A young woman in a green shirt sits with her partner in a blue shirt. She has anxiety and they are discussing the ways in which he can best support her.

How to Be Supportive When Dating Someone With Anxiety

August 3, 2023

8 min.

1 in 3 adolescents may be impacted by anxiety. If your partner’s one of them, here’s what to do, learn, and discuss to be the most supportive you can be.

By: Sarah duRivage-Jacobs

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

Learn more about our Clinical Review Process


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Table of Contents

1 in 3 adolescents (ages 13-18) will be impacted by an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. That means that a good percentage of young people in relationships may have an anxious partner. If that’s the case for you, you might be wondering how to show up for your partner. The truth is that there isn’t a supportive partner checklist that works for every relationship.

Supporting someone you love with symptoms of anxiety depends on your partner, your own experiences with anxiety, and what kind of help your partner is open to. Navigating dating someone with anxiety begins with education, which is probably why you landed on this article. We turned to a Charlie Health clinician and research on anxiety and relationships to help you and your partner find the answers for yourselves.

How can anxiety impact romantic relationships?

The ways that anxiety may affect a romantic relationship are different from person to person. “Anxiety doesn’t always show up as what we think being anxious looks like,” explains Ann Matino, MSW, LCSW, a Clinical Director at Charlie Health. One person’s anxiety issue may look like shaking, avoidance, patterns of negative thoughts, or the need for constant reassurance—while another anxious person’s symptoms may look like anger. 

Adolescence is also a uniquely anxiety-producing time, says Matino: “You’re dealing with identity, and you’re dealing with school issues, and your parents are freaking out over different things.” Considering all of these factors, identifying how anxiety, on its own, is impacting a relationship can be difficult.

Can research give us answers? Some, but not all. The authors of a 2017 review of studies about anxiety among married couples tried to understand how anxiety symptoms can impact relationships. The findings demonstrated a two-way connection between “dissatisfaction” in relationships and anxiety: Relationship dissatisfaction may lead to or worsen anxiety, and partners may find it challenging to deal with the impact of the symptoms on the relationship. Basically, it’s hard to know whether relationship issues or anxiety symptoms came first.

What about research on younger people? A 2016 study on social anxiety and social support among undergraduate students found that social anxiety was linked with relationship difficulties—even when the students were in established romantic relationships. Relationship problems were also associated with how partners perceived and provided support. However, the association between social support and relationship outcomes was independent from levels of social anxiety. This means that there wasn’t an observed link between social support and social anxiety—possibly because participants didn’t always perceive support even when it was provided.

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How can you know if your partner has anxiety?

As Matino mentioned, symptoms of anxiety can look different in different people. Anxiety may be a reason for sudden changes in behavior, such as your romantic partner expressing unexpected fear because you didn’t call them when you said you would. It can show up in appetite changes, like eating significantly more or less than their usual. Anxiety may look like rapid escalation of an argument, a panic attack, or a partner’s last-minute decision not to go with you to a social situation. These kinds of symptoms can also overlap with symptoms of depression.

Although anxiety symptoms aren’t the same for everyone, some common anxiety symptoms in teens and young adults include:

  • Feeling restless, tightly wound, or on edge
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Struggling to concentrate
  • Struggling with controlling emotions
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Getting sick frequently
  • Feeling achy muscles and other pains

How can you support your partner if they have anxiety?

First, it’s crucial to understand that having a partner’s buy-in before making suggestions for relieving anxiety or otherwise involving yourself in their experience with their symptoms. If someone isn’t open or receptive to your recommendations—even if they’re intended to be supportive—it can be really frustrating for both of you. After all, no one responds well to unsolicited advice.

Here are five ways you can discuss anxiety with your partner and come to an understanding about how and when to provide support.

1. Talk honestly and openly about anxiety

Matino says that open communication is important for all relationships, including ones where anxiety might be a factor. 

Start by having each partner share their experiences with anxiety. According to Matino, that conversation may sound like this: “Let me tell you some of the things that make me anxious, and you tell me some of the things that make you anxious.” Having an open-ended conversation about anxiety is important, says Matino, because it allows partners to share their experiences—which can vary significantly. “Sometimes there are things that don’t seem to make sense for one person” and vice versa, Matino explains. 

It’s important to understand where anxieties may come from—and where you may or may not be willing to make adjustments so those issues don’t arise. For example, says Matino, “Am I willing to adjust to having you drive everywhere we go because you’re anxious riding with other people? Is that okay?” Everyone’s boundaries should be discussed and respected.

It’s also important to talk about the physical manifestations of someone’s anxiety. Questions to consider and ask include:

  • What signs can I look out for so I know you’re feeling anxious?
  • What does anxiety feel like for you?
  • Where does it sit in your body?

Another way to check in with your partner about their anxiety is “stress thermometer” imagery. “If you look at a ‘stress thermometer’ from green to yellow to orange to red … where are you right now?” explains Matino. “Your partner may seem like they’re fine … [but] what you see isn’t always what’s happening on the inside.”

Having a better sense of your partner’s unique experiences of anxiety symptoms can help you transition into conversations about how to best support them.

Young male in a red shirt at his desk. The male is struggling with anxiety and receiving support from his partner.

2. Learn about anxiety

If your partner has been officially diagnosed with an anxiety-based disorder—such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder—both of you can learn about the symptoms and conditions of the diagnosis. Although everyone’s mental health experiences are personal, having a foundation of knowledge can drive deeper conversations. 

“I’m all for taking an article or information that a partner found and saying, ‘Tell me if this is true for you. Does this make sense?’” says Matino. These kinds of nuanced conversations can help your partner feel heard and understood.

3. Ask how you can be a supportive partner for them

Once you have a basis of understanding with your partner, you can directly ask what you can do to support them with anxiety. According to Matino, it’s critical to avoid doing this when your partner’s “stress thermometer” is at red. It’s difficult to have constructive conversations when either of you is on the high end of the anxiety spectrum.

When your partner is in a more relaxed place, consider saying things like:

  • Is it okay if I help you when you seem anxious? I might bring up some things to you. If you don’t want to do them, that’s okay. It’s up to you.
  • As a partner, I need to know what makes sense for you, for me to do or not to do. What’s helpful? What’s not helpful?

Get specific, clear, and direct. It’s important that your partner is on the same page about how you can support them. Interestingly, in one of the earlier papers we cited, the authors found that supporting a partner experiencing social anxiety isn’t always welcomed—and it can sometimes even exacerbate issues. This underscores the need to support people how they want to be supported, not how you think they should be supported.

4. Share resources.

Hopefully, your partner can give you specifics about how and when they prefer to be supported. Here are some considerations and suggestions you can use to start the conversation and better understand how to show up for them. Remember: With any of these ideas, it’s important to make sure your resources are desired

Mental healthcare

If your partner isn’t already going to therapy or getting other professional help for their anxiety, it might be a good idea to gently bring up the possibility of seeking help—especially if their daily functioning and ability to maintain relationships are affected by anxiety. However, it’s important to mention this only when anxiety levels are manageable—and only if they’ve expressed that this kind of recommendation might be appreciated.

Breathing exercises

Matino recommends learning about breathing exercises and offering to do them with your partner if they’re open to it. A simple breathing exercise that can be really helpful for calming the mind is paced breathing, which can decrease heart rate and other physical symptoms of anxiety.

How to try paced breathing:

  1. Breathe from your abdomen and through your nose for four counts.
  2. Breathe out from your mouth for six counts.
  3. Repeat from the beginning for 1-2 minutes.

Read the Charlie Health guide to anxiety care for more recommendations.

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Temperature changes

“Ice can be a real game-changer” for anxiety and panic attacks, says Matino. If your partner is open to your recommendations, you can suggest they put their face in a bowl of ice water for just a few seconds to “reset” their system.

Anxiety playlists

Matino also suggests playlists as an in-the-moment resource to help with symptoms. Ask your partner if you can work together to create a calming playlist for times when anxiety levels are high.

5. Get your own mental healthcare if you need it.

If you’re dating someone with mental health issues, or even if you’re not, “it’s not a bad idea to go and see a therapist,” says Matino. 

Even if your partner is the one who’s struggling with anxiety symptoms, you play a role in how you respond when issues arise. Understanding how you may decrease or even contribute to symptoms may be helpful.

A 2019 paper explored how partners in romantic relationships perceived the “causes” of mental health-related symptoms. The findings demonstrated bias in what led to mental health symptoms—and what caused relationship issues. While this was a relatively small study (94 couples), it presents a reality that partners may not always be aligned on how mental health symptoms impact relationships. This research is a good reminder that everyone plays a part—and those parts are worth investigating.

Anxiety support at Charlie Health

If your partner is dealing with anxiety and their symptoms are getting in the way of daily life and activities, Charlie Health is here to help. Our virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) combines group sessions with individual and family therapy for young people who need more than once-weekly mental health support. Charlie Health’s team of clinicians are adept at addressing the way that mental health conditions, including anxiety, impact relationships, and can help people on their healing journey. Fill out this brief form to get started today.

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