Dating is a daunting process at the best of times, right?
The nerves, the butterflies, the excitement. The thoughts racing through your head and the feelings pulsating through your body.
Now imagine that you suffer from crippling anxiety. How much more complex and challenging do you think it would be?
All those thoughts and emotions turned up to the max… and then some.
Well, if you are dating someone with anxiety, you need to learn how to deal with it.
And you need to learn fast.
Only then can you give the relationship the best chance of developing into something more.
Your new partner has probably had to battle various demons just to get to where you both are now. So this is a person who deserves your respect and admiration.
Their experiences and perspectives are uniquely personal. Their anxiety is too. How they are managing it and what they need to avoid to keep things calm and peaceful is probably a process they have worked on over a number of years.
So while this article will attempt to give you – the partner – a comprehensive overview of how you might approach this relationship differently to others in your past, your new partner may have their own specific needs and preferences.
So bear this in mind when applying what you learn here today.
With all this being said, what are some good things to do, and not do, when dating someone who lives with anxiety?
1. DO Ask Questions And Develop An Understanding
As we’ve said, anxiety is an intensely personal experience.
Reading articles to gain general knowledge about the condition is helpful, but it can’t offer the answers that an individual should be giving for themselves.
So, an open discussion involving plenty of questions will help smooth out the experience for both you and your partner.
The best time to ask questions is when they are in a neutral, calm mental space.
What can I do to help you if your anxiety is acting up?
What can I do to make the process of getting to know you easier on you?
Is there anything I should be aware of that will help or harm you?
Is there anything that you think I should know?
Your partner may find it difficult to talk about their anxiety, especially since you are still getting to know one another. So don’t push too hard right away.
You don’t have to learn all there is to learn about their anxiety in one go, just like you don’t have to learn all there is to know about someone who doesn’t have anxiety in one go.
Nor would you be able to.
Relationships that offer a genuine connection take time – and that’s the truth regardless whether someone struggles with their mental health.
But do not underestimate the power of observation either. They may not be able to put everything into words you’d be able to understand, so watching how they act and react to certain things is another important way to learn about their condition.
Study their body language and facial expressions in different situations. This will help you identify how they might be feeling and, thus, how you might best respond.
Take note of situations that seem to trigger their anxiety and try to avoid them. Maybe they hate crowds or public transport or loud bars.
Remember the main lesson of this section – ask questions. If you think they’re uncomfortable, wait until they’ve found their calm once more and ask them if your observations were correct.
Observe, but verify. Do not assume things (we’ll talk more about this later).
The more you can get to know them and their anxiety, the more at ease they will feel around you. They will feel like you’ve made the effort to understand them and that they can be themselves around you.
2. DO Be Patient And Learn When To Take A Step Back
Patience is an important quality because there will be times where waiting is the only option.
Anxiety can sometimes be derailed with different techniques, and sometimes not. Sometimes all we can do is wait for a bout of anxiety to pass.
People often have this need to do something to try to fix a problem that they see.
Resist this temptation.
Understand that anxiety cannot be cured. It can only be managed through a variety of techniques or with the help of medication.
Don’t rush in at the first sign of anxiety to save the day. Your partner knows this experience better than anyone and you run the risk of making things worse if you think you know better because you’ve read this article (or anything else for that matter).
It might be difficult to witness and you might feel compelled to help in some way, but the best thing you can do is be there with them.
Give help when asked for, but only when asked for.
Patience will also help when your partner needs reassurance. Because they will do. Probably many times, and especially at first.
Anxiety can cause a person to dwell on worst case scenarios, even when things are going well. So if you really like this person and you truly want to be with them, you won’t mind telling them that again and again to ease their concerns.
3. DO Be Prompt And Communicate Clearly
In a society where ghosting, dragging things out, and avoidance of anything difficult is becoming more prevalent, a simple bit of promptness can really help a person with anxiety stay grounded.
That is not to say that you should stay married to your smartphone or be at the beck and call of your new partner. There is a balance to strike to avoid crossing the line into overbearing or controlling behavior.
It’s just that simple things like returning a call or text message, pre-planning and confirming an activity, or a message if running late can make a big difference by demonstrating consideration.
Removing unknowns and variables with the potential to go wrong will let a person with anxiety relax more.
Again, the more you can understand their anxiety, the more you’ll be able to act in ways that help avoid or alleviate the worst of it.
4. DO Practice Maintaining Calm In Testing Situations
Anxiety disorders can produce a lot of different feelings, including anger or hostility that doesn’t necessarily make sense in the context of a situation.
Throwing anger back at a person who is working their way through an anxiety attack only makes things worse.
So your challenge (and it can be a real challenge at times) is to meet your partner’s anger or hostility with a calm demeanor.
This is not the natural reaction that most people have. Most people respond to anger with anger, especially if they feel attacked.
Well, your partner may say or do things that hurt you when their anxiety is heightened. Things that they don’t really mean.
Anxiety is not an excuse for such rude or mean behavior, but it can be a reason for it. As hard is may be, trying to compartmentalize an attack by them on you during an episode of anxiety is one way to ease the emotional effect it has on you.
You have to tell yourself that this is their anxiety talking through them. It is not the calm, loving person you are dating that wants to hurt you.
This comes with a caveat: abuse is not something that should be glossed over or tolerated.
There is no reason to be anyone’s emotional punching bag. If you are not sure of the situation or relationship you’ve found yourself in, the best thing you can do is visit a counselor and get a neutral, third-party opinion.
That being said, no one is perfect. There are going to be some rough times to navigate. That’s just the way it is in a relationship with someone with a mental illness.
1. DON’T Assume Every Negative Emotion Stems From Anxiety
Not every negative emotion stems from a person’s anxiety. It is really common for people who do not have a mental illness to assume that every negative emotion in a mentally ill person stems from difficulty with their mental illness.
That’s not true.
People with anxiety are still people. Sometimes there are negative emotions, actions, or experiences that can result from poor decisions, bad days, or general frustration.
Assuming that mental illness is always at the root of legitimate emotions is a surefire way to build resentment and shut down communication.
And as we discussed earlier, communication is key to understanding your partner’s anxiety and how their behavior may or may not be related to it.
If you generalize all their emotions as being rooted in their anxiety, you invalidate how they might be feeling. And this can drive a wedge between you.
So don’t jump to conclusions about when anxiety is and isn’t playing a role in your partner’s behavior.
2. DON’T Take Things Personally
We touched on this earlier, but it is worth reiterating. Your partner may, at some point, lash out at you because of their anxiety.
You can’t control when or how this will happen, but it’s worth preparing for it.
People tend to think mental wellness and control are neat, orderly things. They’re not.
Sometimes things spiral out of control. Sometimes techniques learned in therapy do not work. Sometimes medication runs out, or it’s time for a change in dosage. There are numerous reasons why things can go bad.
You may be the focus of their anger of frustration simply because you are the one who is there with them at the moment it strikes.
It’s probably not you they are angry at, even if it seems that way when they are shouting or saying spiteful things to you.
Try to see these outbursts as an unfortunate passenger in your relationship – an annoying child in the backseat of the car who screams and moans at you sometimes.
You wouldn’t give a child the steering wheel, so don’t allow your partner’s outbursts to drive things either.
The obvious question is: “Where do you draw the line?”
The line is drawn wherever you choose to draw it. Some people have the ability to shrug things off with ease; others don’t.
There’s no wrong answer to that question because everyone is different. If you feel you cannot cope when anxiety strikes your partner, there’s no shame in admitting it to them and ending things amicably.
3. DON’T Try To Fix Your Partner
Far too many people think that their love or compassion will overcome and fix a partner’s mental illness, anxiety or otherwise.
This is amazingly far from the truth.
Only an individual can fix themselves. There is no greater, more important truth in trying to extend understanding and love to a person with mental illness.
They are the one that needs to learn about their mental illness, learn how to manage it, and actually implement what they learn to push toward stability and control.
No one else can do it. The best you can do is offer encouragement and support their efforts.
If you’re going to date someone with anxiety, you have to accept that they will probably always have some level of anxiety, even if they can learn to manage it.
Just as you wouldn’t want them to ask you to change, they don’t want you to ask or expect them to change.
They know full well that their anxiety is difficult to live with – they live with it every day. They will do their best to minimize its impact on your relationship, but you have to acknowledge that it will make for some challenging times.
4. DON’T Pity Or Look Down On Your Partner
Compassion is an important facet of the human experience. Sympathy for another person’s plight or challenges in life can demonstrate warmth and facilitate healing.
Pity, however, is a troublesome thing. Pity leads to enabling, and robbing an individual of ownership of their problems.
You can certainly feel bad for someone who is facing a challenge, whether you’re dating someone with anxiety who is having a hard time, or some other complicated matter.