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. More so, problems in your relationships could spell trouble in terms of treatment—those with impairments in these areas generally don't respond as well to treatment over the long term.

While you may 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.

Common Relationship Problems for People With Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Overall, common problems people with generalized anxiety disorder may experience include:

  • Having few relationships
  • Having 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 (e.g., going on a vacation, trying something new)
  • Having trouble feeling joy and happiness with others (because you are worried all the time)
  • Being impatient with others
  • Feeling suspicious or lacking self-confidence; "checking up" on others too frequently; needing reassurance from others
  • 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
  • Feeling insecure, which leads to fear and doubt about others' intentions

Tips to Overcome GAD Issues in Relationships

You can teach yourself to avoid relationship problems by doing the following:

  • Practice living in the moment by taking a course in mindfulness
  • Take a mindfulness break before voicing an anxious thought
  • Allow yourself to be uncomfortable when you know anxiety is holding you back if it is stopping you from spending time doing things you want to do with friends, relatives, or romantic partners. The uncomfortable feelings will lessen the more you face these situations.
  • Do something with others that makes you laugh to relieve anxiety
  • Go easy on other people when you feel anxiety is controlling your behavior
  • Talk about problems instead of remaining silent and letting your anxiety spiral out of control
  • Take the perspective of your friends, relatives, and significant other and understand their behavior from their point of view
  • Tell others about your diagnosis of GAD if your behavior has had an effect on them
  • Think twice before burning a bridge with someone; is anxiety fueling your behavior?
  • Ask those around you for their support
  • Seek the help of a therapist if you have not already done so
  • Build your communication skills by taking courses or reading self-help books

Research on GAD and Relationships

Children's Friendships and GAD

In a 2011 study of the interpersonal functioning of children (aged 6 to 13) with GAD (compared to those with SAD and controls), It was 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, and 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. More so, it suggests that problems in the relationships of 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 entry into marriage/long-term partner relationships using data from the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) showed that those with GAD were just as likely to enter into marriage.

This suggests that people with GAD are not impaired in 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 individuals 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
  • Nonassertive
  • Exploitable

Each of these styles manifested their worries in different ways. For example, a person who was worried about the safety of someone might call that person every five minutes (intrusive) while someone else might say nothing and silently worry themselves sick (nonassertive).

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

A Word From Verywell

GAD 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 and that research has been done on the connection.

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 in the context of your GAD diagnosis. 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 [condition name], 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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