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Anxiety, Phobias and lack of communication
September 4, 2008 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Does your partner have certain situational phobias that prevent a flow of communication or avoidance of certain places such as being out too far, or avoiding elevators for fear they will break down? If so how do you handle it?

Now, I have my own set of anxiety issues because I have R-OCD. But it's sometimes harder to deal with my partner's situational panic attacks when we go to certain places or if I say something that conjures up a horrible thought. He has a very photographic memory and images stay with him. I still talk about them but he rather I not. If he tries to stop me from preventing an anxiety coming forth, it disrupts my flow of thought and thus there is no communication. I try to deal but i want to understand this better. Also, when he is having a panic attack it also is difficult to communicate with him. What can I do while he's seekin gout therapy for this?
posted by InterestedInKnowing to Human Relations (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Patience, kindness and understanding.

If you make a commitment to another person, then you are taking their strengths and their weaknesses. It's okay to hope and even to expect growth and maturity. But if you're imposing your own expectations and timelines on that process, then you're probably not helping matters. I'd say that if you're really committed to this person, then the best thing you can do is find out why and how their panic attacks and obsessions bother you so much. Work on not getting worked up by them and try to develop a place of calm kindness from which to support your partner. Chances are good that if you can just listen and provide affirmation in the midst of his emotional chaos, you'll have a far better effect than if you were reacting with judgment, frustration or anxiety yourself.

But, and this is a hard thing to tell you, if your parter's problems are really severe and you can't develop the emotional resilience necessary to help him, then you should probably break up. A relationship which devolves into a feedback loop of mutual anxiety is damaging to both of you. You might both need some intensive therapy and some time alone before you can try to be together. If you don't pull the plug, you run the risk of develop very bad behavior patterns that can take root and prevent you from ever finding joy with each other.

I wish you both the best of luck. You are a good person for trying to make this work.
posted by felix betachat at 12:10 PM on September 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Everything Felix Betachat, plus the following: make sure that you take time for yourself to do the things/talk about the things you can't with him. If he won't go someplace you really want to go to because there's an elevator, or it's out of his comfort zone for whatever reason, go by yourself or go with other friends. If there are things you want to talk about that he can't handle, look in your circle of friends or look on the internet for people you can talk to. I speak from experience - his phobias can become your own if you're not careful, especially since you already have anxiety issues.
posted by Wroksie at 12:42 PM on September 4, 2008


I have panic attacks. I don't want to be told that everything's OK, to just relax, to snap out of it, because if I could, I would. I don't want to be talked to at all, personally, because it makes me more anxious (that someone is expecting me to engage in conversation when my mind is all jumbled). Sometimes I want to be held by my partner until it passes. Sometimes I want to be left completely alone. I would ask your partner what he needs at that moment. A kind "Is there anything I can do?" and if the answer is no, accept that. I wouldn't expect any rational communication during a panic attack because by definition they're irrational.

I still talk about them but he rather I not.

Well, don't. Why would you purposely add to his anxiety level?

If he tries to stop me from preventing an anxiety coming forth, it disrupts my flow of thought and thus there is no communication.

Like felix betachat said, you need to figure out why these bother you so much and avoid getting into a feedback loop where you both get increasingly anxious. If you could prevent the anxiety, then he wouldn't have it. It doesn't work, so leave it alone. Leave it to a trained professional. My partner tried to "teach" me not to be anxious by forcing me into anxiety-producing situations and it caused way more trauma than the usual anxiety itself.

Please get the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook and read through it with your partner. It is a good complement to therapy for him, and a good education for you (a side benefit - it also covers OCD).
posted by desjardins at 2:11 PM on September 4, 2008


Please consider encouraging him to seek psychiatric as well as psychological help. Yes, drugs are not always the answer but the kind of anxiety disorder you're describing can often be very directly addressed with a (short or long) course of anti-anxiety medication allowing the opportunity for talk therapy to do real work (as opposed to creating even greater anxiety).

While I agree with the substance of felix betachat's answer, I would err on the side of protecting yourself from entering a caretaker role with him until he has found a way to address his anxiety issues directly.
posted by abulafa at 6:44 PM on September 4, 2008


Thank you desjardins about some insight into how he might feel. I think I will ask that question next time and hope he doesn't get too sensitive over questioning.

It's not that I want to add to his anxiety level but communication between couples should be flowing and not "talking on eggshells" so to speak. I have ten times more fears than he does and I don't shut people up because I want them to engage me and feel comfortable in my presence. If I avoided everything that made me anxious, I would not progressed as well as I have through the years, cause before it was awful, (I couldn't even tell him in detail what I was going through because he thought he might become depressed too. Yea.) I wouldn't get out of my room to be honest. If I can't talk freely but respectfully with my partner, then that's not a relationship, in my opinion. He hasn't shut off a topic of mine for about a year but when he used to do it, it bothered me because I felt like I couldn't share a moment with him. I didn't understand because I was thinking, "Well, how would you like it if I told you occasionally to shush over something that was of great interest to you?" I don't want to live my life that way and he understands he doesn't want to live his life through fear either and not communicate with me so we are both taking steps to relieve some fears and anxiety that comes with certain situations.

I had many irrational fears surrounding R-OCD and I got through a good portion of them. He's been slowly working through his own situational phobias and he is progressing. At least his is not chronic like mine, so he is blessed in that aspect, but he has his work cut out for him. And thank you, abulafa, he has addressed his anxiety issues and since he's been doing research about my problem, he has stuck by me in full support and whenever I have a relapse he always reassures me that it will be alright. So, I don't mind to soothe him in his times of need and panic but only if he wants it. Because he doesn't like to be babied when he's in full panic mode or, to be touched, like someone else here stated. So, I let him be when he needs to be and engage when he's looking for some reassurance. It's a balance for two nervous people. But thank you for all the wonderful advice. :-)
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 8:00 PM on September 4, 2008


Excuse my extreme ignorance, but I do not know anything about R-OCD and especially how it affects your relationship in particular. My impression is that it is a form of extreme anxiety about relationships, so you are prone to obsessing about each aspect of them? Is this correct? This is the perspective from which I am writing, so if it's incorrect please take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

communication between couples should be flowing

In a perfect world, yes, but it is never like this all the time. When you two are not feeling anxious, is the conversation free and flowing? I cannot have a conversation when I'm in the midst of a panic attack, just like I could not run a marathon with a broken leg. It is disrespectful of someone to expect me to be able to do so.

I have ten times more fears than he does and I don't shut people up because I want them to engage me and feel comfortable in my presence. If I avoided everything that made me anxious, I would not progressed as well as I have through the years

You've learned to handle your fears differently and manage them more effectively around others. Maybe he has not had as much practice. I can ride a bike, but I am no Lance Armstrong.

If I can't talk freely but respectfully with my partner, then that's not a relationship, in my opinion.

Is he worth being patient for? Is he patient with you? Only you can answer this; if the answer is no, then you're right, you don't have a relationship and you might as well find someone else.

He hasn't shut off a topic of mine for about a year but when he used to do it, it bothered me

It's been a year. Drop it.

He's been slowly working through his own situational phobias and he is progressing.

He may not be progressing as quickly as you think he should, but at least he is progressing, no?

I think you'll be alright as long as you are both getting help. Maybe different forms of communication would work better, e.g. writing letters/emails, because that allows time to compose one's thoughts sans anxiety. POSITIVE and COMPLIMENTARY letters would be the best thing ever: "Dear ---, I love it when you ----. You are so ----- to me. Etc." Reassurance from a loved one is the best anti-anxiety drug ever.
posted by desjardins at 2:29 PM on September 6, 2008


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