Anxiety and Relationships

Anxiety and relationships are a tricky combination.  When you already struggle to keep your emotions and fears in check, allowing yourself to be emotionally entangled with and vulnerable to another person can be confusing, overwhelming, and challenging.

Anxious people tend to require a great deal of reassurance, which can be draining to their partners, only adding to the stress of the situation. Those who are able to recognize their irrational or anxious behavior end up blaming themselves for acting out the same patterns over and over again and feeling helpless to stop it.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that up to 18 percent of adults in the United States live with an anxiety disorder, with up to 23 percent of those cases being classified as “severe.” This makes it one of the most common and treatable mental illnesses, and yet, it’s still misunderstood and stigmatized. 

Anxiety can create states that are so intolerable that we are compelled to take actions that are impulsive and misguided. In relationships, this could mean some sort of acting out that is destructive, quickly jumping to conclusions, or making decisions that will not bring desired results. If you find that your anxiety makes you impulsive in relationships, it can be important to slow down, be still, and think through anything you are doing. If it is simply just to relieve anxiety, try and find a better solution that won’t result in increased problems and stress.

Dealing with anxiety and panic is tiring, even if you are not the one experiencing it. Constantly having to assess whether your partner is comfortable and functioning takes a lot of energy. The basics of adequate sleep, good nutrition, exercise, and pleasurable activities–both with and without your partner–will help you ride the waves of anxiety and panic with your partner (and actually, those suggestions will work for your partner as well!)

Although anxiety can impact a relationship in many different ways, the important thing to remember is that anxiety is a treatable disorder. Treatment often consists of a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. Oftentimes, couples therapy will be a component of treatment so that each partner can work to support each other as they work through the process of better understanding, and recognizing, the impact anxiety has on their relationship.

Anxiety and Relationships

If you, or your partner, struggle with a level of anxiety that is having a negative impact on your relationship, please call us – we can help. 

Resolving Conflict With Active Listening – Give Your Partner An EAR

 

Active listening

Active listening

Many couples struggle with how to effectively handle difficult topics as they come up in their relationship, or try to find ways to be sure the other person hears and understands their thoughts and feelings on an issue that can sometimes be a trigger for both of them.

One approach that many therapists suggest, and many couples find difficult to remember the steps to, is active listening where both partners sit and listen to the others uninterrupted thoughts and then repeat back what they’ve heard and believe they understand regarding what was shared. The conversation then goes back and forth until both people feel the other person has accurately processed the information they wanted to share.

Difficulties arise when one, or both, partners forget the steps and then begin to interrupt, defend or try to insist that the other person see things the same way they do. Couples struggle to hold onto the boundaries of how to handle an active listening conversation when they both can’t recall the exact steps to work toward a respectful and satisfying conclusion. As a result, couples walk away even more frustrated than before.

An easier method to try and remember is EAR. EAR stands for ENGAGE, APPRECIATE and RESPOND. Here are the steps:

ENGAGE – reach out to your partner in a moment when both of you aren’t distracted or involved in another project. It might be after the kids have gone to bed, or before the workday begins. This can be accomplished by scheduling the meeting in advance, or simply asking the other person if this is a good time to talk about an issue you both have been working on.

APPRECIATE – have a mutual agreement that each of you will allow the other person to share their thoughts, feelings and struggles without interruption. Even though you may feel that you were misquoted, or your partner has a completely skewed viewpoint on a situation, you have to hold to the agreement that you will not step in with your own opinion until it is your turn to do so. Once your partner has finished, express genuine appreciation for what they shared and repeat back what you heard them say (not what your interpretation is of their narrative).

RESPOND– when it is your turn, share your thoughts and feelings on what your perception is regarding the same event or issue. Be sure to keep your opinion focused on your own feelings and not those you have projected onto your partner and fight the urge to bring up past events that you feel somehow relate to what the two of you are struggling with currently. This is not a time to defend, dismiss or deny anything your partner has shared. Instead, you should focus on owning what your part was in the issue and validating those thoughts and feelings that your partner has shared with you.

If you feel, after you have tried the above steps, that things have gotten heated between you it would be a good idea to take a break and return to the topic, and the steps outlined above, within 24 hours and try the process over again. Remember, your goal is to achieve a greater understanding of your partner’s perspective and a deeper level of connection between the two of you.