How to Date Someone Who Has Anxiety

How to Date Someone Who Has Anxiety
Photo: polkadot_photo, Shutterstock

Everyone gets a little nervous when it comes to dating. Experiencing butterflies in your stomach as you anticipate your date’s text message or wondering if they feel the same way about you is pretty normal. But for someone who has anxiety, those feelings are much more intense and occur more frequently.

If you’re dating someone with anxiety, it might be frustrating or confusing why your partner feels this way and why it’s difficult for you to help them. Firstly, it’s helpful to understand what anxiety is.

How to understand your partner’s anxiety

While anxiety is a blanket term that can take on different forms for people, when it comes to anxiety in relationships, Dr. Joanne Frederick, a licensed mental health counselor and author of the book Copeology, says the reasons someone might develop anxiety attachment “can stem from their childhood and are most often seen in those with low self esteem who have a more favourable view of others than themselves. They look for security and intimacy from others. It becomes problematic when they become too dependent on these relationships. This can lead to worry and suffocating panic about their partners actions, attention, faithfulness, and loyalty.”

Your partner’s anxiety might be difficult to navigate at times, but that doesn’t mean you should discard the relationship, especially if you feel the connection is worth it. As long as your partner is seeking professional support for their anxiety, Frederick says you can have a great relationship with them.

“Anxious people are not at all ‘crazy,’” Frederick says. “They can be extremely intelligent, high-functional, loving, loyal, empathetic, successful, and fun. The more secure and ‘safe’ they are made to feel by a partner, the less severe their anxiety is likely to be. The partner of an anxious person must be willing to be patient, kind, open-minded and sympathetic.”

If you’re unsure what that entails or looks like in actionable form, Frederick provides some strategies to help you bond more with your beloved.

Learn your partner’s anxiety triggers

According to Frederick, understanding your partner’s triggers is the first step to improving your relationship so you know what sets off their anxiety.

“Learning about their childhood is also helpful, as well, as it will give many clues to what caused the anxiety they are experiencing,” she says. “If their childhood wasn’t the cause, ask them about any trauma they might have experienced if they are comfortable sharing.”

It’s also useful to find out if they are working with a therapist to overcome these issues as that will help both of you connect more holistically.

Help your partner seek treatment — and participate when you can

If your partner isn’t seeking treatment, it’s a good idea to gently suggest that they do. It’s important that you remain supportive, but it’s equally important not to act as their caregiver or therapist.

The reason it is helpful for you to participate, according to Frederick, is “to gain knowledge from a professional who has seen this type of anxious behaviour before and can help you get a handle on it and teach you the best ways to constructively cope with your partner and manage your own emotions. The more you understand about anxiety the more it will make ‘sense’ to you even if you don’t suffer from it.”

Don’t minimise or negate their feelings

Even if your partner’s anxiety doesn’t make sense to you, that doesn’t mean it’s not real for your partner.

“Anxiety does not always make sense or manifest in a logical form, but nevertheless, it is very real to the person experiencing it,” Frederick says. “Using phrases like ‘talk yourself out of it,’ ‘shake it off,’ or ‘its’ all in your head’ will be counterproductive.”

Instead, Frederick suggests the following scripts to soothe your partner:

What can I do right now to help you?

Is there something that upset you this morning or that you are worried about later today or in the future?

Is there somewhere we can go or something we can do together that would take your mind off the anxiety?

You are safe; nothing is going to happen to you; I am here.

Be specific with your words and follow through with your actions

Anxious people often get triggered with inconsistency and lack of information. This can be an easy fix when you understand that being specific with your communication and following through with your actions can help soothe your partner.

“The non-anxious person should not be ‘mysterious,” Frederick says. “For example, don’t say, ‘I’m going out for a few hours, see you later.’ That leads an anxious person to believe there is an element of mystery and deception. Be specific, like, ‘I am going to the mall and then getting a bite to eat with a friend, call my cell if you need me.’ This makes the anxious partner feel that you are upfront and reachable.”

Another example, according to Frederick, is if your partner says, “It makes me really nervous when you are late but don’t call, I get insecure and worry.” Then you can easily fixable that by calling or texting your partner when you are running late.

Of course, you’re entitled to your own boundaries, so this is something you will need to discuss with your partner in terms of how and when you’re reachable to them. When what you say and do are consistently aligned, that will help your anxious partner trust your connection more and will inevitably help you understand each other better.

“The more open you are, the more secure you partner will feel,” Frederick says. “Share what is appropriate for your point in the relationship without acting like you are a CIA agent.”

Signs that this relationship isn’t for you despite your best efforts

At some point, if you have tried to reasonably alter your behaviour to avoid known triggers for your partner, but jealousy, mistrust, and conflict are still prevailing in your relationship, this will only make for an uneasy life that will escalate anxiety for both parties, Frederick says.

“Perhaps you have even tried going to couple’s counseling together,” she says. “It is unreasonable for one partner to expect that they can derive 100% of the ‘oxygen’ they need to survive from another human being. If the attachment anxiety is so severe, that no amount of placating, behaviour altering, support, or ‘coddling’ is improving the situation, then very likely the anxious partner needs more intensive treatment on his/her own before they can be in a healthy romantic partnership.”

And you have every right to walk away.

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