When we think of the impact of anxiety, we can easily think of what anxiety does to someone on an individual level…it causes us to worry, be afraid, be less happy or enjoy less. However, we can forget to think about the impact of our anxiety in a relationship, and, in doing so, can give anxiety a lot of power to create chaos, disconnection, and misunderstanding within our relationship. We all hold differing levels of anxiety, have different triggers to anxiety, and react differently to anxiety; however, anxiety has power in a relationship when its expression is being misunderstood by the other as a personal attack on one’s character, beliefs, or person as a whole, or as an indicator of someone’s lack of interest in the relationship or their partner. When this happens, the relationship can be negatively impacted; couples start to feel disconnected.
Getting curious about how anxiety shows up for us within a relationship can be a helpful starting place to become more aware of its impact in a relationship. Do we shut down, get controlling or more rigid, eat more/less, use substances, get angry? All of these behavioral manifestations of anxiety have the potential to impact our relationship.
What are the trigger points to our experience of anxiety in our relationship and can we understand the core of it? Perhaps we get anxious about how much time a partner spends at work because we are feeling insecure about the relationship. Perhaps we get anxious about a partner shutting down and getting quiet in a conversation because we perceive they are just not interested enough in the relationship to work through it. Perhaps we get anxious about talking about our anxiety because we fear being judged or criticized. Without understanding the core of the anxiety, we can miscommunicate it as anger or stay focused on the content without the other person really understanding what that content actually means about us/the relationship.
How is our partner seeing us when we feel anxious…Distant? Uninterested in them? Controlling? Scary to talk to? Understanding their perception of us when we are feeling anxious can not only help us to take accountability and make change, when needed, in our behavioral expression of anxiety, but understanding can also help open up a conversation differently within our relationship in moments of anxiety. When anxiety is able to be acknowledged and understood in a moment, for what it is, and does not move into misunderstanding or misperception, relationship disconnection is more likely to be avoided.
When we are anxious, what do we need from our partner? Sometimes it is a solution or support around figuring something out, but more often than not, what I have experienced in my professional practice and in my personal life, is that there is a need for some sort of reassurance or validation. Perhaps it is reassurance that the relationship is secure, or that your partner understands your experience with anxiety. Perhaps it is validation that your emotions and needs just make sense.