriend, and communicate your needs to your partner so that they can be the best person for you.
Common Questions About Dating Someone with Anxiety
Q: What Should You Not Do When Dating Someone With Anxiety?
Common mistakes that some partners make include telling their partner to "just not think about it" or "get over it" (neither of which are easy or possible), finding yourself frequently annoyed by their anxiety, or trying to trick them into getting over an anxiety trigger (like showing a spider to someone with a phobia of spiders).
Different people may also have different needs. Men are taught that anxiety is weaknesses and may feel ashamed, so watching your language about their masculinity is important. Women may be ignored when they have anxiety, so treating your partner like their anxiety matters helps. But above all talk to your partner and they'll tell you what to do and not to do.
Q: Should I Date Someone With Anxiety?
If you like them, then yes! Anxiety isn't "them." It's just one part of many. They may be a person with anxiety that also has a great sense of humor and can cook. They may be someone with anxiety that loves opera and is great with budgeting. Their anxiety is one part of many, and the person should be looked at as a whole rather than one individual quality.
Q: Can Anxiety Ruin a Relationship?
It can, but it doesn't have to. Anxiety is treatable. It is also only one quirk - one part of their life. Some people are rude to waiters and belch loudly during moves. Some people are high strung and quick to anger. Some people have anxiety. There are couples that find that anxiety has barely any effect on their relationship at all, and others that find it a big part of it.
As long as you're communicating throughout and patient - and as long as your partner is communicating and patient with you - whether anxiety ruins your relationship is often more about your relationship than it is the anxiety.
Q: How Do You Calm Someone With Anxiety?
This answer may be different for every couple. Ask your partner what they need and they'll probably tell you. But there are a few ways that you can help. First, try to avoid your own negative emotions, like frustration or stress. Second, listen to what your partner is telling you. Sometimes by telling you what they need they'll start to feel better. Third, be a patient distraction.
Distracting people from their anxiety can be very helpful, because anxiety causes people to withdraw into their thoughts and distracting them can be a way to take them out of it.