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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
In the United States, approximately 40 million adults deal with anxiety disorders. And, of those people, only 36.9 percent get treatment for their anxiety. In other words, there are a ton of anxious people — which can make regular things even more difficult to deal with.
Think about it: even for those who don’t suffer from anxiety, things like dating, love and intimacy can be challenging. When you add a dollop of anxiety on top of that, it can get even tougher.
And, then, if you have a partner who compounds the issue? Ugh, forget it.
The good news is, if you’ve found ways to alleviate some of your anxiety and work with your partner to cultivate the supportive, wonderful relationship you deserve, things can get so much better.
As we mentioned above, if you deal with anxiety, you're not alone — it’s actually a fairly common affliction.
To help you cope, it may be useful to understand a bit more about what anxiety even is. Of course, there are normal nerves.
For example, perhaps you get a little nervous before a work presentation or feel a little jittery at the thought of a big life change.
It’s totally expected to feel some anxiety in those moments. But if your anxiety goes beyond that, you may be living with an anxiety disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): One of the more common disorders, GAD is diagnosed if someone has difficulty controlling their anxiety more often than not over a course of six months.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): If you feel unable to escape recurrent thoughts and compulsive behaviors (think washing your hands repeatedly), you may be dealing with OCD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): After a traumatic event (like military combat or a violent assault or natural disaster), some people experience a type of anxiety known as PTSD.
Social Anxiety Disorder: This occurs when you feel overwhelmed in social situations (whether it’s parties or speaking in front of a crowd). It’s also sometimes called social phobia.
Panic Disorder: Intense fear, panic attacks and heart palpitations are markers of this form of anxiety.
Those who deal with an anxiety disorder can experience a variety of physical and psychological symptoms. It’s important to know that not everyone experiences every symptom — different people may experience different manifestations of anxiety. Common symptoms include:
Obsessive thoughts you can’t control
Feeling restless or on edge
Feelings of panic and excessive worry
Flashbacks to traumatic events
An inability to stay calm
Trembling or shaking
Heart palpitations or a pounding heart
Trembling or shaking
Experience immediate and intense anxiety when facing a feared object or situation
A variety of things can trigger your anxiety — including someone you are in an intimate relationship with.
If your partner is helping you with your anxiety, a round of applause to them. But how do you know if they’re triggering it? Here are some signs.
Feeling restless and on edge is already a symptom of anxiety. So, if you notice this feeling pops up more often when you’re with a partner, it may be a sign that person is causing it.
A cause of this could be something called anticipatory anxiety. Essentially, uncertainty causes many people to feel anxious. These nerve-wracking anticipatory feelings are commonly associated with several different anxiety disorders — like GAD and panic disorder.
Although anticipation can pop up at any moment in a relationship, it can be particularly nerve-wracking in a new relationship. You don’t know your partner very well yet, so you may have anxiety around how they feel or how they’ll react to something you say — leading you to feel like you are walking on eggshells.
Do you stay awake some nights, unable to sleep because thoughts about your day are racing through your head? This is common amongst those who suffer from anxiety.
Pay attention to those thoughts and what they’re about. If they tend to center around your partner, it’s a sign your partner is triggering anxiety. Maybe you replay a conversation you had with them over and over, trying to figure out what they meant. Or maybe you’re running through a chat you need to have with them.
Additionally, stress has been linked to sleep issues. So, if you’ve hit a stressful moment in your relationship (perhaps you’ve had a disagreement with your partner), you may notice it’s difficult to get a good night’s rest.
Shortness of breath and a racing heart are signs of anxiety — specifically, these things are often associated with panic disorder.
Funny enough, these things are also associated with falling in love. But if you’ve been with someone long enough and the newness has worn off, those feelings may be a sign your anxiety has been set off.
Also helpful to know: women are twice as likely to experience panic attacks as men are. Panic attacks can be caused by just about anything — including an argument with a partner or the feeling that a relationship is moving too fast too soon.
Do you find yourself trying to stay away from your partner at certain moments? That could be a sign they are making your anxiety worse and you’re looking for a reprieve.
This could be especially true if they tend to co-ruminate with you.
For example, if you express worry over something and they pile on to that, it can make your nerves even worse.
One study actually looked at 813 children in relation to this very idea.
Researchers found that even though sharing worries made girls feel closer to their friends, it actually increased depression and anxiety in the girls who did.
Of course, this was in children. But it’s possible the same applies to adults.
Think about it: Lots of bickering can’t possibly be good for someone who is living with anxiety. Even a small disagreement can make you feel irritated and annoyed — potentially compounding the general irritability that those with anxiety already live with.
So, while it’s totally normal for couples to argue. If you find yourself arguing a lot, it may be adding to your already anxious nature.
A relationship can bring up other issues that may trigger your anxiety, too. For example, if you have low self-esteem, being in a relationship can be tricky.
An older study found that people that lack confidence are more likely to doubt how their partner feels about them. Low self-esteem can cause doubts in the relationship, which can lead to dating anxiety. Just keep in mind this research was done a bit over 20 years ago, so new research is definitely needed.
A more recent study in adolescents made the same point through a different lens. In a group of 201 adolescents ages 13 to 18, researchers concluded that children with higher self-esteem exhibited fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression three years later.
Interestingly, the researchers also found that adolescents with higher self-esteem reported fewer attention problems in the same time period.
Also problematic: basing your self-esteem off of the approval of others — like your partner.
A study of college students found that those who base their self-worth on external forces suffer mental health consequences — like stress, anger, relationship conflicts and more.
Another thing that could trigger anxiety in a relationship is having different attachment styles.
Attachment theory is based on the idea that early experiences — like being separated from a parent or being treated harshly by a parental figure — shapes how we attach to people as adults.
There are thought to be four different attachment styles. They are:
Secure attachment: you know you deserve love and have a healthy way of attaching to others.
Avoidant attachment: as a child, someone with this attachment style may not even notice if a parental figure has separated from them. Similarly, an adult may react the same way with loved ones.
Disorganized attachment: unlike the above, a person with this attachment style is not consistent in how they react.
As you can probably guess, mismatched attachment styles can be problematic. For example, if someone who is anxious and needy is with an avoidant person, it can cause them to feel even more needy.
And even someone with a secure attachment style can be made anxious if they’re with someone exhibits disorganized attachment. You may even feel lovesick symptoms because of your or your partner's attachment style.
Whatever’s causing your anxiety (whether it’s a partner or something else), it’s important to seek treatment so that you can be more at ease and not constantly on edge.
Two of the most common ways to treat anxiety are through online therapy or medication. Sometimes they are used in conjunction with one another.
There are quite a few different types of therapy that may help ease your anxiety. To determine which one can help you most, you should speak with a mental health provider.
Some of the different options they may go over with you are:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) exists to help identify patterns that may be increasing your anxiety and come up with a way to deal with them. For example, if you spiral out of control anytime you don’t hear back from your partner after texting, your therapist may help you approach this more reasonably.
Exposure therapy will involve confronting the things you fear or that make you anxious directly in a safe, controlled environment.
Interpersonal therapy will assist you in overcoming interpersonal issues (like a relationship) that may impact your mental health.
Psychodynamic therapy involves a lot of reflection. That’s because it’s believed that past issues could contribute to current emotions.
Couples therapy involves you and your partner seeking professional help together, with the goal of resolving conflict or learning how to communicate better. Couples therapy could be a great place to discuss how your partner can help support you while you’re feeling anxious.
There are also a variety of prescription anxiety medications available to help.
A healthcare professional will be able to assess if you’d be a good candidate for medication. If it’s determined that you are, you may be prescribed one of the following types of medications:
Millions of people live with anxiety disorder in the United States. And when you live with anxiety, a number of things can trigger it — including a partner.
Things like romantic disagreements, miscommunication and more can cause you to feel even more anxious than usual. Signs your anxiety may be triggered by a partner include sleepless nights, feeling on edge, becoming irrational and experiencing panic attack symptoms.
If any of this sounds familiar, you’ll want to address the issue. Talking to your partner can be a good first step — as can treating your anxiety with therapy or telepsychiatry to get anxiety treatment online.
If you’d like the guidance of a mental healthcare professional, you can schedule an online consultation with hers.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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