Partner has generalized anxiety disorder

What if your partner has generalized anxiety disorder?

Partner has generalized anxiety disorder. Facts infographic

Generalized anxiety disorder facts.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can be a difficult mental disorder to understand for those who are not suffering from it. In short, generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive, uncontrollable, and recurrent worrying about all sorts of things, most of the days, for more than 6 months. Someone does not develop GAD overnight, it develops gradually. If your partner has generalized anxiety disorder you may not notice it for a long time. In fact, sometimes people don’t notice it at all when their partner has generalized anxiety disorder. A possible explanation could be found in the fact that most of the people with GAD are ashamed of their excessive worrying and (try to) hide it for those around them. Another possible reason could be that GAD develops gradually: people with GAD start worrying more and more and about more topics.
Eventually it’s impossible for someone with GAD to keep their worries for themselves. Sooner or later their direct environment (partner, family and friends) gets involved in their GAD issues. Either by becoming a topic of worry themselves or by being the one who has to calm down the person with GAD all the time. When your partner has generalized anxiety disorder it is likely your life is negatively affected as well. This could lead to all sorts of additional problems such as: relationship issues, concentration problems, extra stress, and it could increase your partner’s GAD symptoms. Therefore this page has been created: to give you some tools, tips, and advice on how to deal with someone who has generalized anxiety disorder.

At Barends Psychology Practice we offer (online) therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Contact us to schedule a first, free of charge, online session. (Depending on your health insurance, treatment may be reimbursed).

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Possible ways GAD may affect the partner of someone with GAD

When anxiety controls someone’s life the first thing that person wants is to (re)gain control over the situation. This means that when your partner has generalized anxiety disorder he or she will probably become more controlling in the relationship, overprotective, and experiences more anxiety when someone is away from home. At the same time seems to be distracted more often, can’t seem to enjoy the things he or she used to do, experiences sleeping problems and is tensed and stressed.

The effects on you as his/her partner can be quite heavy.
Suddenly you find yourself calming down your partner all the time, justifying your own behaviour, and trying to convince him/her to do A, B or C.
Some partners of people with GAD try to help their partner by giving in to their wishes and demands. Without even being aware of it your partner demands more changes and eventually you find yourself almost locked in your own house. Here is an example to illustrate this:
Your partner reads about a little kid being run over by a car. Suddenly your partner starts worrying about her own child’s health. You usually bring your child to school by bike. From one day to another your partner calls you to check if everything is alright when you dropped of your child at school. After a few days, your partner expresses their concern about using the bike to go to school, because you guys could get involved in a car accident. A few days later your partner convinces you to take the car (perhaps because it rains). Eventually your partner starts demanding you to take the car every time you bring your child to school. Perhaps your partner becomes so worried about your child’s safety that your partner forbids your child to play with the bike outside, or only under supervision. This example shows how you and your child needed to adjust your behaviour to make your partner feel better. You see how your partner slowly gained control over the situation and how your partner started to demand more and more.

If your partner has generalized anxiety disorder it is likely that the relationship will experience more stress, that there will be more arguments, and eventually huge fights.

What to do when your partner has generalized anxiety disorder?

There are quite a few things you can do yourself to reduce the impact GAD has on both your lives, when you are the partner of someone with generalized anxiety disorder:

  • Read about GAD: Generalized anxiety disorder is a difficult mental disorder to deal with. It can be difficult to understand how GAD works and why it’s difficult to get rid of. By understanding the mechanism behind GAD, you will understand why it’s important to not validate their worries, to not adjust your behaviour to reduce their anxiety, and so on. You can find all the information about GAD on this website. Start here.
  • Try to remain calm: A natural response to your partner’s behaviour is to get annoyed, frustrated, and even angry with him/her. Unfortunately, this will not calm down your partner at all, it may even be counter-effective: your partner may start to worry about losing you if he or she continues to share worries with you.
  • Encourage treatment/professional help: The GAD symptoms get more severe over time. Without professional help your partner will suffer more and more.
  • Encourage positive behaviour: A very effective way to reduce the impact GAD has on someone’s life is by encouraging positive behaviour (when your partner allows you to be in charge, or doesn’t avoid a certain event, for instance).
  • Ignore negative behaviour: Another very effective way to reduce the impact GAD has on someone’s life is by ignoring negative behaviour (don’t criticize rituals, avoidance of situations or having irrational fears).
  • Ask your partner how to be of help: Don’t assume you know what’s best for your partner, but ask what you can do to be of help. And listen to their response.
  • Avoid discussions: Avoid discussing potential doom scenario’s. Avoid trying to convince your partner of the small chances that this will happen. Every time you discuss one of those doom scenario’s you validate their fear. By validating their fears, they increase. And once you dealt with 1 fear another will pop up soon. In other words: it’s a never-ending story.
  • Don’t change your behaviour: It’s easy to change your behaviour a little bit to reduce your partner’s anxiety, but this is a never-ending story as well: you will soon realize you are changing your behaviour all the time. By changing your behaviour to reduce your partner’s anxiety, you allow your partner to be in control of the situation and that increases their anxiety. They need to realize that you and your behaviour are not the problem, but that the problem is within themselves.
  • Keep track of positive behaviour: People with GAD usually ignore positive experiences and focus only on the negative ones. By writing down all the positive experiences/behaviours you can remind them of these whenever their anxiety levels go up, or whenever they can’t remember it.

    At Barends Psychology Practice I offer (online) therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Contact me to schedule a first, free of charge, online session. (Depending on your health insurance, treatment may be reimbursed).

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