Every relationship has its challenges, but if your partner is suffering from an anxiety disorder, those same challenges may become increasingly difficult to navigate. Learning how to support a partner who has anxiety is a tough challenge but rewarding for the longevity of the relationship. A study by The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) found that individuals suffering from anxiety are less likely to consider themselves to be in a healthy relationship, and up to three times more likely to avoid intimacy with their partner.

Despite the statistics, many couples have developed coping mechanisms to work around the challenges of mental illness and continue to thrive in healthy, balanced relationships.

Here are a few ways you can support your partner on their journey to mental health.

1) Learn about clinical anxiety and its symptoms

First and foremost, it is important to understand that mental health is as real and important as physical health, and science proves it. According to the Cleveland Clinic, many anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of factors including biology and environmental stresses.

Here are some basic facts about anxiety disorders for you to consider:

  • Everyone experiences anxiety, but some who experience it severely develop a disorder
  • Anxiety triggers a ‘fight or flight’ response to issues that are not life threatening, such as worry that a partner will abandon you
  • People suffering from anxiety disorders are aware that their illness can sometimes cause them to react irrationally to situations, which can frustrate them further (anxiety about the anxiety)
  • Anxiety disorder is not a weakness, it is an illness that can be treated with counselling services, medication, a combination thereof or other treatments
  • Many people living with anxiety disorders still have happy, fulfilling relationships and lives
  • There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder and more

If you are looking to learn more about different types of anxiety disorders, sources including the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) and Anxiety Canada have credible online resources to learn from.

2) Develop supportive behaviours

Healthy relationships are based on healthy habits. By developing supportive behaviours, you and your partner can work together towards a balanced life and mental health. Here are a few ways you can support your partner if they suffer from anxiety.

Encourage treatment – Counselling or psychotherapy can help individuals suffering from anxiety to develop coping mechanisms, and it can also help them get to the root cause and work towards recovery. A doctor may also find that medication is suitable for your partner. Support them by encouraging them to visit a psychologist or physician.

Set goals together – Work together to develop realistic goals and communicate openly about things you would both like to work on. Encourage your partner to keep up their healthy behaviours, and avoid criticizing them for symptoms of their mental illness.

Acknowledge their illness – It can be frustrating for individuals with anxiety when a partner minimizes their struggle. Acknowledge that you have not experienced what they’re going through. Avoid phrases such as “just be positive,” or “it’s all in your head,” and use supportive language such as “how can I help?” and “take your time.”

3) Play a role in treatment

Although your partner may want to continue their journey towards treatment individually, let them know that you are open to playing an active role. Mental health professionals will sometimes recommend a treatment program that involves partners, helping couples to develop healthy strategies to work together when anxiety presents itself.

Your Counselling is a Calgary counselling practice that specializes in psychotherapy for anxiety therapy. If you or your partner are struggling with an anxiety disorder, anxiety counseling is the first step towards breaking down barriers, building positive behaviours and continuing on a journey towards mental health. If you or your partner are ready to take the first step towards your best life, contact us for a free consultation.