This is a guest post from relationship expert and anxiety sufferer, Erica Gordon, of The Babe Report.
Anxiety is at an all-time high at the beginning of a new relationship, where it’s normal to be insecure due to the uncertainty in where you stand.
A lot of anxiety stems from feelings of uncertainty. It’s the not knowing or not understanding why his behavior is inconsistent that gets to us. And, not knowing how he truly feels or who else he might be pursuing when he’s not with you. Is he talking to other women, or keeping other women on the backburner? Is he truly interested in pursuing this, or is he continuing to look at other options? Those are just a few examples, but in general, a feeling of being ‘in the dark’ or ‘uncertain’ is what anxiety sufferers can’t stand.
Since every new relationship is a clean slate, the best thing to do is keep a positive outlook on the new relationship’s potential, and have faith in the person you are dating. This requires blind trust, and unfortunately, those with anxiety have a hard time trusting in someone or something new.
Anxiety sufferers need trust to be earned while dating, as it’s never automatic for us. This can cause problems in new relationships, but it can work if the person you’re dating is good at being reassuring and attentive.
Anxiety sufferers trying to date someone new tend to need extra attention. Everyone likes getting attention from their new love interest, but in the beginning of a relationship, you rarely get that kind of attention every day. Anxiety sufferers tend to need attention and words of affirmation on a daily basis. Not all day every day, but at least some words of affirmation every day.
This is difficult to ask for, especially when the relationship is brand new. If you’re trying to communicate these needs in a new relationship, the best way to word it would be to say that you’re attracted to men who are attentive on a daily basis, as you find it sexy and exciting. The truth is that anxiety sufferers are more attracted to someone who isn’t mysterious, doesn’t play hard to get, and is instead attentive.
My Own Anxiety Diagnoses
I have two anxiety disorders, PTSD and GAD. Although my anxiety affects my life and my thinking every single day, the outside world doesn’t notice and my friends and family don’t see it manifesting on a day-to-day basis, because I have learned to function somewhat normally despite it. Sometimes, it does manifest, and it will be noticed and commented on – but for the most part, I’ve learned to be a high-functioning individual with anxiety. I may be suffering, but I keep that suffering to myself, and I attempt to keep my anxious thoughts to myself.
I was a victim of two back-to-back traumatic experiences in my late twenties, and I developed PTSD. I already had GAD at the time of the traumas.
For me, having anxiety means that I’ll naturally revert back to negative thinking if I’m not thoughtfully and actively reminding myself to be optimistic, or if the man I’m dating gives me too much space, which becomes room to wonder. My natural inclination is to imagine the worst-case scenario or jump to the worst possible conclusion. This messes with my head, in the most simple ways. The guy I like didn’t text me back for a couple of days? He must have met someone else and lost interest in me. Someone canceled plans with me? They must have decided another option was more appealing. Someone says they’re in love with me? Sorry, but you’ll have to try to prove it.
How My Anxiety Manifests in Dating and Relationships
Anxiety manifests as insecurities, and most people in my life aren’t able to offer me as much reassurance as I need, as much consistency as I need, or accommodate my illness. So, I’ve learned to go through life without having my needs met. Ideally, I’d love to have a partner who could be consistent in his words and behaviors, and reassure me that he loves me every single day. This would leave no room for guessing, wondering or worrying.
On insecurity, read: This Silent Killer Can Unexpectedly Destroy Your New Relationship
You see, people with anxiety will guess, wonder and worry unless the person with whom they’re in a relationship doesn’t leave room for any of that. However, most of the people I’ve tried to date do leave plenty of room for guessing, wondering and worrying – and my anxious thoughts will take over – at which point I might start saying or doing things that will push them away.
What is anxiety in relationships?
Anxiety in relationships is the fear of being lonely, yet doing and saying things that make sure we’ll end up alone. Anxiety is like being ashamed and shameless, scared and brazen, all at the same time. It’s caring too much, yet acting carelessly. That’s because when anxiety takes over, we’re thoughtless in our words and actions. We’re risky. We’ll say and do things that could cost us everything – and we do it all without thinking.
Anxiety is wanting to be understood while often being incapable of explaining our true feelings. It’s saying all the wrong things at all the wrong times. It’s knowing we’re over-reacting yet not being able to contain our reactions. It’s knowing in our hearts that we deserve to be understood, accommodated and forgiven, yet rarely getting those things. One episode of anxiety that lasts only minutes, can have lasting effects on a relationship.
Anxiety is feeling way too much pain, yet being in a dissociated state or feeling as though it’s pointless to keep trying to explain how we feel. When I’m anxious, sometimes my empathy, rational thinking, and true feelings go out the window while anxious thoughts temporarily take over.
It is during these episodes that I try to refrain from talking to people. Otherwise, I might start a fight with someone. I never know what will trigger an anxiety attack. It could be the most innocuous comment or the most insignificant change in someone’s behavior.
The Main Challenge Anxiety Sufferers Face in Dating and New Relationships
The main challenge anxiety sufferers face in dating and new relationships is getting their needs met in terms of reassurance, consistency, and accommodating behaviors. One thing anxiety sufferers face is in new relationships is a need for reassurance that is met with an anxiety about being perceived as ‘needy’. That is because, deep down, they know they have needs for reassurance that will ease their anxiety, but they fear that these basic needs for reassurance will be misconstrued as neediness or fragility.
Sometimes, basic needs for reassurance can even be misconstrued for distrust, where your partner assumes you don’t trust him and assumes that’s the reason why you’re requiring reassurance.
An anxiety sufferer needs a partner who is extremely consistent in their words of affirmation, actions, and behaviors. An example of inconsistency is this: On Monday, your partner sends you several loving texts and plenty of affirmations about how much they love you. On Tuesday, you don’t hear anything from them. On Wednesday, you get a casual call or text asking how your day is, but it almost sounds like they could be talking to a friend. You get the picture. Anxiety sufferers need consistency. They’ll often attempt to explain this, but it’s not taken seriously, and then they’ll give up attempting to explain their needs.
The Anxiety Solution in Dating
The solution for dating would be to be vulnerable enough to really explain your needs. If someone really loves you, they will hear your needs and not ignore or dismiss your needs. Instead of casually mentioning that you get a little bit insecure when you don’t hear from him, take the time to actually explain how your anxiety manifests when you’re left with room to guess, wonder and worry.
Tell him where your brain goes and why this happens. Unfortunately, a big reason why anxiety sufferers don’t properly explain all of this is that their anxiety is met with fear that should they explain what they need, they’ll be viewed as ‘more trouble than she’s worth’ by their partner or ‘needy’ or ‘too damaged.’
The reality is, though, that you’re not asking for a lot. You’re only asking for consistency. Anxiety sufferers develop this irrational fear in their heads that they’ll be perceived as too needy, but the reality is they don’t need very much from a partner aside from that consistency.
What if you’re dating someone with anxiety? Is it a deal-breaker?
Are you dating someone with anxiety? Anxiety is an illness, but relationships can still be healthy if you’re willing to accommodate by being reassuring, extra-supportive, and consciously consistent.
People with anxiety tend to be great partners because we tend to be highly self-aware, very intelligent, very open and extremely direct. Those with anxiety disorders often feel compulsions to tell the truth, which makes them very open and honest partners. That ‘realness’ factor is something many people want in a partner, and it’s something anxious people carry with them. Anxious individuals are rarely fake, as it gives them more anxiety to negate their own needs or fake emotions. This authenticity is a wonderful quality in a partner.
People with anxiety disorders can enjoy a healthy relationship as long as their partner doesn’t leave them with room to guess, wonder or worry by leaving them in the dark or neglecting the lines of communication. Everyone has different love languages, and those with anxiety are more likely to need a partner who is great at giving consistent words of affirmation than they are likely to need a partner who buys them gifts or cooks them breakfast.
Erica Gordon majored in Psychology at UBC has worked in the dating industry for over 6 years. She is the author of the popular dating advice book, Aren’t You Glad You Read This? available on Amazon. See more of her articles on her advice column www.TheBabeReport.com for millennials. Erica is also obsessed with Bucket List travel. Want proof? Follow her on instagram@ericaleighgordon.