Couple in different room anxious fight
Illustration by Marta Pucci

Does My Partner Make My Anxiety Worse?

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
Last updated:
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
Last updated:


  • As a result of the recent pandemic, levels of anxiety in society have been rising.
  • It’s thought over 19% of US adults suffer with some form of anxiety that impacts their mental health and quality of life.
  • The way your partner responds to you when you're feeling anxious can hinder rather than help you, even if you don't realize it.
  • In order to figure out if this is the case, you will need to look at the situation as objectively as you can and ask yourself some tough questions.

It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to hear that levels of anxiety are increasing in society. In fact, you’re more than likely aware that you, your partner or friends of yours have been struggling with daily life  more than you may have done in the past.

You’re not imagining it. It was reported by the WHO earlier this year that during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, “global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%”. That, they said, was due to “multiple stress factors” such as isolation, difficulties working and a lack of engagement in local community life. Not to mention general worries about health and the future.

But what effect have these worsening anxiety levels had on our relationships? And is it possible that our partners could be hindering our quest to improve our mental health rather than helping us?

How does your anxiety affect you…

Do you worry about all the things all the time? Or do you find you fret about one or more specific thing? Perhaps your children, your health or what the future holds?

Maybe you experience physical symptoms like heart palpitations, shortness of breath or feelings of panic. Maybe your hands shake or a sense of uneasiness comes over you before particularly stressful events. It might affect you in the early hours of the morning as you lay awake in bed, or you might feel an underlying queasiness throughout the day.

Anxiety comes in many forms, affecting people in a variety of different ways, but one thing is certain. It is far from uncommon. In fact, it’s thought more than 19% of US adults suffer with some form of anxiety that impacts their mental health and quality of life. Whether that’s generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, nighttime anxiety or even PTSD as the result of a trauma.

So perhaps the most important thing to say here is you are definitely not alone.

…and your relationship?

The symptoms of anxiety can impact on your relationship, too.

If you’re withdrawn, irritable or struggling with low mood you may find it difficult to communicate with and respond to your partner in the way you normally would. If you’re not willing to open up about how you’re feeling, your partner may find it difficult to empathize, and may even begin to worry that they have done something wrong.

Meanwhile, anxiety and low mood can have an impact on the physical side of your relationship, causing issues with libido and reducing sexual desire.

In short, anxiety can impact all aspects of your life.

Is your partner making your anxiety worse?

Of course, it will usually be the case that a loving partner sees you are struggling with intense anxiety and wants to do something to help resolve the situation. But that doesn’t mean they’ll go about it in the right way.

For some partners of anxious people, that spiral of emotions that can come from nowhere is difficult to understand and to deal with. They might feel your low mood is a reflection on how you feel about them. They might believe the issue is with you to resolve, or perhaps simply feel helpless not knowing where to begin to help. 

Maybe their best efforts are just not helping though.

We urge you to undertake a little bit of critical analysis about what's been going on.

Ask yourself the following questions (and be honest with yourself):

  • When are the times that your anxiety is better, and when is it worse? Is there any relationship to when it is worse and whether your partner is nearby?
  • If you believe your partner is making your anxiety worse, do you think they are highly strung themselves? It’s often the case that anxiety and overwhelming emotions are contagious. Could you, in fact, be simply picking up on your partner's anxiety?
  • What is it specifically that your partner is doing that makes you more anxious? Is it the way they speak to you? Do you feel they tend to criticize you unnecessarily?
  • Is it what you partner is communicating verbally? Or are you picking up something else from them? Consider whether your partner’s behavior could be deemed abusive, or even gaslighting?

What can you do about it?

If you’re struggling with anxiety, you’re likely to be pre-programmed to think what's been going on is your fault. But that makes it all the more important to try to look at your partner objectively.

Think about the actions they’re taking and the words they are saying. Note how you are feeling. Remember, your feelings are valid. And try to pinpoint what is making you feel the way you do. And try to identify whether what’s happening is down to your own issues or your partner’s.

Only by taking a critical look at the situation and perhaps talking to a trusted friend or therapist will you be able to truly take stock and work out what needs to happen to help improve the situation. Get clear on your partner’s role in that - ie what you need from them - as well as the changes you commit to making yourself.

Then it’s time for an open and honest conversation.

Talk to your partner
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