It’s true that having an anxiety disorder can wreak havoc in a relationship, especially when the partner without anxiety doesn’t fully understand the symptoms or the potential gravity of the disorder. Typically, the person with anxiety is either overly dependent or overly avoidant, neither of which is a healthy approach to any romantic relationship. Fortunately, couples can seek out the assistance of a mental health professional who’s skilled in guiding couples through the problems associated with anxiety, helping the person with anxiety share his or her needs, and helping the partner without anxiety communicate his or her concerns.
But what about if you’re the one with anxiety, and the relationship you’re in is with your anxiety?
Sounds odd, right? Actually, it’s not that uncommon to feel as if you’re married to your anxiety. The same problems that come up in a relationship between two people – over-attachment or over-avoidance – can pop up between an individual and their anxiety too. See if you can recognize yourself in one of these two stories below.
“I’ve lived with generalized anxiety disorder since I was 16. I’m 35 now. I’ve been with my boyfriend, Mark, for two years. He’s really understanding of what I go through, but does it rear its ugly head sometimes? Definitely.
“It shows up a lot as neediness. I recognize that but it’s still hard for me not to be that way. In the beginning, I really tried to be that Rules girl, you know, the one who wasn’t waiting by her phone, the one who just seemed happy-go-lucky and didn’t care whether he called or not. I’m not sure if it was playing hard to get that worked, or if Mark and I just connected because we got close really quickly. We fell in love pretty fast. It wasn’t long before that Rules stuff went flying out the window because my true colors definitely came shining through.
“To this day, I demand a lot. If he doesn’t call me three times throughout the day, I panic. I wonder if he’s thinking of me, if he misses me, if he’s having fun without me. I think about his ex-girlfriends and if they were prettier or smarter or taller or whatever. Even if he’s out with his buddies, I wonder if some girl is hitting on him, and if he’s flattered.
“I’m always thinking worst-case scenario. I definitely, definitely overthink things. I take everything he says and I twist it, especially when I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack. My anxiety attacks don’t look like what they look like on TV or in books or whatever. They don’t hit me and then go away. They’re long and burning and last for weeks. In that time frame, I’m indecisive, I make up imaginary scenarios in my head, I’m absolutely certain he’s cheating or he’s leaving or he doesn’t like me anymore, and then I lash out at him. And the poor guy is like, ‘What just happened?’ And then I start to see him differently for who he is, as if everything I’m imagining in my head is actually something he’s doing, even if there’s proof everywhere that he’s not. Like I get so angry he’s done something terrible, when the man is literally sitting right next to me doing absolutely nothing. He could be reading a book and I’d be like, ‘Do you wish I was like the woman in the book you’re reading? You’re reading Becoming (by Michelle Obama?) Do you wish I was Michelle Obama? Why am I not good enough for you?’
“When I say it out loud, it sounds ludicrous, but this actually goes on in my head. People tend to roll their eyes at people who are insecure, but it’s a disability. It’s very, very painful. It doesn’t feel good to question yourself all the time. It doesn’t feel good to be suspicious of your partner. I don’t know the difference between a gut feeling and paranoia. Every relationship I’ve ever had is like this – even when it’s my mom, if I call her and she sounds off, I immediately think it’s me. I’m like that at work too, always thinking I’m doing something wrong or people are talking about me or people don’t like me. So I overcompensate and I buy people things so I can get on their good side, but that’s terrible, right? If they do end up liking me, I don’t know if it’s because it’s me or if it’s because I bought them.
“I’m my own worst enemy. I’m destructive. I know that. It’s hard. I’ve been in therapy for a long time, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say sometimes it’s just easier to fall back on old habits. Old beliefs. It’s almost like I don’t know how to exist without my anxiety. Other people with anxiety tell me, ‘Hey, your anxiety isn’t you, and you are not your anxiety.’ But I’m really starting to worry that it is, because I just can’t seem to let go.” Read about what therapy can do for you.
“I’m 41. I’ve been married to my wife, Tara, for ten years, and we have two little girls.
“My dad committed suicide when I was 13. Apparently, he had a lot of mental issues, and he cheated on my mother a lot. It just got to a point where he couldn’t handle it anymore, and he ended his life. I don’t know that a day goes by I don’t think about that.
“I didn’t know my dad’s story until I was probably 20, 21. My uncle told me about it. The two of them had been really close. My uncle tried to protect my dad from himself, but I think he blames himself for enabling his behavior. He didn’t want my dad to destroy his own life, so even if my uncle knew about all the affairs and all the gambling, he didn’t turn my dad in to my mom or the rest of the family. He just thought, ‘Well, Tom’s like that,’ and as long as no one else knew, no one was going to get hurt. But my dad probably needed help, and my uncle’s protection wasn’t the kind of help he needed. He trusted one person to help him out, and that person was wrong.Learn about anxiety and impulse control.
“I’ve never imagined ending my life, but I did inherit my dad’s anxiety, for sure. Do I deal with it well? Not at all. It actually physically hurts to talk about it. My wife says I’m the most distant person she’s ever met, but she gets me now. I don’t open up to a lot of people, so I think I come off as a bit of an (expletive). I’m not. I just don’t like exposing myself. I think in some ways even though my dad didn’t go to anyone for his problems, the way he sought out all those relationships with all those women made him really vulnerable. I think about it differently now than I did when I first heard the story. As I get older and as I realize how crippling this disorder is, I have a lot more compassion for him. I’m still really angry with him, but I get why he didn’t talk to anyone. You already have to feel – why do you have to talk about it too?”
I’m definitely married to my anxiety. I don’t see myself getting a divorce from it, though. How do I live with it?
If you’re not already in a relationship, picture yourself in one. Or consider your relationship with your platonic best friend. Would you talk to your partner the way you talk to yourself? Would you allow your partner to tell you what to do, feel how they want you feel, act how they want you to act?
It’s how you have to deal with, or talk to, your anxiety.
If you’re overly attached, pull back a little from your anxiety by practicing mindfulness. Be present and engage with yourself exactly where you are. Give the moment your full attention. If you’re at your daughter’s ballet recital, be there. Take in the music, revel in the costumes, breathe in the joyful energy of dozens of young dancers eager to take the stage and entertain the crowd.
If you catch yourself at a party worrying that someone doesn’t like you, tell yourself that you like you. There’s no way to know for sure if that person doesn’t like you, but even if they didn’t, what’s the absolute worst-case scenario? It’s probably not going to impact you in any significant way.
If you tend to avoid thinking or talking about your anxiety, consider if your best friend who was clearly hurting refused to talk to you. Wouldn’t that hurt you? Wouldn’t it worry you? If talking to someone is still too big of a step, then talk to yourself. Jot down some of your anxious thoughts. Read them out loud. Sometimes, when we put things on paper, or say things out loud, the things we’re worried about suddenly don’t seem like such a big deal (or in some cases, they won’t even feel possible!) If you’ve been avoiding facing your anxiety all this time, try looking it straight in the eye. Say, “Okay, anxiety. I’ve been so scared of you that I’ve refused to talk to you. I accept you’re here in my life, but things are going to change. I’m going to open up, let myself become vulnerable, and manage our relationship in a better way than I’ve done in the past.”
There are many tips and techniques at your disposal to help you modify the ways you’ve been living with your anxiety. If you have anxiety and would like to seek out the advice and guidance of a licensed mental health professional, visit us at www.hopetherapyandwellness.com.
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