The INSIDER Summary:
- I have anxiety.
- My boyfriend of two years and I have not always had an easy time navigating the challenges that come with that.
- Through patience, not taking things personally, and having good communication, he’s helped me immensely.
- Having a good support system can help people with anxiety get help through whatever channels they need.
I’ve always been a really anxious person, but as I got older, the anxiety only got worse. Panic could hit me at any moment, whether I was shopping or watching TV.
Living with this for a long time, I’ve developed ways of coping. I’ve seen a therapist and I’ve gotten to know my brain better. I can better predict when an onslaught of panic is coming my way and I now have successful ways of coping.
But just when I thought I had it all (mostly) figured out, another person came into the mix.
When I started dating my boyfriend, he knew full-well I had anxiety. We had been friends for many years, so he’d seen me leave bars early or excuse myself to sit in a room alone for a while and then quietly rejoin the group with minimal comment. He knew this side of my anxiety, the side that many see and the front that I put on, but not what was happening behind closed doors.
Once we began dating, however, he was forced to confront what my having anxiety really meant. And, it didn’t go great at first.
Expecting someone without anxiety to fully understand how someone with anxiety operates is like trying to teach a dog to speak Spanish; you’re both going to end up frustrated. But, with some care and some serious patience, you can make your relationship as “normal” as possible.
After over two years of dating my boyfriend, there are some things we’ve both learned that help make things easier.
Know your partners’ triggers.
There are more types of anxiety than there are flavors of ice cream, and everyone who has it reacts differently. But most people will tell you that they have certain factors that set them off or make them more prone to panic.
Knowing the things that make your partner uncomfortable can help you avoid putting them in those situations. If something is unavoidable, simply knowing that it is a trigger for them will help you react in a more helpful way.
It also helps you plan practically, like knowing not to surprise your partner with plane tickets for a spontaneous getaway if they experience anxiety while flying.
Learn how they cope.
Even if your partner has not sought therapy (more on that later!), they will most likely have a set of behaviors or habits that help them when they get anxious. Asking what you can do and paying attention to how they calm themselves can make a world of a difference.
Be aware that normal behaviors you may rely on to soothe an upset person — like physical contact or trying to distract them — may actually make things worse for someone with anxiety. That’s why the best thing you can do is ask what works best for them.
This communication can go a long way in helping to decrease their anxiety and hopefully bypassing some snafus along the way. Just ask my boyfriend what happens when someone tries to hug me when I’m really in the throes of anxiety (it’s not pretty). He’s learned that he needs to sit with me instead.
Encourage them to seek help in whatever form they need.
I truly believe even the most well-adjusted person could benefit from at least a little therapy, but that’s because I have a great relationship with my therapist. Not everyone is that lucky and not everyone is ready to try therapy.
It’s important to not force your partner into any forms of treatment that they’re not comfortable with, but to help them find outlets that really work for their needs. My boyfriend was incredibly helpful when I mentioned wanting to try therapy, but also encouraged me when I used cooking and spin classes as ways to decrease my anxiety, too.
Maybe painting helps your partner or perhaps they’ve found serious relief by being prescribed anti-anxiety medications. Barring unsafe behaviors, encouraging your partner to find out what works for them in a non-judgmental space can work wonders.
Try not to take things personally.
A lot of my anxiety is around food. One time, my boyfriend put what I considered to be very old cheese in a soup he had worked for hours on, and I outright refused to eat it. At first he got very frustrated — understandably so — but after discussing it, we found a solution for this type of situation to protect both his feelings and mine in the future.
That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. While it’s important that I honor his feelings and do my best not to hurt him, there’s always a possibility my anxiety is going to affect him negatively. When that happens, I really appreciate that he does his best to recognize that it’s my chemical makeup that’s frustrating him and I have little to no control over it most of the time. And as bad as he feels, he knows that I feel about ten times worse for hurting him, so he does his best not to take it personally and I try not to do it again.
Remember: It’s all a work in progress.
As much as I would love to say that our relationship is now rainbows and unicorns and that we hold the secret to happiness, I can’t. But, it’s important to remember that everything in life — including both your and your partner’s relationship to their anxiety — is a complicated beast. You’ll have good days and bad, you’ll sometimes feel like they’re completely over their fears and other times you’ll take 10 steps back.
It’s okay to be frustrated and it’s okay to be hopeful. Take it one day at a time and know that every setback is the start to a new come up.
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