Dating can be difficult. Dating when you have anxiety can difficult. Dating someone with anxiety can be difficult.
When I first started dating my now-fiance, I was very open about my anxiety, as I knew that I would not be able to sustain a long-term relationship with someone who was not okay with my mental health issues. I was really fortunate that he embraced me as I am, that he didn’t judge my emotional swings, and that he was willing to give me space when I needed it. Some people may be less open about their anxiety, but if they’re willing to bring up the fact that they have it in the first place, they’re probably willing to talk to you about it. If they’re willing to talk, this is a great opportunity for you to ask them about how anxiety affects them, what their triggers are, and other information that will help you be more sensitive to their particular needs.
In addition, here are some things that were helpful to me in my relationship. As always, you’re going to have to feel it out for yourself and listen to your gut and to reason, but it’s a good place to start.
1. Ask if there’s anything you can do to make things easier or to help – Do this every single time the person you’re dating is having an high anxiety episode. My answer to this is usually “no,” but the fact that someone is even asking usually makes me feel better. There’s something very comforting about knowing you have support. Even if you can’t fix the problem, you help by being willing to fix it.
2. Answer her texts or pick up the phone in a timely manner – Take the “wait three days to call” rule or what have you, and throw it out the window. If I didn’t hear back from someone in a timely manner, I always assumed that either they never wanted to talk to me again or that they had died in a fiery car crash. That sounds kind of ridiculous – and it is! – but that’s what happens in my brain! Do everyone a favor and just pick up the phone.
3. Understand that she’s not going to be able to will herself to feel better – Anxiety is a mental health condition. This makes it a health condition, period, and just like the flu, people can’t just up and decide that they’re cured all of a sudden. There are ways she can treat her anxiety, but it’s not as easy as taking a pill or deciding to be strong. Be supportive as she works through her treatment.
4. Respect her need for physical space – My anxiety symptoms are very much physical. I feel tightness and unease in my chest and my limbs tingle. Sometimes the *thought* of being touched makes things worse. I’m not saying to avoid giving the person you’re dating a hug, but know that if she doesn’t want to be touched, it’s possibly the anxiety and not you. (I mean, it could be you. But it’s not necessarily you. You should probably ask.)
5. … But understand that sometimes she won’t want space – Safe touch is important, too. Anxiety feels very lonely sometimes. Sometimes when I’m upset, I need that hug that I was pushing away earlier. This is why it’s good to refer back to number 1, ask if there’s anything you can do to help.
6. Be prepared to cancel or change plans – Sometimes, I don’t want to go out. I don’t want to interact with people. I will do everything in my power to accompany you to wherever you want to go – especially if your friends are involved – but sometimes, I just can’t. So if the person you’re dating really really is having a hard time, you will make her feel a lot better if you’re willing to modify plans and maybe stay in.
7. Recognize whether this relationship is a good fit and act appropriately – It took a very special person to love and accept me just as I am. Being with a person with anxiety can be wonderful, but it does present challenges. If those challenges aren’t for you, that’s okay. But please be kind if you do decide this relationship is not a good fit.
If this is overwhelming to you, please don’t let it be. This isn’t meant to be a list of rules – it’s meant to give you some guidelines to make this relationship as happy as possible for both of you. Anxiety is only one part of the person you’re dating, and you have the opportunity to have a kickass relationship with a kickass person.