Written by Paoula Saoud, Clinical Psychologist at the Valens Clinic.
In relationships, anxiety manifests in different ways affecting both partners:
Excessive worry: a partner with anxiety may excessively worry about the state of the relationship. They may repeatedly doubt their partner’s feelings or intentions.
Overthinking and catastrophizing: anxiety can lead to overanalysing situations, this interpretation would be hinted by several cognitive distortions known as negative and irrational patterns of thinking: including catastrophizing, personalization, discounting the positive, black and white thinking etc. Small incidents or situations may be blown out of proportion leading the partner with anxiety to imagine the worst-case scenario affecting his emotional wellbeing such as, an intense reaction or repeatedly calling your partner or imagining him leaving you if they did not answer your text message.
Insecurity and need for reassurance: anxiety can lead the person to feel insecure about themselves or the relationship. it interferes with the perception of oneself and the perception that they have of how their partner perceives them. These perceptions lead to constantly fearing rejection or abandonment. They may seek constant reassurance from their partner which can make them both feel overwhelmed.
My partner is anxious, how can I support?
Remember that “it takes two people to tango”, therefore it takes two people to create a safe space and healthy patterns in a relationship.
Communication: open and honest communication is vital in a relationship, especially if anxiety is involved. Partners need to discuss their feelings and their needs with each other without fear. The more open you are, the more your partner will know how to respond to you and the more you can build trust and venture in the relationship. the communication style is also an important factor, avoid statements such as “you did this” and revert more to “I felt this way”.
Challenging negative thoughts: whether you have anxiety or you are supporting someone with anxiety, helping them challenge negative thinking and rationalizing behind the distorted thoughts can minimize overthinking and imagining the worst-case scenario. The goal is to develop and practice rational thinking while seeking evidence to refute or support the thoughts.
Boundaries: establishing boundaries is important for both partners. Communicating these boundaries will help you and your partner address your needs and comfort levels and respond to each other needs effectively. Boundaries can involve the limits between both partners but also external limits between the couple and the world.
Empathy: recognize that anxiety can be very overwhelming for both partners. Try to avoid negative comments such as “this is not worth it”, ‘’you are stronger than this’’, ‘’you are not confident’’ and instead provide validation and reassurance asking questions to know more about your partner and why they are feeling this way. Showing understanding, patience, and respect can help both partners navigate through difficult moments.
Self-care: prioritize activities that can help you cope with stressful situations such as exercise, meditation, relaxation techniques. This can positively impact both your psychological wellbeing and your relationship.
Seek support: consider seeking professional help from a clinical psychologist to address this anxiety, understand its core and develop strategies to better manage anxiety triggering situations in the context of the relationship.