By Parth Kalia
When in a relationship of any sort, be it a romantic relationship or with a family member or close friend, mental illness may become a intervening factor. In this article, we discuss a few suggestions to be supportive of a friend, family member or romantic partner with anxiety. Bear in mind that while this article refers specifically to anxiety and predominantly to romantic relationships, many of the same principles may be applied to a number of other mental illnesses or types to relationships and can help to alleviate the feelings someone may have about them:
- Don’t be afraid of the anxiety: Anxiety can be something that affects a person’s life to a huge degree but what can ease some of that stress can be when you aren’t scared of them or their baggage. In this case, being able to see an incident such as a panic attack without yourself displaying panic or anxiety and instead exuding calmness and openness can be an immensely supportive. This doesn’t mean that you don’t acknowledge that their anxiety exists or that it isn’t serious. What it shows is an acceptance and willingness to talk about and address it and that you are a safe person to talk about it to.
- Knowledge is power: Understanding anxiety goes a long way to alleviate concerns about the unknown. Knowing what you and your friend/partner will be dealing with may be stressful to confront head on but an understanding of that will go a long way towards preparing yourself for what may come ahead and help them cope with it and seek help as needed. Additionally, this makes the previously addressed point easier as with an understanding of what your partner’s “normal” is, not worrying about the anxiety does get easier.
- Understanding insecurity: Society creates a sense that many people with anxiety have that they’re crazy, unmanageable or undesirable in some way, discounting their many positive traits. This can lead to some questions such as “Why would someone want to be my friend” or sometimes, “I know my partner dislikes me”. In others, this may just take the form of an uneasiness with compliments. This isn’t attention seeking behavior in any way and these insecurities are natural for someone who is worried about many or most things in their day-to-day living. Understanding that this isn’t manipulative or attention seeking behavior, but instead, part and parcel of who they can be at times can bring empathy and closeness to the relationship. An acceptance of this along with frequent encouragement and positivity to your partner can bring out the best in the relationship.
- Consistency vs. Adventure: Many people may find that exploring new experiences and the world around them to be a source of joy and excitement. Someone with anxiety may have a different view. What that often means is that those with anxiety may prefer a quiet night at home at the end of the day rather than spending time discovering new places or constantly engaging in new experiences. More often than not, those with anxiety benefit from a sense of consistency provided by a safe and familiar place, person or ritual to come home to at the end of a long day to recuperate from the unfamiliarity and exhaustion of unsafe and unfamiliar spaces throughout the day. While there are always exceptions to the rule, understand the need for some sort of comfort zone for your partner and realize that sometimes, you may well be that comfort zone.
- Don’t try and fix someone: There’s always an impulse in to save those we love from suffering and pain. Sometimes, that impulse can be misdirected in trying to fix or change what may not be changeable about someone and instead resenting your partner over time for not changing despite your best efforts. Over time, this particular sentiment can be toxic to a relationship as it is built not on who you believe you’re in love with now but the person that you wish they could be. Understanding the nature of your attraction and accepting this wholeheartedly is a good step to deepening the relationship and truly accepting your partner “in sickness and in health”.
Overall, the core ideas behind these points can apply to any kind of relationship and most kinds of mental illnesses since these tend to be the core points that need to be addressed. An additional point that goes without saying is the need for communication, particularly in romantic relationships. Communication is the foundation on which most relationships are built and while all of these suggestions may make that easier, poor communication can still exist and provide a shaky foundation for a relationship of any kind.
Lastly and most importantly, seek help as and when you need to for yourself. Being in a relationship with someone with anxiety can be draining and you are not expected to be your partner’s therapist or a substitute for a trained professional. Seeking individual therapy for self or couples therapy to work on anxiety in the relationship is always highly encouraged.