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5 Reasons Anxiety and Relationships Go Hand-In-Hand, and How to Make Anxiety Work in Yours

anxiety and relationships

For more than 40 million American adults, anxiety is a daily part of life. And that means their anxiety and relationships spend a lot of time together.

Whether a relationship is familial, “just friends,” professional or romantic, all parties are affected by the traits and behaviors of the people in the relationship.

Intimate relationships are unique in that they are the place where partners come to work through life issues while concurrently co-authoring a new life story. They are also the primary context in which adults express and manage their distress.

If you and anxiety are a package deal, that means your anxiety and relationships are, or will be, a package deal, too. And how you perceive and manage your anxiety will have a direct influence on both your and your partner’s perception of the relationship’s quality.

Anxiety has a spectrum of intensity and usefulness. It also has a sweet spot — a comfy, nestled-under-the-bell curve home where its magic lives.

However, when talking about anxiety and relationships, there are definitely ways in which the anxiety of one partner can put strain on the relationship for both partners.Here are just a few ways that anxiety affects relationships when it lingers beyond the sweet spot:

  • The anxious person worries.

All the time. Is my partner cheating on me? Is s/he going to leave me? This kind of worry can get out of control — literally. The anxious person doesn’t know how not to worry, and their partner gets tired of feeling questioned and doubted, and often retreats defensive.

  • There are communication struggles.

The anxious person can have difficulty communicating feelings about the anxiety, and their partner simply may not understand or “get it.”

  • Sex can end up on the back burner.

While depression can lead to a lack of desire for sex, anxiety can make you overthink it. It can even make you “freak out,” especially if you associate sex with unpleasant feelings. Avoiding sex can leave your partner feeling rejected, and you feeling misunderstood.

  • The anxiety can spread…and begin to drag your partner down.

Before you nix the idea of having a committed relationship if anxiety makes you a threesome, consider the many merits of anxiety. There areways in which moderate anxiety and relationships can work beautifully together.

The first key to the success of your relationship is your awareness of anxiety, and understanding how to optimize it.

Let’s look at 5 positive ways that anxiety and relationships go hand-in-hand:

  1. Anxiety is, at its core, a messenger.

It can be a warning sign of impending danger or a situation crying for change. That recurrent worry and nervousness you feel aren’t necessarily bad. That assumes, of course, that you pay attention to their message before they start screaming for attention.

The person who knows how to utilize moderate anxiety and/or reel in more severe anxiety can use its message as a starting point for growth, without things turning into fight-or-flight chaos.

In terms of relationships, that means the anxious person has a built-in radar for areas of potential conflict. If both partners learn to recognize the nuances of anxiety and communicate about them in a healthy way, they can stave off bigger issues down the road.

Consider that most couples wait an average of six years before getting help with relationship problems, and the edge anxiety can offer in facilitating this growth.

  1. Anxiety can be motivating.

When anxiety is kept in moderation, it can help you feel more motivated and prepared for dealing with challenges. This mindset can be incentivizing when being successful is important to you.

Applying that benefit to your relationship means you will be more conscientious of making the extra efforts to help your relationship flourish. The best relationships, after all, are those in which both partners pay attention to the daily “little things” that lead to long-term satisfaction. Worry about your partner’s happiness can powerfully motivate you to do what you can to faciliate it.

  1. Anxiety makes you more sensitive.

You may have spent much of your life being told, “You’re too sensitive.” But that label, aside from its comparative qualifier “too,” can make you an excellent relationship partner.

At a moderate level, the sensitivity that is characteristic of anxiety makes you more empathetic, understanding, and accepting of others. And who wouldn’t want a life partner who cares at such an intuitive, compassionate level?

  1. Anxiety can make you a better problem-solver.

Anxious people are notorious for thinking. A lot. And if they don’t have control of their anxiety, that thinking can turn into ruminating and incessant worry.

But the inherent gift of that trait is that it makes the anxious person a more cautious thinker. If you live with anxiety, you are probably aware of the extra care you take in making decisions. You consider all the possible outcomes, and you avoid making rash decisions.

This measured thinking is actually a leadership quality that can benefit every area of your life. It could also save your relationship at some point.

  1. Anxiety stimulates connection.

Anxiety doesn’t just produce feelings of self-protection, commonly known as a “fight or flight” response. It can also promote feelings of affiliation and connection. Anxiety and stress are also correlated with social bonding.

Recently coined as the “tend and befriend” response, anxiety fuels us to seek and offer help, a response that helps protect the bonds that matter most to us. Securing these all important connections can be activated by a simple touch.

In a relationship, allowing anxiety to fuel comfort and compassion of a loved one can provide a partner a sense of empowerment, and also promote bonding for both of you.

 

The same qualities that make anxiety potentially advantageous to the anxious individual make it potentially advantageous to a relationship. The same can be said, of course, for the potential disadvantages as well.

Living with anxiety is a committed effort to learn about, manage, and maximize its traits. When anxiety and relationships come together, that commitment is more important than ever because now there is another person involved. And that person will both affect and be affected by the anxiety brought to the relationship.

The beauty of trusting your anxiety to a relationship is that you have the rare opportunity to put its unique benefits to positive use. And if handled with care and loving intention, your relationship can be a welcoming, appreciative place for your anxiety to land.

 

Looking for more help with anxiety and relationships? Check out my new book, Hack Your Anxiety, where I discuss using anxiety as a resource and dedicate three chapters to using it relationships. A free mini-ecourse is also available to help you understand how anxiety impacts your life and how to hack its most common challenges, as well as my twice monthly newsletter.

Photo credit: Joshua Ness for Unsplash

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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