Relationships are hard work whether you deal with mental health issues or not. Yet, when we’re overwhelmed with fear and struggling with our own thoughts, it can add an extra layer of difficulty to navigate through a healthy partnership.
I’m incredibly blessed to have found a life partner that is calm, stable, and patient in the midst of my chaotic anxiety. When I think back on all that I’ve put him through over the past five years due to my anxiety, it physically pains me. Most of the horror I put him through happened when I didn’t yet know how to deal with my anxiety. I was so caught up in my own fears as TRUTH, that I brought him in with me.
Thankfully, over the years, I’ve learned ways to cope with my own anxiety, as well as lessen the effects it has on my relationship. Here are a few tools.
-Learn to Self-Soothe
This is HUGE, huge, huge. I used to run to my partner every single time fear took over. I would look to him for reassurance when my obsessive, scary “what-ifs” would pop in. I would need him to talk me down from every panic attack. I had to have him by my side whenever I’d go anywhere. When I would get sad, I would silently ask him to hold space for me while I cried.
Of course, this dependency only led to him getting stressed out. Whether he showed it or not, he felt the burden of caring for my anxiety.
When I began noticing this pattern, I asked myself, “How can I self-soothe?”
So when I got overwhelmed with anxiety, instead of acting on my first instinct to run to him for reassurance, I’d say to myself, “Okay, I’m really anxious right now. I’m going to go in the other room by myself and see if I can work through this first.”
Then, I’d journal to my Higher Self. I’d meditate. I’d breathe. I’d feel the anxiety in my body. And most of the time, I’d be able to at least lessen the urgency of my anxiety myself.
When we rely on our partners to soothe us, we’re not only being unfair to them, but we’re doing ourselves a disservice by not recognizing our own strength. We have the ability to handle our own anxiety. We just need to be willing to explore being on our own.
I’m not saying that you can never rely on your partner for emotional support. But learning how to work with your own anxiety and self-soothe is a really valuable tool for lessening the stress on your relationship.
-Separate Your Anxiety from Your Relationship
When anxiety flares and seems to come out of nowhere, it often needs something to latch onto. If you’re in an intimate relationship, anxiety might choose to project onto your partner.
I can’t tell you how many times my anxiety would choose to obsess about my partner: what’s wrong with our relationship; whether we’re right for each other; what little things he does that annoys me; whether he loves me or finds me attractive, etc.
And my poor, sweet partner would recognize this pattern of anxiety before I even did. He would say, “Can you get off our relationship and onto something else?” knowing that, within a day or a week, I’d be onto another obsession like, “What if I go crazy?”
I had to recognize this tendency of projecting my anxiety onto my partner. I had to see that it was JUST anxiety and not truth. Because when the anxiety would inevitably subside, I’d go back to seeing him for the loving, beautiful soulmate that I couldn’t live without.
If your anxiety ever clings to your partner, I recommend checking out Sheryl Paul’s blog. Her work and understanding of relationship anxiety helped me tremendously to separate my anxiety from my relationship.
-Find Ways to Offer Support Too
Relationships should be a give and take. So if I feel like I’ve been needing extra support for my mental health, I’ll try to find ways to give back that support to him.
Maybe I can do a few extra chores to make his work load lighter. Maybe I can write him a sweet note of encouragement to come home to. Maybe I give him a massage or ask him how he’s doing while listening intently and earnestly.
Oftentimes, I felt like a burden on him when my panic was at its worst. But then I had to realize that I also have a lot to give too. I can also show up in this relationship and be an equal partner.
-Widen Your Circle of Support
Instead of just relying on your partner to be your best friend, therapist, lover, shoulder to cry on, person to laugh with, can you widen your circle of support?
My partner used to be all of those things for me, and to an extent, he still is. But I don’t ask him to be everything anymore.
I hang out with my sister or my girlfriends if I want to chat and laugh. I seek out a therapist when I’m struggling. I call my mom when I’m frustrated and need to cry. I snuggle up to my dog when I need some affection.
And best of all, your circle of support can and should include YOURSELF.
The more we can care for ourselves and make time for ourselves, the less our anxiety needs to lash out. Now, I make it a point to incorporate self-care into my DAILY life.
I go to yoga. I spend time outside. I play with my dog. I watch funny shows. I take baths. I journal. Whatever it is that fills you up, do more of that.
The more we can fill ourselves up, the less we need to rely on anyone else to do it for us. The more we can take care of ourselves, the less anxiety will act up in our lives.
You deserve to be in a relationship and to have love in your life, even though you struggle with anxiety. You are worthy and you have so much to give. Take care of yourself, know your own strength, and love yourself in the process.