How Anxiety Affects Relationships

Young woman sitting on sofa, looking at distressed man at table

Noel Hendrickson / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Anxiety can negatively impact many aspects of your life, including your relationships. Not only can anxiety affect how you function in your daily life, but it can also interfere with your ability to communicate and connect with other people.

Having an anxiety disorder can impact relationships in different ways. Understanding the different ways feeling of anxiety might interfere with your relationships can help you find ways to cope.

Here are two specific ways in which your anxiety can lead to problems maintaining connections with others, as well as strategies you can implement (under the guidance of a mental health professional) to help you navigate these unhealthy attachment patterns.

Signs of Anxiety in Relationships

There are a number of behaviors that people might engage in when they are experiencing anxiety in relationships. Some of these signs include:

  • Worrying that the other person is lying
  • Fearing that the other person likes other people better
  • Worrying about the other person cheating
  • Worrying that their anxiety will negatively affect the relationship
  • Overthinking every conversation, phone call, or text
  • Pushing people away first in order to avoid rejection
  • Avoiding relationships altogether

People won't necessarily experience all of these symptoms or exhibit them to the same degree. The way that each person experiences anxiety in a relationship often depends on the nature and severity of their anxiety condition. 

People who have anxiety disorders are more likely to be single and have higher rates of divorce.

How Anxiety Affects Relationships

There are a few major ways that anxiety can impact a relationship. When you are experiencing feelings of anxiety, you may respond by being either too dependent or too avoidant. Both responses can take a toll on how you interact and communicate with others.

Dependence

Some people with anxiety have an intense desire for closeness to their partners (or friend), depending on them constantly for support and reassurance.

Along with being overly dependent, people with anxiety may find themselves prone to:

  • Overthinking
  • Planning for all worst-case scenarios
  • Being indecisive
  • Fearing rejection
  • Seeking out constant communication (and getting anxious if a partner or friend does not respond quickly)

People with anxiety and overly dependent relationships may also struggle with anger toward those they feel dependent on, acting out in ways that are destructive to their relationships.

Avoidance

On the other end of the spectrum, some people avoid relationships as a way of dealing with their anxiety. They may avoid negative emotions (for example, disappointment or frustration) by not revealing their feelings, opening up, or being vulnerable.

A person who is avoidant of close relationships may be experienced as cold, emotionally unavailable, lacking empathy, or even stand-offish, even though they may long for closeness.  

One study found that people with social anxiety disorder were less likely to receive support from their romantic partners and that less support and more severe anxiety symptoms increased the likelihood of breaking up.

Treatment for Anxiety in Relationships

If anxiety is having a negative impact on your relationships, it is important to talk to a healthcare practitioner or mental health professional. There are treatments that can help you manage your anxiety and improve your communication and functioning in your interpersonal relationships.

Medications

Medication is also often an essential part of anxiety treatment. While the medications prescribed for anxiety, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, are not curative, they can help decrease your symptoms and help you feel better as you rework your anxious thoughts and behaviors with your therapist. 

Medications are often most effective when they are used in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy

There are a number of different types of therapy that can be useful in the treatment of anxiety disorder, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy, and exposure therapy. Such therapies can also be helpful for improving communication in relationships.

A therapist who specializes in a type of talk therapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you devise strategies on how to reassure yourself and take thoughtful action on your own, instead of needing your partner for comfort each time you are anxious.

If you find yourself being overly distant in your relationships, cognitive behavioral therapy, also with other types of therapy, such as psychodynamic psychotherapy, may be helpful. A mental health professional can help a person explore past and present relationships and the emotions surrounding those interpersonal connections.

A therapist will also help you understand how anxiety impacts your relationships. For instance, exploring your emotions more deeply may be a good strategy for someone who tends to be avoidant.

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.

Coping With Anxiety in Relationships

In addition to professional help, there are also tactics and strategies that people can use to help manage feelings of anxiety when they are in a relationship.

If you find yourself developing overly dependent attachments, developing ways to cope with your anxiety and relying more on yourself for feeling better can take the pressure off your partner or friend.

For instance, if you find yourself becoming angry or suspicious in these relationships, first remind yourself that this may be fueled by your anxiety. Then, take a few moments to think about any facts that support your worry to try and regain some perspective.

Other techniques that might be helpful include:

A Word From Verywell

Sometimes anxiety is overwhelming and debilitating, which can be extremely detrimental to relationships. Feelings of anxiety can also grow worse over time if left untreated, so reaching out for help is important.

Talk to a doctor or mental health professional if your symptoms of anxiety are causing distress or affecting important aspects of your life, including your daily life and relationships. With proper treatment, you can develop healthy, long-lasting, and fulfilling connections with others.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you deal with personal anxiety in relationships

    The first step is to identify what is behind your personal anxiety and look for ways to soothe yourself. It can also be helpful to talk about your anxiety with your partner or other loved ones. Develop routines that help minimize your stress and anxiety while practicing self-care and relaxation strategies to ease feelings of anxiety.

  • How do people with anxiety act in relationships?

    People with anxiety may sometimes respond by either seeking reassurance or avoiding rejection. Seeking excessive reassurance can lead to clinginess or dependence, while fear of rejection might contribute to avoidance and other symptoms that negative affect relationships with others.

  • How does anxiety create problems in relationships?

    Anxiety can lead to excessive worry, anger, or irritability. Constantly seeking reassurance can be stressful for both people in the relationship and contribute to arguments. On the other hand, anxiety can also contributes to avoidance and detachment, which makes it hard to form a meaningful connection.

Was this page helpful?
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. Priest JB. Anxiety disorders and the quality of relationships with friends, relatives, and romantic partners. J Clin Psychol. 2013;69(1):78-88. doi:10.1002/jclp.21925

  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. doi:10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596

  3. Porter E, Chambless DL. Social anxiety and social support in romantic relationships. Behav Ther. 2017;48(3):335-348. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2016.12.002

  4. Bandelow B, Michaelis S, Wedekind D. Treatment of anxiety disordersDialogues Clin Neurosci. 2017;19(2):93-107. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.2/bbandelow

  5. Newman MG, Castonguay LG, Jacobson NC, Moore GA. Adult Attachment as a Moderator of Treatment Outcome for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Comparison Between Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Plus Supportive Listening and CBT Plus Interpersonal Emotional Processing Therapy. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2015;83(5):915-925. doi:10.1037/a0039359

  6. Newman MG, Castonguay LG, Borkovec TD, et al. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Generalized Anxiety Disorder With Integrated Techniques From Emotion-Focused and Interpersonal Therapies. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2011;79(2):171-181. doi:10.1037/a0022489