Developing a relationship with someone who has anxiety may depend on approaching one another with empathy as you work through uncomfortable feelings. Compassion can help you deepen your connection.
It might take extra effort if you haven’t experienced an anxiety disorder, but every relationship worth your time will require effort, whether or not mental health conditions are involved. Here are some tips to consider:
1. Try to be curious
Alter and Drake suggest approaching the topic of anxiety with curiosity to learn more about the disorder and how it may affect your partner.
Try asking your partner questions about their experience of anxiety. Establishing a better understanding of where your partner’s anxiety comes from and the kind of situations that might trigger it can help achieve greater empathy.
“Anxiety about their boss disliking them at work is different from anxiety about their health during the pandemic, which is different from anxiety about whether or not you’re going to leave them in the middle of a disagreement,” says Alter.
2. Do your best to kick judgment to the curb
Try not to judge your partner’s anxiety as you develop a better understanding of their triggers. Even if their fears don’t sound real to you, they often feel real to your partner.
Your partner may be hesitant to share their fears with you at first due to stigma. They may have lost jobs, partners, or friends after sharing their feelings and challenges related to anxiety.
3. Consider learning their triggers
“Anxiety manifests itself in different ways for different people. Understanding things that set off or exacerbate your partner’s anxiety and the strategies that have worked for them in the past will allow you to better support them,” says Drake.
Drake warns not to try to “fix” them or “solve” your partner’s anxiety. This mindset is generally unhelpful and could potentially push your partner to feel misunderstood to the point that they stop sharing their feelings.
4. Active listening can be a powerful tool
Do your best to listen to your partner’s fears, triggers, and coping strategies. Drake offers some supportive responses for active listening:
- I am here for you
- you are not alone
- your fears, worries, and triggers are not silly
Try to be honest and patient. Remember that it’s acceptable to answer, “I don’t know.” Curing your partner’s anxiety isn’t necessarily possible, but you can be supportive and help them through it.