I have seen many patients with anxiety- as such, I have witnessed how anxiety can affect their relationships in a negative way. Relationships suffer as the person with anxiety becomes self-focused on their own worries, thoughts, and need to be comforted, that they ignore the needs of their partner. It gets especially problematic when the partner does not understand that it is anxiety that is the problem, and then they start blaming the sufferer that they are sabotaging the relationship. It is important for both partners to recognize that this is a problem with anxiety, and to get immediate help, so the relationship can be salvaged. In fact, if there is understanding that anxiety is a problem, then the healthy partner can be a resource for the sufferer to recover…this process can bring people in a relationship closer together.
To paraphrase the Russian novelist Tolstoy, there are a million ways in which a marriage can go wrong and only one in which it can go right (actually, the quotation from Anna Karenina was “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” but the implication is the same). Problems associated with anxiety of one or both spouses can be disruptive to a marriage and family.
What do research studies say about the effect of anxiety on married couples? McLeod (1994) examined various types of anxiety disorders in one or both spouses and their effects on marital satisfaction. Phobic disorders in one or both spouses were associated with the worst reports of marital quality. However, if the spouses shared a phobia, the impact on the marriage was not as dire. Panic disorders were the next most likely to create marital problems. Wives reporting general anxiety reported poor satisfaction with the marriage. However, the same anxiety problems in husbands resulted in the poorest outcomes only when combined with factors like depression, alcohol dependence, or drug abuse.
Of course, McLeod’s report focused on full-blown anxiety disorders and their effects on marital satisfaction and quality. A bit of anxiety does not a full-blown anxiety disorder make, and most marriages can cope with a bit of anxiety without bad consequences. However, if your spouse does suffer from an untreated anxiety disorder, it might lead to problems with the marriage. Spouses with concerns regarding the effects of possible anxiety problems might therefore seek professional help in coping with the problem before it has a chance to evolve into marital problems. Also helpful is psychoeducation, which is the process of learning about a mental problem, like anxiety. AnxietyBoss.com and Anxiety Protocol can help you to learn more about anxiety, and can help you to recover from it.