Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Your Relationships

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Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are known to experience impairment in various aspects of their lives, including relationships with relatives, friends, and partners. If you live with GAD, you may be prone to marital distress and be at greater risk of divorce. What's more, people who struggle with relationships generally don't respond as well to treatment over the long term.

Common Relationship Problems for People With GAD

When you worry a lot about your family, friends, coworkers, and others, you may use negative strategies to cope with this worry. Over time, this can erode the very relationships you are working so hard to maintain. That results in issues such as:

  • Having few relationships
  • Difficulty attending to others' needs (because you are too wrapped up in your own anxiety)
  • Difficulty expressing how you are feeling
  • Feeling fearful or defensive in romantic relationships
  • Avoiding doing things with others out of fear
  • Trouble feeling joy and happiness (because you are worried all the time)
  • Impatience with others
  • Feeling suspicious or lacking self-confidence; "checking up" on others too frequently; needing reassurance
  • Being irritable with others or overly critical of them
  • Overreacting to situations and making others feel uncomfortable
  • Having a tendency to end relationships out of fear
  • Feeling dependent on or clingy toward others
  • Insecurity, which leads to fear and doubt about others' intentions

Research on GAD and Relationships

Research exploring how people with GAD relate to others has examined friendship, romantic partnership, and other interpersonal relationships and behavior. Research also helps identify ways people with GAD might overcome relationship problems.

Children's Friendships and GAD

A 2011 study of the interpersonal functioning of children (aged 6 to 13) with GAD (compared to those with social anxiety disorder and controls) found that although kids with GAD had relatively few friends, they were just as likely as kids without the disorder to have a best friend and take part in groups and clubs. They also had similar ratings of social competence by their parents.

This indicates that generalized anxiety disorder in childhood is not necessarily related to problems in relationships with friends. And it suggests that relationship problems in adults with GAD are the result of poor coping strategies that evolve over time—and that could be reversed.

Marriage and GAD

A 2007 study about generalized anxiety disorder and marriage/long-term partnerships showed that those with GAD were just as likely to enter into marriage. This suggests that people with GAD don't have trouble finding a mate, but may struggle later with marital problems. If you are married with GAD, anticipate that there may be struggles in your relationship and that couples therapy may be of help.

A 2011 study found a correlation between anxiety in married women and their relationships with their husbands. In fact, the study authors noted, the women tended to feel their husbands played some part in their anxiety by either making it worse or making it better.

Interaction Styles of People With GAD

In a 2011 study of case histories of people receiving psychotherapy for GAD, how people displayed their worries varied depending on how they interacted with others. The researchers discovered four interactive styles among those with GAD: intrusive, cold, non-assertive, and exploitable.

People with each of these styles manifested their worries in different ways. For example, a person who is worried about the safety of a loved one might call that person every five minutes (intrusive) while someone else might say nothing and silently worry themselves sick (non-assertive).

This means that the same worry can affect relationships in different ways. Therapy for generalized anxiety disorder should target these different styles of interacting.

Overcoming GAD Issues in Relationships

You can help avoid problems caused by GAD and improve your relationships. Aside from seeking treatment for your anxiety, try these strategies:

  • Be mindful: Practice living in the moment by taking a course in mindfulness; take a mindfulness break before voicing an anxious thought.
  • Acknowledge discomfort: Allow yourself to be uncomfortable when you know anxiety is stopping you from spending time with friends, relatives, or romantic partners. The uncomfortable feelings will lessen the more you face these situations.
  • Communicate: Talk about problems instead of remaining silent and letting your anxiety spiral out of control. Tell others about your diagnosis of GAD if your behavior has had an effect on them. Ask those around you for their support. Build your communication skills by taking courses or reading self-help books.
  • Aim for empathy: Go easy on other people when you feel anxiety is controlling your behavior. Take the perspective of your friends, relatives, and significant other and try to understand their behavior from their point of view. Think twice before burning a bridge with someone; is anxiety fueling your behavior?
  • Have fun: Do something with others that makes you laugh to relieve anxiety.

A Word From Verywell

Generalized anxiety disorder can affect relationships in different ways. If you are experiencing distress in relationships with friends, family, or a significant other, know that it's normal. If it is impairing your daily functioning, seek the help of your family doctor or mental health professional to determine the best course of action. Learning how to cope positively will benefit both you and your relationships in the long run.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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