Almost all couples have their share of challenges.

Financial hurdles, disputes over child rearing, differing priorities, intimacy issues and a host of other areas can make romantic partnerships difficult endeavors at times.

However, when one half of a couple has an anxiety disorder, partners face a whole new set of challenges, as well as exacerbating many of the normal challenges that couples often face.

One partner may not know how to help his or her significant other, and might feel frustrated, angry, resentful, guilty, sad or hopeless about his or her situation.

Read on to learn more about how partners can help one another — and themselves — when an anxiety disorder is part of the relationship equation.

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorders are a unique group of illnesses that fill people’s lives with persistent, excessive and unreasonable anxiety, worry and fear.

They include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder (SAD) and specific phobias. Although anxiety disorders are serious medical conditions, they are treatable.

How can an anxiety disorder affect a couple’s relationship?

An anxiety disorder can take a major toll on a couple, as illustrated by a 2004 ADAA study examining the impact of GAD on personal relationships (including spouses/significant others, children, friends and co-workers). Not surprisingly, the study found that a couple’s relationship suffers the most compared to other personal relationships (i.e., friendships, co-workers) when one partner has GAD. Specifically, GAD sufferers were significantly less likely to consider themselves in a “healthy and supportive” relationship with their partner or spouse than people without GAD; two times more likely to experience at least one relationship problem (i.e., getting into arguments on a regular basis, or avoiding going places, participating in social activities and/or communicating with their spouse); and three times more likely to avoid being intimate with their partner. Moreover, 75 percent of GAD sufferers said they felt their disorder impaired their ability to perform normal activities with their spouse/partner, and the majority felt their relationship would improve if they were not suffering from the disorder. Although the study looked specifically at GAD, many of these findings would likely be replicated for the other anxiety disorders as well.

What difficulties can a person’s anxiety disorder place on his or her partner?

While having an anxiety disorder is associated with a great deal of personal distress, it can be equally as hard for significant others. The reality of living with a partner with an anxiety disorder is not how most significant others imagined their lives would turn out. Partners of those suffering with anxiety problems often have to take on much more than the normal share of domestic, economic, parenting and other responsibilities.

Almost every area of their own life can be affected such as:

#Normal Family Activities — Anxiety disorders can be as disruptive as physical ailments, and sometimes more so. Household routines are often disturbed, and special plans or allowances often need to be made for the anxiety sufferer. A partner often must take on the full burden of handling responsibilities such as bills, shopping, driving the kids to their activities, etc. for reasons that vary based on the individual and his or her specific disorder. Partners may feel understandably overwhelmed and burned out from bearing most of the burden for family activities that often come so easily to other couples and families.

#Finances and Employment — for some people with an anxiety disorder, their symptoms make it difficult to get or keep a job. This may have serious financial repercussions and create major hardships in the family. The spouse or partner of someone with an anxiety disorder may become the sole bread winner at times —often a stressful role and one the partner does not wish to have.

#Social Life — People with anxiety disorders often avoid taking part in routine social activities. Unfortunately, a by product of this can be that the partner’s social life suffers as well. After all, couples often spend their time with other couples. Therefore, partners of anxiety sufferers may feel isolated.

#Emotional Well-Being — with the family upheaval and economic hardship that an anxiety disorder can have in some cases, a partner’s emotional state might begin to suffer as well. Spouses and partners may feel sad, depressed or scared (for themselves or for their husband/wife), or angry, resentful and bitter toward their loved one. If angry or resentful, they may also feel guilty for feeling this way. However, most of these feelings are quite normal for people in this situation. As described in more detail later in this piece, there are ways partners can help deal with these emotions. Sometimes, it may be necessary to seek professional help individually or as a couple. If your partner has an anxiety disorder, you can facilitate his or her improvement and recovery by providing support, encouragement and creating an environment that promotes healing. Below are some everyday tips that might help:

#How can you support a partner with an anxiety disorder?

While the challenges described above can be daunting, it is important to note that with treatment, people with anxiety disorders can go on to lead-

Normal, productive lives that include successful careers, thriving social lives and busy schedules.

Thus, appropriate treatment can often help alleviate many of those issues that contribute to the stress on the significant other.

You can find out more about treatment for anxiety disorders later in this piece.

Learn about the anxiety disorder.

Encourage treatment.

#What role does a partner play in treatment for an anxiety disorder? What specific treatment options are available?
•Aim for positive reinforcement of healthy behavior, rather than only criticizing irrational fear, avoidance, or rituals (“catch ‘em doing something right”).
•Measure progress on the basis of individual improvement, not against some absolute standard.
•Help set specific goals that are realistic and that can be approached one step at a time.
•Don’t assume you know what is needed. Ask how you can help. Listen carefully to the response.
•Acknowledge that you don’t understand if you’re never personally experienced a panic attack or other form of irrational anxiety.
•Understand that knowing when to be patient and when to push can be challenging. It’s a fine line. Achieving a proper balance often requires trial and error.
•Remember, recovery requires hard work on the part of the individual, and patience on the part of the partner and family. It may seem like a slow process, but the rewards are well worth it.
• Although ultimate responsibility lies with the patient, a significant other can play an active role in the treatment of a partner’s anxiety disorder (note that the precise nature of the assistance will vary depending on the disorder and other individual circumstances).
•Mental health professionals are increasingly recommending couple-based and family-based treatment programs. In one common approach to family therapy, a mental health professional enlists the partner as a “co-therapist.”
•In this role and with training, the spouse or other partner can assist the patient with “homework” assigned by the therapist to further the progress that is made in therapy sessions. This might involve accompanying the patient into anxiety-producing situations and encouraging him/her to stay in the situation using pre-developed anxiety reduction techniques (this type of homework is usually a supplement to “exposure” sessions with a therapist in which patients are gradually brought into contact with feared objects/situations to show them that they can face them without harm). Or, it might include helping a partner stick to his or her “behavior contract,” sometimes developed with the therapist to control a patient’s anxiety responses in “real life” and when the therapist isn’t there.
•For someone with OCD who responds to anxiety by performing rituals or routines, a behavior contact might limit how often the patient may indulge in ritual behavior, and a partner can assist by discouraging the patient from repeatedly performing the ritual and positively reinforcing ritual-free periods of time

Below are some of the specific treatment options for anxiety disorders:

Many of which spouses and significant others can be incorporated into as described above:
1.Behavior Therapy — the goal of behavior therapy is to modify and gain control over unwanted behavior. The individual learns to cope with difficult situations, often through controlled exposure to them.
2.Cognitive Therapy — the goal of cognitive therapy is to identify, challenge, and change unwanted, unproductive thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The individual learns to separate unrealistic thoughts and feelings from realistic ones. As with behavior therapy, the individual is actively involved in his or her own recovery.
3.Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT) — many therapists use a combination of cognitive and behavior therapies. This is often referred to as CBT. With CBT, the patient learns recovery skills that are useful for a lifetime.
4.Medication — Medication can be very useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders, and it is often used in conjunction with one or more of the therapies mentioned above. Sometimes antidepressants or anxiolytics (anti-anxiety medications) are used to alleviate severe symptoms so that other forms of therapy can go forward. Medication can be either a short-term or long-term treatment option, depending on the individual. The choice of medication should be discussed carefully between doctor and patient and will always depend on individual circumstances.
5.Relaxation Techniques — Relaxation techniques may help individuals develop the ability to more effectively cope with the stresses that contribute to anxiety and mood, as well as with some of the physical symptoms associated with them. The techniques taught include breathing re-training, progressive muscle relaxation and exercise.
6. It is extremely important (and not selfish) for the partners of individuals with an anxiety disorder to care for themselves as well. Below are some tips that can help you cope:

How should you help yourself if your partner has an anxiety disorder?
1.Don’t give up your own life and interests — Engaging in outside interests and hobbies can provide a much-needed break from the stress of your daily life, as well as leave you energized, happier, healthier and better prepared to face challenges. It is important to take this time for yourself and not become completely consumed with your partner’s disorder.
2.Maintain a support system — having friends and family to confide in — as well as assist you emotionally, financially and in other ways when your spouse/significant other cannot — is vital for an individual whose partner has an anxiety disorder.
3.Set boundaries — Decide where your limits lie and inform your partner of those. These might be emotional, financial, physical, etc. For instance, if your partner is not working and is not doing anything to try to become well (i.e., seeking treatment, participating in support groups, etc.), you may need to have a serious discussion about your expectations and how to move forward to improve the situation. Couples therapy can often help with this.
4.Seek out professional help for yourself if necessary — the recovery process can be stressful for partners of anxiety sufferers. Your well-being is just as important as your spouse’s/significant other’s. If you need someone to talk to, or if you think you may be suffering from symptoms of anxiety or depression, you should talk to your doctor or consider visiting a mental health professional yourself. You can find a searchable listing of mental health professionals in your area

Author's Bio: 

Julie Doherty is a Fully Accredited Naturopathic & Massage Practitioner with the Australian Traditional Medicine Society Ltd.
Having completed Professional Qualifications in Naturopathic Medicine: Herbal Medicine: Homoeopathic, Nutritional Medicine: Holistic Massage Therapy: Body Work: & Natural Beauty Therapy. This has enabled Julie to follow her dream of supporting people to overcome their health issues & heal their body with the use of a combination of Naturopathic, Herbal, and Homoeopathic & Nutritional Medicines & Therapies to become well without causing further harm or complications
Julie is involved in supporting other health care professionals with treatment protocols for people who are on prescription medication, chemo therapy and other related health care procedures
Julie’s vision and passion has been & still is to assist each person to become well with the least invasive & most effective treatments. Whilst working with likeminded people.
Over the past 25 years, Julie Doherty has successfully treated & assisted people with various areas of ill health and disease from the common cold, skin ailments through to cancer.
Julie’s approach is to enable each person to have the best “Quality of life possible” whilst making your treatments effective, affordable and manageable incorporating these strategies into each person's everyday living. Respecting each person's culture and individual characteristics
Julie is a sought-after public speaker, lecturer & author providing community talks, facilitated & implementing professional related courses.
Julie is a published blogger and author who is recognized for her expert knowledge with Self Growth supporting & providing assistance with healthy life protocols.
Julie has been recognized by the Stanford Who's Who and the Continental Who's who for her dedication and recognition of excellence as a Health Care Practitioner, Executive, Entrepreneur and Professional standards of ethics.
What makes the work of Julie Doherty stand out? The successful testimonials of her clients becoming well both-young and old, from a wide range of disease and signs of ill health: It has been commented about her humanness, her humour, her willingness to reveal so much of herself, her belief and commitment to her industry and clients, and the easy-to-understand style of her communicating and her simplistic way of explaining treatments and programs to become well. Her understanding of the interconnectedness when there is a problem with health and it is out of balance that it is never just one thing, so addressing all related causes of the health problem/problems that she addresses with you.
To complement our healthy treatment programs Julie has formulated a Skin, Hair & Body Care Range that is good for you “Just For You”, not only will it have your skin looking great, healthy & vibrant. Your skin needs to be fed good healthy nutrients the same as your body