Anxiety and Relationships: Seven Tips to Improve Communication

black couple holding handsCommunication is an important aspect of relationships, which can be incredibly complicated. Being in love doesn’t automatically lead to understanding or responding ideally to another person’s needs. Individuals with anxiety often feel misunderstood or unable to communicate effectively, and they may even avoid situations that require talking about certain topics.

When worry finds its way into your relationship, it can make it difficult to develop or maintain a strong bond with your partner. When you are experiencing fear or anxiety, your tendency may be to push others away, shut down, put up emotional walls, or isolate yourself. It can be a challenge to develop ways to turn to your partner. This can lead to questions, repeated attempts to “understand” what is going on, and this questioning can create feelings of uneasiness or being mistrusted in the anxious person’s partner. Such conflict can leave both partners feeling frustrated or angry.

People with anxiety typically report that their relationships improve once they are able to explain their condition and how it affects them to the important people in their lives.

Effective reduction strategies can help control anxiety and allow you to challenge your fears more readily. Here are seven basic ones that can help you begin to heal your relationship:

  1. Be honest. Talk about how your partner can support you when you are experiencing anxiety. Discuss how your anxiety creates tension.
  2. Don’t shut down. If you have a tendency to distance yourself from others when you’re anxious, make sure they know that the distancing is due to the anxiety and not them. Let them know it is simply a coping strategy.
  3. Explain what anxiety is and how it impacts you. Describe how it affects your thinking (intrusive and recurring thoughts, effects on decision making) as well as how anxiety manifests in your body (increased blood pressure, muscle tension, sweating). The more specific you can be, the more likely you and your partner will be to develop a plan to address these effects.
  4. Incorporate more movement into your day. Many studies show the physical and emotional benefits of exercise. Some show that regular exercise can be as effective as (or more so than) medication.
  5. Challenge your fears. Identify when you are having fear responses and pinpoint possible triggers. Dissecting your fears can make them seem less formidable.
  6. Listen and reflect. With anxiety, distortions occur. When you are anxious, you may hear only a small portion of what is being said to you before your mind begins to fill in the blanks and get reactive or defensive. By practicing listening skills in nonanxious moments, you can develop skills to use when you become anxious. If you repeat or restate what you heard your partner say, you may listen differently. This can give your partner an opportunity to clarify if your reflection doesn’t match his or her intent.
  7. Increase physical touch: Try to be more physically affectionate (holding hands, kissing, being close). Physical touch has been hardwired into all of us; each of us needs some level of connection. Discussing your touch needs can inspire dialogue that begins to repair any disconnect.

Each time we find the courage to challenge our fears, new opportunities can arise. What are you willing to challenge yourself to do in order to make your relationships better?

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Teresa Collett, PsyD, therapist in Silverdale, Washington

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Cam

    Cam

    February 10th, 2014 at 11:03 AM

    On the days when I am feeling the most anxiety and stress I simply tell my husband that I need a good hug and any time he does that for me I feel so much better! I thought that it was the idea of the intimacy that this gave me but now I know there are other reasons that this helps too, that physical touch actually is proven to help lessen the symptoms in some of us. So bravo and more encouragement to get out there and show the love, because it makes a powerful difference for me.

  • janna

    janna

    February 11th, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    Oh wow do I hate that shutting down behavior.
    This is what my boyfriend always does and it drives me crazy!
    I want to help and know that if he would let me in then I could help him out but he gets all closed up and nothing that I do has any kind of impact on him one way or the other.
    It leaves me feeling pretty helpless and I know that even though he won’t admit to it it leaves him feeling angry because there is nothing that I can do to help him.
    What I want him to see is that I do nothing to help because he won’t let me but I think that we have different views on that.

  • Daniel

    Daniel

    February 17th, 2014 at 4:59 AM

    How do I convince someone that they have to get up and physically move to work through this? I don’t want to be a nag but I think that I have someone in my life who could benefit from some of these tips but I’m not really sure how to bring up the topic without making them feel like I am butting in maybe where I shouldn’t.

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    August 23rd, 2014 at 6:35 PM

    Dead on! I’m glad I’m not just crazy and can actually see my frustrations with myself in this article.

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