Dating and Anxiety: a Conversation

The art of dating and supposedly finding the love of your life can be tricky at the best of times, but when you’re struggling with your mental health it can seem impossible. Having struggled with anxiety myself, the prospect of exposing my fears and insecurities to another person only made those fears and insecurities worse. However, after being me in a relationship for three years, my boyfriend and I have been on a long journey of navigating my mental health. This article, co-written with said boyfriend, will hopefully offer some guidance on the difficulties of dating and anxiety, presenting advice from both sides of the relationship.

Disclaimer, the following advice is subjectively based on my relationship and experiences with anxiety, and these will be different for everyone.  

[This font = me; this front = him]

Should you tell your partner, if you have mental health issues?

Sharing such an intimate thing with your partner can seem terrifying, especially if you have anxiety and you’re very good at worrying over everything there is to worry about. I often wondered if my anxiety would put people off dating me, in favour of a ‘normal’ partner. But the truth is, if your partner is right for you and cares about you, they won’t be put off – they will probably just want to know how they can help.

This question isn’t especially relevant to those partners without anxiety, but it is worth mentioning that if you are worried about your partner and think there might be something wrong, it can never hurt to ask how they are doing. Don’t force them to tell you everything but be there as someone they can trust and confide in when they are ready.

It depends on the type of relationship. If the relationship isn’t serious or long-term, I think it’s down to your personal choice. If you think your mental health is going to effect or be affected by the relationship, you might benefit from being open to the other person.

As for a more serious relationship: yes, you should try to tell your partner. Knowing that your partner has anxiety means you understand why they might behave in certain ways and can learn how best to help. Honesty is an important part of any relationship and that includes being as honest as you can about your mental health. The more your partner understands, the easier it is for them to support you and to recognise when you need that support.

How should you tell your partner about your anxiety?

Just be straightforward. It might not be something you announce on the first date, but as you grow closer and learn to trust your partner, you’ll benefit from being open with them. Again, the more they understand, the more they can help. If you play it down or act like it’s not a big deal, misunderstandings might happen. 

I agree; explain it as simply as you can to avoid confusing your partner. Invite them to ask questions so that you can help further their understanding of anxiety. Being open about such vulnerable topics can also help you build trust in the relationship.

How does dating a person with anxiety change a relationship?

Every relationship has its highs and lows – that’s a given. It just so happens that the lows of this relationship are often us handling an anxiety attack. If I was dating a person without anxiety it would obviously be different, but there would be other things challenging the relationship instead. No relationship is perfect and you have to work around any problems you face – anxiety is just another thing to work through.

Dating a person with anxiety probably requires more sensitivity to the things that might trigger an anxiety attack, but that’s only a more extreme example of what most couples do – nobody wants to see their partner upset.

What struggles does anxiety cause in the relationship, and how do you overcome them?

Since anxiety often makes you question your relationships with those around you, my partner is in the unfortunate position of both cause and cure for many of my irrational, anxious thoughts. One of my biggest struggles is therefore not letting my fears about the relationship affect the way I behave around my boyfriend. It is difficult to confide in the person your fears are about, but I find that when I do he is able to give the best reassurance. Having an honest and open relationship with your partner is generally the best way to ease any anxious thoughts you have about the relationship.

The negative thoughts that anxiety produces are very frustrating, since convincing your partner they are wrong is rarely easy. You want them to know all the positive things you see in them, but they often don’t believe you. In moments like that, you can only be patient and do your best to break down why their anxious thoughts aren’t true.

Any last advice to someone whose partner has anxiety?

I see myself as a safe space, where my girlfriend can go when she is feeling anxious and ideally feel a little better. This isn’t something that happens automatically and at the start of the relationship it was easier to give her space, but as we learnt to trust each other more, she became comfortable being around me when she was feeling anxious. I also try to be the voice of reason, since anxious thoughts are often a load of rubbish. I will question the worries my girlfriend has and try to show her why they aren’t true.

Finally, depending on how intense your partner’s anxiety is, their stress might affect you as well. It is a controversial topic, but sometimes a person’s mental health can have a detrimental impact on those around them. It is important to make sure that when supporting your partner, you are not doing so at the expense of your own mental wellbeing.

Be as patient and loving as you can. Anxiety can make a person difficult at times, but it’ll be much easier for them to work through it if they have the support of those around them. It won’t always be easy, but if your partner trusts you, you can make their experience with anxiety a lot easier.

Any last advice for a person in a relationship who has anxiety?

One word: communicate. If there’s one thing you take away from this article, it is that communication is important in all relationships, but especially one where mental health is involved.

Being in a relationship and having a mental illness can be challenging, since there is another person witnessing some of your lowest moments. People will often take breaks from dating for this reason, choosing to focus on themselves instead. But if you are open with each other and the relationship is one full of trust, your significant other can be an invaluable support system. The most important thing to remember about mental health is that you shouldn’t have to suffer alone: your partner, friends and family are all there for you to turn to.

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