How Anxiety May Affect Your Relationships

Are Your Overly Dependent or Avoidant?

Young woman sitting on sofa, looking at distressed man at table
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Having generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can negatively impact many aspects of your life, including your relationships.

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.

Being Overly Dependent

Some people with GAD 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 GAD may find themselves prone to overthinking, planning for all worst-case scenarios, being indecisive, fearing rejection, and seeking out constant communication (and getting anxious if a partner or friend does not respond quickly).

Excessive anxiety can lead to inappropriate suspiciousness or paranoia. For instance, in a partner relationship, suspiciousness may manifest as concern that your partner is not faithful or does not love or care for you as much as you do. In friendships, you may be suspicious that your friend is leaving you out of activities or talking badly about you behind your back. 

People with GAD and overly dependent relationships may also develop excessive anger, acting out in ways that are destructive to their relationships. Your partner or friend may find this disruptive, and it can weaken their ability to trust you.

Combating Dependence (Overly)

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 paranoid about your relationships, first remind yourself that your suspicion may be fueled by your anxiety.

Then, take a few moments to think about any hard data (facts) that support your worry. In addition, remember to consider the data that does not support your worry. 

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.

Being Avoidant

On the other end of the spectrum, some people with GAD become overly independent and detached from others and from their emotions. 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 described as cold, emotionally unavailable, lacking empathy, or even stand-offish.  

Along with being distant, you may notice you are uncomfortable with intimacy in romantic relationships and/or mistrustful of your partner's intentions. When problems arise in relationships, you may hold yourself back from processing your feelings.

Combating Avoidance

If you find yourself being overly distant in your relationships, cognitive behavioral therapy along with a type of therapy called interpersonal and emotional processing therapy (I/EP) may be helpful.

With I/EP therapy, a mental health professional can help a person explore past and present relationships and the emotions surrounding those interpersonal connections.

Treating Your Anxiety and Relationship Problems

In the end, how GAD impacts your relationships will help your therapist tailor your treatment sessions. For instance, exploring your emotions more deeply may be a good strategy for someone who tends be avoidant in relationships. On the flip side, this strategy may backfire for people who are more dependent on others and emotionally reactive.

It's important to note that medication is also often an essential part of treatment for people with GAD.

While the medications prescribed for anxiety, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, are not curative, they can help soothe your worries and help you feel better. This calming, easing effect can give you some piece of mind as you rework your anxious thoughts and behaviors with your therapist. 

A Word From Verywell

While anxiety can be healthy (it can motivate people and/or help them sense danger within their environment), for people with GAD, their anxiety is overwhelming and debilitating, which can be extremely detrimental to relationships. 

But rest assured, with proper treatment, you can develop healthy, long-lasting, and fulfilling connections with others.

Sources:

Craske M, Bystritsky A. (2017). Approach to treating generalized anxiety disorder in adults. Stein MB, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. 

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 Oct;83(5):915-25.

Seltzer LF. (2011). Psychology Today: Cold People: What Makes Them That Way? Part 1

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