Helping Your Spouse Who Has Anxiety or Panic Attacks

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It is normal for couples to go through turbulent times together. However, the common challenges that a couple faces can be even more difficult when one partner is struggling with an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, are marked by extreme fears and worry. When one partner is trying to cope with the symptoms and emotions of an anxiety-related condition, it can add stress to a relationship. These issues can potentially cause a breakdown in mutual communication and understanding.

If you are married to or in a relationship with someone who has panic disorder, you may know all too well its impact on relationships. If you have been diagnosed with panic disorder, you may recognize that your symptoms also affect your partner or spouse.

As much as couples can be negatively impacted by one’s struggle with panic disorder, panic attacks, and agoraphobia, they can also work together toward recovery while maintaining a healthy relationship.

The following information describes four ways in which a couple can work together to manage issues related to one partner’s diagnosis of panic disorder and agoraphobia.

Get Additional Support

A partner may feel that they are being the most helpful if they drop everything and only attend to the needs of their partner with panic disorder. Contrary to this belief, it is actually important that partners of those with panic disorder spend time on their own self-care needs.

This means that they maintain a social, work, recreational, and spiritual life while remaining supportive of their partner. If you are in a relationship with a person with panic disorder, try not to think it is selfish to put emphasis on your own personal needs.

By taking care of yourself, you are better able to be there for your partner without having feelings of resentment or feeling too drained to be helpful.

If you want to be truly supportive of your partner with panic disorder, start by taking care of yourself. Make an effort to engage in your personal hobbies, exercise, pay attention to your nutritional needs, practice relaxation techniques, and find social support.

If you are feeling limited in your social support, consider joining an online support forum or a local group in which you can talk with other partners affected by mental illness. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) offers resources and groups through their nationwide chapters.

Put an End to Enabling

You may not be aware of them, but enabling behaviors are common in relationships where a partner has anxiety, panic disorder, or another mental health condition. If your partner has anxiety, you may feel like you are being helpful if you are working to prevent them from from feeling any distress.

However, when you enable your partner, it prevents them from learning how to better manage their symptoms. It is your partner's responsibility to work through that process and come to terms with their condition.

To stop enabling your partner, communicate with them about your needs and expectations.

If your partner refuses to seek or accept help, it's important that you address these concerns with them. Keep in mind that you are really helping your partner when you support them in facing reality and encouraging them to learn how to cope with panic disorder.

Consider Couples Therapy

At times, a person with panic disorder may decline treatment or even deny that they need help at all. This can be frustrating and hurtful to a partner who wants to have a healthier relationship.

If you are finding that your partner won’t seek out help on their own, it may be time to suggest couples counseling. A couple’s therapist can assist with communication problems and other unresolved issues affecting your relationship.

If your partner resists couple’s therapy, you can still seek help on your own. A therapist can help you sort out your feelings and figure out what is ultimately best for you.

Practice Forgiveness

Learning to forgive is often an issue for couples dealing with relationship problems. A person with panic disorder may be angry with their partner for not understanding their condition.

The partner of the person with panic disorder may develop feelings of resentment, possibly believing that their partner can control their symptoms or being upset when they feel that their partner is not working hard enough to cope with their condition.

Forgiveness is often a powerful way to resolve and repair relationship issues and move forward towards a healthier relationship for both partners.

Many times a couple cannot move forward until they have forgiven each other for past mistakes. It can be helpful if both partners recognize how they may have been perceived and promise to move forward without bringing up past hurt. By practicing forgiveness, a couple may also be able to let go of pent-up tension and anxiety.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pankiewicz P, Majkowicz M, Krzykowski G. Anxiety disorders in intimate partners and the quality of their relationship. J Affect Disord. 2012;140(2):176-80. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2012.02.005

  2. Anxiety And Depression Association Of America (ADAA). Spouse Or Partner. ADAA - Find Help.

  3. National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI). Find Your Local NAMI. NAMI Programs.

  4. National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI). How To Love Someone With A Mental Illness. NAMI Personal Stories.

  5. Mojtabai R, Stuart EA, Hwang I, Eaton WW, Sampson N, Kessler RC. Long-term effects of mental disorders on marital outcomes in the National Comorbidity Survey ten-year follow-up. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2017;52(10):1217-1226. doi:10.1007/s00127-017-1373-1

  6. Enright R. Forgiveness Is a Choice. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association (APA); 2009. 

Additional Reading

By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.