Anxiety Affects the Quality of Relationships

When anxiety becomes a third member in a relationship, suffering appears. The communication style changes, arguments, irritability, and even emotional coldness appear. We need to be attentive to these kinds of indicators.
Anxiety Affects the Quality of Relationships
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 08 November, 2022

Anxiety affects the quality of relationships. Furthermore, it tends to do so in a way that we’re not aware of. In fact, it acts almost like an invisible steamroller that crushes everything: humor, encouragement, desire, and even our ability to connect with others.

The anxious mind perceives, thinks, and feels the world in ‘alert mode’. It’s almost always guided by threat, distrust, and fear.

Daniel Defoe, the author of books such as Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, said that the weight of anxiety in human beings is proportional to the evil it generates in their environment. Sadly, it’s not only a psychological state that causes suffering for those who experience it. Indeed, its impact transcends the individual themselves and blurs their reality in infinite ways.

For instance, job performance is reduced. In addition, communication changes, leaving behind the most adverse emotions, such as sadness, anger, fear, nervousness, etc. All this causes the way we address others to vary. In effect, we become less patient. Even worse, there’s often mistrust and a lack of understanding of others.

Naturally, the way in which anxiety affects relationships depends on the degree to which the sufferer experiences it.

We all experience stress at times and feel more anxious than normal on certain days. However, some of us unknowingly suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or other disorders for years in which anxiety is present.

In the latter cases, the sufferer always experiences multiple problems and difficulties.

Shrunken man representing how anxiety affects the quality of our relationships

Anxiety affects the quality of relationships

Anxiety affects the quality of relationships and can do so in many ways. While each case is unique and each experience exceptional there’s always a series of repeated patterns.

Some people go for years without receiving a diagnosis. This causes them to build emotional relationships filled with unhappiness.

Sometimes, they’re aware that something is happening. There’s a sudden change in their behavior, communication, and even their health or lifestyle. In these latter situations, it’s easier for them to identify the problem. It’s also a moment at which they require the greatest possible support.

Let’s find out below how anxiety affects the quality of relationships.

How anxiety manifests in a relationship

There are several studies that explain the impact of this psychological disorder on a relationship. One of them was conducted by Temple University in Philadelphia, United States. This study analyzed the situation of 33 couples in which one member of each of them suffered from an anxiety disorder. The study found evidence of:

  • A high level of emotional pain. This isn’t only felt by the sufferer but by their partner too.
  • A feeling of guilt. If there’s something wrong at home or if there’s a problem in the relationship, the person with the anxiety places the responsibility on their own shoulders.
  • Irritability and mood swings. For example, there may be moments in which a greater need for closeness is perceived. On the other contrary, at other times, there’s emotional coldness.
  • Constant arguments. They often create distance.
  • Anxiety causes feelings of constant threat. This causes the mind to interpret certain stimuli in an erroneous and destructive way. For instance, silences, certain gestures, and words can make the sufferer perceive that their partner is uncomfortable and feels contempt or a lack of love for them. In effect, it’s a way of adding more suffering to the situation.

People who have anxiety disorders are more likely to be single and have higher divorce rates (Priest, 2013).

Distant man from his girlfriend

Anxiety can generate emotional dependence

One important way in which anxiety affects the quality of our relationships is by building bonds based on dependency. This is common in patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. Here are the behavioral and psychological patterns that define anxious patients:

  • People with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) have a really intense need for closeness. They seek to continuously obtain affection, security, and calm. This causes them to build really codependent bonds in which, sadly, they never feel satisfied. Furthermore, their partners can’t cover all their needs and this generates even more frustration and anxiety.
  • These people are characterized by overthinking. They visualize the most adverse possibilities for each situation. For example, being deceived or not being loved for behaving in such and such a way, etc.
  • What they fear most is rejection and they need immediate reinforcement. For instance, if they send a message to their partner, they expect an instant response. If they make a request, they expect to be attended to immediately. If this doesn’t happen, they feel afraid and mistrustful.

Anxiety can lead to avoidance

Some people avoid relationships as a coping strategy for dealing with their anxiety. It means they can avoid negative emotions like disappointment or frustration by not revealing their feelings, opening up, or showing themselves to be vulnerable. These people are often perceived as cold, emotionally unavailable, lacking empathy, or even distant. However, they actually crave closeness.

One study found that people with social anxiety disorder were less likely to receive support from their romantic partners and to be supportive in their relationships.

To conclude, as you can see, anxiety affects the quality of relationships. The same happens with other conditions, such as depression or any other type of mental illness. In these circumstances, understanding, closeness, and support are necessary to convince the affected person to request specialized help.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Hardee, J. T. (2003). An overview of empathy. The Permanente Journal7(4), 51.
  • Porter, E., & Chambless, D. L. (2017). Social anxiety and social support in romantic relationships. Behavior therapy48(3), 335-348.
  • Meek, W. (2022, 6 de junio). How anxiety affectsrelationships. Verywellmind.
  • Priest, J. B. (2013). Anxiety disorders and the quality of relationships with friends, relatives, and romantic partners. Journal of clinical psychology69(1), 78-88.
  • Talia I. Zaider , Richard G. Heimberg Anxiety Disorders and Intimate Relationships: A Study of Daily Processes in Couples. Journal of Abnormal Psychologie. 2010 Feb; 119(1): 163–173. doi: 10.1037/a0018473

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.