Jane and her partner were out together for a meal, something that they had been looking forward to for ages. Theirs was a complex relationship as they both had children from previous relationships and so these times together as a couple were particularly special. And then it happened….
For no apparent reason, John started to shake. He felt as if his heart was racing and Jane noticed that he was beginning to sweat profusely. Over a period of 10 minutes the symptoms increased and the disorientation and nausea were such that he felt he might die.
Jane had seen this occur many times before and felt such a mix of feelings. Part of her wanted to help but nothing she did seemed to be right. If she was really honest with herself a part of her was beginning to resent the impact these panic attacks were having on their relationship. And she couldn’t stop hearing John’s words about his condition in her head:
It can happen any time of day or night and it can literally happen during a conversation – it doesn’t seem to follow any pattern. I’ve never woken up in the morning and thought: ‘I’m going to have a panic attack today.’ I always seem to be surprised by them.
Although this is a fictional account, it is based on real data about what can happen in a relationship when one partner is struggling with an anxiety or panic disorder. It does not need to get to this point. There is a way through but first you need to do something that probably feels counter intuitive. You need to look after yourself first.
Four tips on how to help a partner who has an anxiety disorder
- Look after your own needs first
You may feel the best thing is to drop everything and only attend to the needs of your partner who is having the attacks. In fact it is vital that you tend to your own self-care needs through maintaining a social, spiritual and recreational life as well as supporting your partner. This means you will have the energy needed to support them rather feeling drained by it all.
- Stop trying to fix your partner
When you are overly helpful even though it is well intended, you are preventing your partner from learning how to better manage their symptoms. It is your partner’s responsibility to work through that process and come to terms with their condition.
- Practise forgiveness
When you have issues in your relationship, you get angry and your ego will want to protect you so it tends to put up a wall which makes communication even harder. The person with the panic disorder may feel angry towards you feeling that you have not understood their condition sufficiently. You may harbour resentment towards your partner for not working hard enough to cope with their condition.
All of this is totally understandable because it can feel as if neither of you is being seen or heard. Rather than holding on to past hurts and mistakes, try to see them as miss takes and let them go so you can both move forward. This is often easier to do when you realise you are not alone in this world. A spiritual connection can help you to take a step back and see the bigger
- Consider couples therapy
Sometimes, a person with panic disorder may decline treatment or deny that they need help at all. This can be frustrating and hurtful to a partner who wants to improve the relationship so it’s healthier.
If you are finding that your partner won’t seek out help on their own, why not consider couple’s coaching? It may be easier for them to accept the situation if you do something together.
Along with forgiveness, acceptance of the current situation is vital. A UK-wide study on wellbeing in 2016 discovered that people aged between 45 and 54 reported low average ratings of life satisfaction and happiness, which coincided with a sharp rise in anxiety levels. These feelings of anxiety decreased in those over 60 because as a spokesperson from the charity MIND inferred at that time in life people tend to become more accepting of who they are and less demanding of themselves.
As a coach who uses a blend of coaching, therapy and healing to suit the people I am working with, I can support you with communication problems and other unresolved issues affecting your relationship. Together we can develop coping strategies that work for both of you. As Sarah Graham, a client with bipolar disorder wrote:
I have found working with colour has given me greater insight into my thoughts and feelings, and what makes me the person I am. I have always found it very grounding and fascinating how so much of what Kate tells me about my colour choices rings true at that point in my life. I love the fact I am in control in that I choose the colours, therefore the outcome as come from deep within me.
It’s given me a greater understanding of my mental health and my bipolar disorder, it’s made me more forgiving of myself, and reassured me that I’m on the right path and growing as a person despite my challenges.
It’s helped me have a better understanding of myself at a deep level, it’s the most positive therapy I’ve experienced, as it’s focus is on growth and healing.
In short there is no need to suffer in silence as this article gives you a range of strategies that you can apply to the situation. The key to it all though is to be able to forgive one another for all the times that you have not been able to meet each other’s needs; and to accept where you are at right now rather than resisting what is. From that place so much is possible.