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Anxious Love

February 12th, 2018

How being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder can affect your relationship.

Despite challenges of mental health, everyone needs love. The current prevalence of anxiety disorder is approximately 12.2% according to the Government of Canada. On our campus, that is equivalent to over 1000 UBC Okanagan students. Realistically, this number is significantly underrepresented as undergraduate students face an elevated risk for mental illness. While anxiety disorders vary in severity and characteristics, they all have the ability to impact a relationship.

Experiencing anxiety is a mental and physical process. During relationship stress, the body enters a fight or flight response mechanism to protect against threats. What is seemingly an emotional challenge is turned into a full body war, making the entire situation increasingly difficult. People who are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder are disadvantaged in dealing with issues that arise in relationships due to this exacerbated response. The minds of those who suffer from anxiety may have a tendency to focus on the “what if” worst case scenarios, creating an environment for insecurity and doubt to thrive. Unsurprisingly, this can damage the relationship. Some people may subconsciously test their partner’s ability to respond to their fears and thus trigger the anxiety response by straining the relationship.

According to a study done in 2010, adults with an anxiety disorder were more likely to experience a lower quality of relationship (Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2010). This may be due to the phenomenon called “emotional contagion”, which can be described in terms of the common cold. If patient zero becomes infected with a virus, it is only a matter of time until someone else in close proximity catches their cold. Like anxious attitudes, the partner in a relationship with someone who has an anxiety disorder may begin to share some of the negative feelings. This can contribute to increased fighting, miscommunication, and misunderstanding. Another reason for poor relationship quality may involve a specific type of anxiety that makes social situations especially difficult. Suddenly, romantic dates to restaurants or concerts are not an option and the spontaneous and social nature of love becomes limited.

While there are a significant number of challenges that people with an anxiety disorder face in relationships, approximately 70% of partners in this situation have reported an overall satisfying relationship (Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2010). This is exemplified by a study done on agoraphobic women who have an intense fear of crowded or confined public spaces. The problem-solving abilities of these couples were shown to be greater when anxiety was the issue of discussion. Evidently, these people have worked through their difficulties and created a management strategy for success. Maintaining a high degree of communication and support is an important protective measure for coping with anxiety in a relationship. Although an anxiety disorder has the potential to damage relationships, with proper care and attention, love can crush anxiety and unite people in a way that makes them stronger than ever.

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