Well-Being//

How Anxiety Destroys Relationships (and How to Stop It)

Don't let it mess with your happiness.

Ahmet Misirligul/Shutterstock
Ahmet Misirligul/Shutterstock

By Kristine Tye, MA, LMFTAnxiety Topic Expert Contributor

There is an abundance of information about how anxiety impacts our health—mentally, emotionally, and physically. Have you considered the impact anxiety may have on the health of your relationship?

Anxiety can cause periods of panic, feelings of fear or overwhelm, and a general sense of unease and tension. It can take over your thoughts and bleed into many areas of your life.

If you are feeling a strain on your relationship, anxiety may be playing a role. Could your anxiety (or your partner’s) be putting your relationship at risk?

Here’s how and why anxiety destroys relationships, and what you can do to stop it.

1. Anxiety Breaks Down Trust and Connection…

Anxiety causes fear or worry that can make you less aware of your true needs in a given moment. It can also make you less attuned to the needs of your partner. If you’re worried about what could be happening, it’s difficult to pay attention to what is happening. When you feel overwhelmed, your partner may feel as though you aren’t present.

 so train your brain to live in the moment. If you notice a fear or concern that causes your thoughts to stray from the facts or the present moment, pause and think about what you know (as opposed to what you don’t know). Calm down before you act. You can make purposeful steps to build trust in your partner. Share openly when you’re feeling worried, and consciously reach out to your partner (physically or verbally) when you might normally withdraw or attack in fear.

2. Anxiety Crushes Your True Voice, Creating Panic or Procrastination…

Someone who tends to be anxious may have trouble expressing his or her true feelings. It also may be difficult to keep reasonable boundaries by asking for the attention or space that is needed.

Since experiencing anxiety is uncomfortable, subconsciously you may try to postpone the experience of it. On the other hand, anxiety can cause you to believe that something must be talked about immediately, when in fact a short break may be beneficial.

If you don’t express what you truly feel or need, anxiety becomes stronger. Plus, your emotions may eventually spiral out of control if you keep them in. You may become overwhelmed and defensive.

 so acknowledge your feelings sooner rather than later. A feeling or concern doesn’t have to be a disaster in order for it to be addressed. Approach your partner with kindness, so that you’re neither procrastinating nor panicking. Also, find time on your own to unpack some of the thoughts or fears circulating in your mind; they are draining your time and energy.

3. Anxiety Causes You to Behave Selfishly…

Because anxiety is an overactive fear response, someone experiencing it may at times focus too much on his or her own concerns or problems.

Your worries and fears may be putting unnecessary pressure on your relationship. You may feel like you need to worry in order to protect yourself in your relationship, but it might be keeping you from being compassionate and vulnerable with your partner.

If your partner experiences anxiety, you may build up resentment and react in selfish ways as well. The attitudes and perspectives that we have are contagious. Keeping your stress levels under control is especially hard when your partner is feeling anxious, upset, or defensive.

 so attend to your needs, not your fears. When you notice yourself becoming fearful or defensive, take a moment to consider the compassion that you have for yourself and your partner. Clearly ask for the support you need to feel loved and understood. Apologize for letting anxiety make you self-absorbed.

Unhealthy levels of anxiety make you feel as though an emotional “rock” is in your stomach almost all the time.

4. Anxiety is the Opposite of Acceptance…

A healthy form of worry will tell you “something isn’t right”; it comes via that quick pull at your heart or that tight feeling in your stomach. This signal helps you act, such as when you speak up for someone who is being treated poorly.

Unhealthy levels of anxiety make you feel as though an emotional “rock” is in your stomach almost all the time. Anxiety causes you to reject things that are not dangerous and avoid things that might benefit you. It also can stop you from taking healthy action to change things in your life that are hurting you because it makes you feel hopeless or stuck.

… so practice being uncomfortable. You don’t need to either ignore or obsess over an uncomfortable thought. Take constructive action if you can. Sometimes your partner just needs you to be present with his or her feelings, and sometimes you need to offer that same gift to yourself. You can show your presence to your partner with soft eyes or a soft touch, and be present for yourself with a calming breath.

5. Anxiety Robs You of Joy…

Experiencing joy requires a sense of safety or freedom. Anxiety makes us feel either fearful or limited. Also, a brain and body trained to stress may have a much harder time enjoying sex and intimacy. Negative thoughts and fears impact a person’s ability to be present within a relationship, potentially sucking the joy out of a moment.

… so don’t take yourself too seriously. You can use your sense of humor to overcome anxiety. Remember to laugh and play with your partner. Joy physically heals and comforts your brain in ways that are vital for a healthy relationship.

As Anxiety Weakens, Your Relationship Strengthens

Building trust within your relationship may reduce the power of anxiety. By understanding how anxiety impacts your relationships, you can create positive change within a relationship dynamic.

therapist who specializes in anxiety treatment can help you further understand anxiety and help you stop harming yourself and your relationship.

Originally published on GoodTherapy.

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