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How Anxiety Ruins Relationships

Anxiety can ruin relationships. Discover how and why anxiety ruins relationships and what you can do to prevent it on HealthyPlace.

The idea of anxiety ruining relationships may seem a bit dramatic, but sadly, it can be true that anxiety ruins relationships. Anxiety is overpowering. When it intrudes on someone, it bulldozes itself into their relationships, too. It affects someone’s thoughts, emotions, and actions, clouding perceptions and leading to misinterpretations and misery. When this happens in the context of a relationship, it can
cause an incredible amount of stress and misunderstandings. Anxiety ruins relationships when worries, what-ifs, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors crowd out the positive that once existed between two people.

Is “ruin” the right term, though? Are relationships really destroyed by anxiety? Let’s take a look.

Can Anxiety Ruin Relationships?

When someone lives with anxiety, their life becomes increasingly restricted so that negative, anxious thoughts and beliefs become paramount. As the focus of the relationship, anxiety wedges itself between the partners, blocking their view of each other. When people lose sight of each other because of anxious ideas and behaviors, anxiety ruins the relationship.

Anxiety has been shown to increase relationship problems. People living with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), for example, are more prone than those without GAD to experience relationship problems, including divorce (Cuncic, 2018). According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (n.d.), people with GAD are twice as likely as those without anxiety to have at least one significant relationship problem and are three times more likely to avoid intimacy.

Intimacy is a vital component of healthy relationships. Avoiding it due to anxiety (such as fear of inadvertently displeasing their partner), can be a deal-breaker. It’s not just GAD that interferes in relationships and causes their demise. Any anxiety disorder can do this as can anxiety that doesn’t meet the diagnostic criteria for a disorder. Essentially, any type of anxiety can ruin relationships.

Anxiety in a relationship is incredibly stressful. Worries, what-ifs, fears, thoughts emotions, and behaviors cause angst, both to the person with anxiety and their partner. Stress becomes a theme for the relationship. Barriers form between partners, which create greater and greater distance. All too often, this unhealthy situation leads to the demise of the relationship. In answer to the above question, then, yes—anxiety can ruin relationships.

By looking more closely at why anxiety ruins relationships, we can gain knowledge that can be used to prevent relationships from breaking apart because of anxiety.

Why Anxiety Ruins Relationships

Anxiety ruins relationships because it intrudes. It creates negative thought patterns and beliefs, and it makes them larger than life (as in bigger and more believable than reality). These issues erode feelings of connection and the ability to trust. Anxiety becomes an obstacle as it commands the attention of both partners. Rather than being fully present with each other, both the person with anxiety and their partner place too much attention on the anxiety. This, in turn, leads to feelings of disconnection, separation, and abandonment.

Anxiety is a critical voice that shouts not “sweet nothings” but “mean somethings.” A big part of any type of anxiety is self-doubt that talks over the rational thoughts and words of both partners. Anxious thoughts and beliefs held by the partner with anxiety says such things as:

  • You’re incompetent
  • You don’t deserve your partner’s love
  • You aren’t a good partner
  • Your partner is going to leave you
  • You should protect your partner so nothing bad happens to them

If anxious thoughts would remain mere thoughts, they’d be annoying but probably wouldn’t ruin relationships. Anxiety never remains as thoughts, however. Instead, they bleed into emotions and dictate behaviors. Certain types of anxious behaviors, stemming from both thoughts and emotions, are common in relationships:

  • Clinginess, overdependence, attachment, and an extreme need for closeness, reassurance
  • Jealousy, possessiveness, suspiciousness
  • Withdrawal, retreat, and isolation
  • Cold, rejecting, punishing, shunning
  • Avoidance of open, honest communication

Anxiety drives these behaviors, but it’s not just the person with anxiety who uses them. Anxiety ruins relationships because relationships can’t sustain themselves with these barriers to closeness, fun, and intimacy.

Awareness of how anxiety ruins relationships can give couples a starting point in reconnecting. While
anxiety can ruin relationships, it doesn’t have to obliterate them, crushing them beyond repair.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, April 17). How Anxiety Ruins Relationships, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/relationships/how-anxiety-ruins-relationships

Last Updated: May 15, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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