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 also trying to cope with the symptoms and emotions of an anxiety-related condition, there can be additional stress added 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 are a person who has 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, couples can also work together to create a successful recovery process while maintaining a healthy relationship.

Tips for Helping a Partner Who Has Panic Disorder

The following 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 for Partners

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 to 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.

Agree to Put an End to Enabling

Many times, partners of those with panic disorder find themselves accidentally enabling their partner. You may feel like you are being helpful, but when you are enabling your partner, you are not allowing them to learn how to effectively manage their symptoms of panic and anxiety. It is their responsibility to work through struggles and come to terms with their condition.

To stop enabling and to get your partner on track, communicate with them about your needs and expectations. If your partner refuses to seek out help or work towards coping with their condition, address these concerns with them. Keep in mind that you are really helping your partner if you allow them to face their issues and learn to cope with panic disorder.

Consider Couples Therapy

At times, a person with panic disorder may decline any treatment options or even deny that they need to get help. 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 you and your partner are facing. If your partner resists couple’s therapy, you may want to get help on your own. A therapist can help you sort out your feelings and develop ways to cope with being in a relationship with someone with panic disorder.

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.

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

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Article Sources

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  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.) 2013. Washington, DC: Author.

  • Enright, R. D. Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-By-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, 10th ed. 2009. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.