Anxiety is more openly discussed and recognised as an issue that can have a major impact on a person. What is less often discussed is the pressure anxiety or stress can put on a relationship. If one partner is experiencing severe levels of anxiety and stress it could lead to the breakdown of the relationship.
People can become anxious for a number of reasons:
- Childhood examples of how parents coped with life.
- Situations, such as bullying at school.
- A later life event and then developing a focus on all the awful things that could happen.
Whatever the trigger, anxiety can start to take over your life.
Many people who are anxious focus on their feelings and how terrible things might be. They may be upset by the physical symptoms they experience, not realising that this is their body responding naturally to a perceived threat or danger. To outsiders it can seem as though the person has become totally focused on everything that could go wrong. Those with anxiety often feel bad because part of them knows their worries are unlikely to happen yet they can’t control them. This leads to heightened anxiety and feeling a failure or weak for not controlling their responses.
Anxiety within a relationship can make it very difficult for both parties. Partners can find it very difficult to understand what is happening to their loved one and feels at a loss to know what to do. Often they may think that their partner should just ‘pull themselves together’ and get on with life. The person with anxiety may feel vulnerable, exposed, potentially let down and abandoned, scared of being alone, guilt, shame, worried that they are pushing their partner away.
Sometimes couples get locked in a cycle of negative thinking. Our inner talk can then become increasingly unhelpful and both can feel more and more trapped. Arguments, remarks, misunderstandings all increase the sense of anxiety and helplessness. The non-anxious partner may experience increasing frustration and this will again heighten anxious feelings.
HELP IS AT HAND
There are many ways in which couples experiencing anxiety issues can be helped. One is through the Improved Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service, there are charities, such as Relate, which provide counselling and there are private counsellors and therapists. Therapies like hypnotherapy, CBT, mindfulness and relationship counselling, can help. Many therapists work with both partners at once, some provide a mix of individual and couple sessions.
The focus is often on helping both partners to understand what is happening. You might explore how you communicate, look at cycles of behaviour and assumptions, as well as identifying inner resources both may have that you can call upon to help. Part of the work will be helping the partner who has anxiety learn how to self-regulate their thinking and mood.
Don’t let anxiety break up your relationship, you can get help.
by Anne Morrison © 2015
Anne Morrison, MBSCH, GQHP, lives in Whitley Bay and holds clinics in North Shields and Newcastle. She can be contacted by phone on 07905 735 457 or via her website www.annemorrison.co.uk.