Beth Mhairi Webster gives thoughtful advice on how to tackle the most anxiety-triggering aspects of a relationship. She highlights how communication is the key to building a stronger relationship, especially when one of you may be dealing with mental illness.
Anxiety in your day-to-day life can be hard to manage, but anxiety in relationships - when you have someone else to consider and be mindful of - takes your mental health management skills to the next level. Anxiety may present itself early on in the relationship, creeping out on your first date or the first argument. Or perhaps, just when you think you’re starting to get a handle on things later down the line; it’ll throw you a curveball that requires the best communication, understanding and patience from both partners.
If you do succeed to manage your, or each other’s anxieties, your relationship will undoubtedly become stronger and your compassion for each other will grow. So, just what sort of situations can make your anxiety take over? I spoke with a few of my friends to identify some of the most anxiety-triggering aspects of a relationship - and how to best tackle these.
The Initial Fear
A new relationship, while exciting, can be difficult to navigate in the early days especially when you have a mental illness like anxiety. How do you broach the subject with a new partner when you’re trying to show the best version of yourself? After all, you don’t want to scare them away. The whole topic of anxiety and the uncertainty around how your partner is going to react, builds on top of the already existing new relationship jitters. This forms a dark cloud over what should be a happy time, full of hope and blossoming love.
Should you bring it up when you first start dating? It’s entirely up to you. If you’re anxious about being anxious, maybe the best thing to do is to be honest and explain that sometimes your behaviour might be down to anxiety. That being said, you don’t need to bombard your date with personal information before you’ve even decided if you’re interested. And if they throw the towel in before even giving your relationship a chance, then count yourself lucky - you don’t need that negativity in your life.
This is one of those anxieties that is hard to explain without sounding overly needy and attention-seeking. Having separation anxiety can make it seem as though you are very possessive and controlling over your significant other - when really, you are trying to subdue the intense anxiety you feel when they are away.
You never want to stop your partner going off travelling or experiencing life without you, but when they go, you may get this overwhelming feeling of loss and panic; or that something bad is going to happen to them when you’re not around. The best way to manage this? Talk to your partner. Let them know that you don’t want to stop them being independent, but you might be struggling with anxiety when they go. So, ask them to check in with you now and then or be mindful of how you’re feeling. When they’re away, it’s best to distract yourself: plan catch-ups with friends or take on extra work. By keeping busy with your own life, it will make you less aware that your partner isn’t there.
Insecurities and past relationships
I feel like these two often go hand in hand. Our own insecurities can be extremely triggering for anxiety, and this often originates from past relationships, particularly if you’ve been cheated on. Not feeling good enough for someone will constantly have you panicking that they’re going to leave you for someone else. Everyone is a threat - friends, co-workers, the cute barista…
This anxiety mixed in with jealously and a lack of self-esteem can be particularly damaging for a relationship. Constantly asking someone if they love you or getting upset and lashing out about a completely innocent interaction can make your partner feel like you don’t trust them. We all have wobbles, but this is one to try and get a hold of, as it can ruin a relationship. Owning up to your behaviour and explaining why you acted in such a way is one of the best ways to combat reacting badly. Your partner will recognise this behaviour in future situations and can call you out on it or try and mitigate the situation - reassuring you before you spiral.
The “Instagram Couple”
Scrolling through Instagram or Facebook and being bombarded with adorable engaged couples, anniversary dinners, date nights (the list goes on…) can be triggering. Especially if you’re going through a rough patch with your partner.
Unfollowing as many of the accounts that make you feel anxious is one way to take control of this. This isn’t always possible as some of these accounts may belong to people you know and care about. Ultimately, the key thing to always keep in mind is that Instagram is a curated and polished version of someone’s life, and at times, a complete fabrication.
So often, I see a cute couple pic my friend posted on social media, then when I meet up with them in real life, I get bombarded with rants about their partner. It doesn’t mean they’re going to break up or they don’t love each other. All it shows is that they’re the same as everyone else and have the same problems as everyone else, despite what is posted online.
Sometimes, the posting itself causes problems. Should we be posting couple pictures to prove to everyone we’re happy? A lack of posts doesn’t mean an unhappy relationship (sometimes quite the opposite!). Just remember that your life doesn’t need to be entirely documented on social media and for some couples, it’s more special to keep your private life exactly that.
Family and friends
Pressure from the people you love can put a huge weight on your relationship. Whether your loved ones don’t like your partner or vice-versa, the stress and anxiety from this can cause cracks in even the sturdiest of relationships.
This is one of the trickier situations to navigate because you want the people important to your partner to like you. Unfortunately, you might not live up to the expectations of their parents or friends or you might clash with their siblings, no matter what you do. This is one of the times when teamwork within your relationship is vital. You need to speak with your partner and work out how you can prove to your family and friends that this is what both of you want and that you’re a team and won’t accept negative behaviour.
Over time, hopefully, everyone will grow to get on or at least respect you or your partner more and understand that personal differences shouldn’t affect the happiness of the couple.
Whilst these are some potential triggers, it is important to remember that there isn’t always a tangible reason for why you feel anxious in a relationship. However, a key theme throughout all of these situations is that communication is vital for combating anxiety in relationships. By being analytical of your own behaviour and owning up to how you act, it can help your partner and other people understand you more, as well as sympathise with you that things aren’t always easy.
The suggestions on how to manage these situations are simply that, because anxiety is so personal to the individual, there isn’t a simple ‘how-to’ guide to follow. It’s all about evolving as a couple, learning about each other’s quirks and working through the difficult times, hopefully reaching the point where you’re a very strong, incredible couple.
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