If you have anxiety, you might have already figured out how it affects you, your job, your self-confidence, or your actions. Maybe you know that regular therapy is crucial and consistent meditation makes a big difference in your anxiety-relief routine. But what we often don’t consider is how anxiety affects our relationships. While anxiety affects us (and our relationships) in different ways (a lot are actually positive, FYI), there are a few common symptoms experts say to look out for that could be damaging your relationship. Read on to learn six ways that your anxiety might be affecting your relationships and what to do about it.
1. You may act irritable to your loved ones
When anxiety strikes, we can easily get angry or come off as irritable or cranky due to overstimulation, feeling overwhelmed, or getting upset with ourselves. “People with anxiety might be preoccupied with their experience and the symptoms of anxiety, which might make them feel irritable or on edge,” explained Diante Fuchs, a clinical psychologist, anxiety coach, and relationship therapist.
If you catch yourself being short with your significant other or taking your emotions out on them, try explaining that your irritation is not because of them or anything they’ve done. Even if your initial reaction is annoyance or anger at them, you’re really upset at the situation or even at yourself, not at your partner. Try vocalizing something like, “I’m not upset with you, I am just feeling anxious.” Naming what you’re experiencing can immediately take the hard feelings out of it and clue your partner in to what you’re going through. Instead of getting defensive or irritable in response, they will know to give you some space or comfort, depending on what you need.
2. You might cancel plans frequently
When you’re anxious, even the thought of a social outing or plan you made previously can feel overwhelming. If you find yourself dreading plans or feeling a panic attack coming on, you may be tempted to cancel last minute. “Extrovert environments can sometimes make those who experience anxiety feel as though they are performing or having to be ‘on,’” said Evan Marmol, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist who specializes in anxiety. “Many people with anxiety might react by canceling plans at the last minute due to lack of energy or checking out of social events when feeling overwhelmed. While others might view this behavior as flightiness or a lack of interest, it’s a means of survival and self-preservation.”
Try to understand that your partner might interpret this behavior as you being flaky or not prioritizing them, no matter how good your intentions. To avoid this becoming an issue in your relationship, be as honest as you’re comfortable with about what you’re experiencing. A person who does not suffer from anxiety may not understand, so let them know that you were excited about your plans but a crowd feels overwhelming right now. Instead, suggest an alternative plan you feel more comfortable with or an alternative time if you want alone time or space right now.
3. You might need consistent reassurance
Anxiety might make you question what other people think of you: whether they like you, love you, are mad at you, or if their feelings for you have changed. Because of the worry that comes with anxiety, you might seek out more consistent reassurance to quiet the worry. Besides working with a therapist and individually on gaining self-assurance and confidence, find out your love language. If your partner knows how you feel loved and reassured, they can more easily make an effort to help you feel secure.
This may mean you are asking for reassurance more than others or are feeling insecure more than other people do. It’s important for you to be honest and find people who are OK with learning your needs and making you feel reassured. If you don’t know your love language, you can take this quiz to find out! Knowing how to best receive/feel reassured or loved can help you communicate to your friends, family, and partner what they can do that would give you reassurance or help ease your mind when you find yourself doubting their feelings for you.
Marmol also said that “there is a perception that anxiety makes people less than rather than simply different. Those with anxiety are often highly perceptive, dutiful, and empathetic,” so next time you are feeling anxious or insecure, remind yourself that your anxiety actually means you bring something special to the table.
4. Your partner could unintentionally trigger you
People with anxiety often have triggers, like being in a crowd, experiencing unrelated stress, or changes in routine. If a new date suggests going to a crowded party or you and your significant other (inevitably) have a fight, your anxiety might be triggered, causing confusion, miscommunication, or conflict with your partner. Of course, your partner did not mean to trigger you, but they may not know what is and isn’t a trigger for your anxiety. The most important solution is to know your own triggers.
Work with a therapist, keep track in a journal, or reflect on past experiences to get to know situations and feelings that ignite your anxiety. Either clue your partner in to what your triggers are or have a game plan going into situations where potential triggers might arise. For example, if you and your partner get into a normal disagreement and you would typically shut off or escalate the fight by saying things you don’t mean out of feeling like you’re being rejected, make a plan to take a “break” from the argument or tell your partner to remind you they love you before you’re able to talk it through. Knowing where your anxiety might be triggered will help you both avoid conflict and confusion.
5. You can experience miscommunication
If both of you have experienced anxiety, it’s typically much easier for you to relate and communicate how anxiety is affecting your relationship so that it does not become an issue. However, if only one of you has experienced anxiety (or worked on their anxiety), there’s more likely to be some miscommunication or not being on the same page. “Partners often just don’t seem to get it if they haven’t struggled with anxiety themselves,” Fuchs said.
Just like anything else, it takes a lot of active listening to understand something your partner experienced but you haven’t. Maybe they’re not as understanding of your triggers or don’t really get why your anxiety manifests in certain ways. Don’t rely on them to ease your anxiety so you don’t put unfair pressure or resentment on your partner (you should be working on that individually!), but communicate as openly and honestly as possible so your partner can understand your experience.
6. Your intimacy might take a hit
Beyond your communication and love languages, anxiety can affect libido, making intimacy with your partner more difficult. Heather Mazzei, ASW, a social worker and writer for Modern Intimacy, explained that anxiety is a common cause of not being able to orgasm or lacking sex drive. “Anxiety may be keeping you from orgasm by worrying about your performance, the relationship, having an orgasm, or simply anxiety about receiving pleasure,” she said.
Besides working on your anxiety with a therapist, Mazzei recommended practicing with yourself first so you feel more comfortable receiving pleasure and get to know what you like. Also, communication and mindfulness are key. Talking through insecurities or worries beforehand can help ease the anxiety during sex. While you’re being intimate with your partner, try to stay mindful. Take deep breaths, focus on sensations in each part of your body, give yourself an affirmation, and (of course) stop if you don’t feel comfortable.
Bottom line: Work on your anxiety in the ways that are best for you and give yourself compassion. Don’t rely on a romantic partner to take away anxiety for you, but make sure you’re with someone who supports you however they can through the uncomfortable and hard times.
If you think you may be anxiety, it’s important to reach out and get help. See your doctor, get in contact with a therapist, and/or talk to a close friend or family member. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or actions, please get help immediately.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Crisis Textline: text CONNECT to 741741