Anyone who has suffered with an anxiety disorder knows the toll the condition can take on his or her ability to maintain a healthy relationship. This type of mental illness is relatively common and varies in level of severity. For many it is truly paralyzing.
The constant ruminations and focus on matters that are beyond one’s control can even be contagious. Partners of those individuals who suffer from anxiety will often describe how, over a period of years, they too have become plagued by worry and fear. It is easy to understand how this can happen.
Suppose you spent day after day, year after year with a mate who was consumed by worry about everything from personal finance to the potential for a natural disaster? Imagine being surrounded constantly by the notion of impending doom. Even if those thoughts don’t originate from your psyche, over time it is difficult not to be influenced by them. Just as someone’s sunny or gloomy attitude can affect your own, so too can another's anxiety cause you to become anxious.
It is often hard for someone to articulate the rationale behind his or her fears and this is the frustrating nature of anxiety itself. The feelings are very real even when the cause of those feelings is unwarranted.
Love and acceptance are necessary components to a healthy union but despite what some may believe those emotions can not eradicate the symptoms of a mental health issue for any substantial amount of time and sadly, the disorder, if left untreated will ultimately begin to diminish those feelings.
Anxiety sufferers are, by nature, very focused on their own needs as a means of survival. It is as if they are living in a constant state of fight or flight. Many will describe feeling the desire to be close to another and simultaneously feeling a desperate need for emotional and even physical space.
So often relationships end because the person who appears nervous or acts in a nagging way in order to relieve their emotional discomfort, is never properly diagnosed. So in the end the disorder over takes the love and affection and the relationship doesn’t survive. This is an unnecessary outcome given the available treatments for anxiety disorders.
Once an individual understands that their fears cause them to behave in such ways that may be intolerable to a mate they can begin the process of seeking help to manage these behaviors. Working with couples in which one member (or both) has an anxiety disorder, it is important to begin to build empathy. The non-sufferer needs to truly understand how painful these feelings are to their partner so they can begin to respond in ways that will help decrease the anxiety instead of exacerbate it.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be extremely effective in the treatment of these types of disorders. Couples should attend sessions together in order to learn coping skills and techniques that can be used to strengthen the bond between them; while it may seem counterintuitive, reminders and outside feedback can be very helpful when learning how to manage anxiety. As always, awareness is the first step and, for couples, that awareness can signify that there is hope that the dynamics of the relationship can change as long as both partners are working towards a greater understanding of how their own behavior affects their mate.
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