Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) means a state of excessive or unremitting worries about numerous aspects of life, such as financial or family issues, work stress, and others, which last for more than 6 months. In many cases, an individual does not know the exact reason for this condition, which makes the situation even harder for them and people around. Living with an anxiety disorder is difficult, as well as being in a relationship with a person suffering from it. According to the estimations, in the United States, this condition affects more than 6.8 million people (3.1% of the population) every year (“Generalized Anxiety Disorder”). Moreover, the disorder most frequently occurs in women, which influences their relationships, including marriage or long-time partnerships. Anxiety disorders are proven to be chronic, leaving consequences even in the times of the remission of symptoms. This condition makes people suffering from it face inevitable behavioral problems, which provide small periods of relief. Psychology suggests that people with an anxiety disorder tend to have more marital problems and, eventually, have a greater risk of divorce.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a complex condition with several factors, which can increase the risks of developing this disease, including the family history of anxiety, exposure to stressful situations, and traumatic childhood events. The symptoms of the disorder may include fatigue, restlessness, difficulties with concentration, irritability, sleep deprivation, rapid heartbeat, regular stomach aches, numbness in different body parts, and others. An important feature of this disorder is that anxiety is often uncontrollable, for example, sometimes, a person may have a panic attack just thinking about getting through another day. Such conditions mostly relate to a problem with tolerating uncertainty, making people plan and control everything they can. Moreover, it is proven that women diagnosed with GAD show several distinguishing clinical features compared to men with the same condition. For example, they tend to have an earlier age of onset, and a bigger risk of acquiring other disorders, which, in turn, aggravate the existing symptoms, leading to more problems in relationships, especially, in marriages.
People with severe forms of anxiety disorder often do not function as well as healthy individuals. However, the study held in 2007 showed that people with GAD have equal chances for finding a partner and getting married (Cuncic). Meanwhile, such families are prone to have more marital problems because it is challenging to live with a person suffering from such disorder. The research conducted in 2011 found a connection of anxiety in married women to their relationships in the family (Cuncic). It showed that women tend to feel as if their husbands play an important role in their anxiety by either making it worse or better (Cuncic). In general, there are numerous ways in which anxiety can impact relationships, according to the symptoms a person is developing. In some cases, an individual becomes dependent on the partner, while in others, they may experience a feeling of social isolation, or even become a burden to their family.
It is proven that people with an anxiety disorder have a bigger tendency of having relationship problems, such as regular arguments. According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) study, GAD sufferers typically do not consider relationship with their partner to be “healthy and supportive,” as opposed to people without this disorder (“Spouse or Partner” par. 2). Anxiety is associated with a high level of personal distress, which has a huge impact on relationships, making it hard for the family to nurture their needs. Partners of people suffering from GAD often have to take personal charge of all the important responsibilities, including the usual domestic routine, parental duties, and financials issues. Moreover, according to the research conducted in 2011 people suffering from GAD use four interactive styles: intrusive, cold, non-assertive, and exploitable (Cuncic). These ways of communication affect relationships in different ways, for example, those with an intrusive type constantly call their partner in order to know whether they are safe. Thus, all of these factors contribute to the growing tension in the family, leading to conflicts, misunderstandings, and, in many cases, divorce.
An anxiety disorder also has a direct impact on the sexual life of spouses, causing numerous types of sexual dysfunctions (SD), which often become a reason for marital problems. According to the estimations, people suffering with GAD are “three times more likely to avoid being intimate with their partner” (“Spouse or Partner” par. 2). In many cases, it is impossible to tell which disorder appeared first, as in some cases, anxiety is the reason of sexual failures, while in others the SD is followed by it. The manifestation of GAD is proven to be dependent on the gender of the suffering individual. Thus, high levels of anxiety can interfere with the erectile processes of men by elevating “sympathetic nervous system response, whereas the process of erection demands a predominantly parasympathetic response” (Rowland and van Lankveld par. 17). Meanwhile, among women, the connection of anxiety with sexuality remains unclear, as it interferes with all the phases of a sexual act, including desire, arousal, and orgasm (Rowland and van Lankveld). Thus, sexual dysfunction is one of the major consequences, connected with SAD, often resulting in numerous marital problems, including even divorce.
Mental illnesses are factors, which have a serious impact on divorce because being married to a person suffering from an anxiety disorder implies many challenges and higher risks of separation. According to scientific research, “individuals with depression, anxiety, and other affective disorders divorce at rates far above the national average” (“Mental illness and Divorce rates” par. 1). It is mostly connected with the emotional state of the suffering person, as they tend to show such symptoms as self-doubt, which do not allow providing and accepting support. Moreover, the studies showed that divorce rates for women with GAD are lower than for men with this disorder (“Generalized Anxiety Disorder”). According to an analysis, based on the research of 20,233 couples, families with a mentally distressed husband or wife have “more than a twofold risk of divorce” compared to those with no psychological issues (Idstad et al. par. 32). Helping a person with GAD is a key for managing the situation and helping save the family. Modern science offers various opportunities for treatment; however, the role of the partner is always regarded to be essential, representing a co-therapist for their spouse.
Today, medicine has a variety of opportunities for helping people with different mental disorders, including medications and numerous types of therapy. However, recovery requires much effort from the person suffering from GAD, as well as much patience from their relatives. The role of the partner is also a crucial aspect in regard to this condition, as support is a key for a successful treatment. There are many ways for a spouse to help, including receiving medical information about the disorder, encouraging treatment, showing a positive attitude, communicating, helping set and achieve goals, and asking for ways to help. In addition, numerous studies suggest that women with GAD are “more likely to seek help from and disclose mental health problems” than men, especially if they are diagnosed with more comorbid disorders” (World Health Organization par. 26). It implies that men with GAD may require more help, as they usually tend to reject the diagnosis and refuse to go for a treatment. However, women usually demand more psychological support, as their mental health is more susceptible to the development of additional disorders, which would aggravate the situation.
In conclusion, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a complex condition, which remains unclear in many aspects, in particular, regarding the distinctive characteristics found in females. However, it is a proven fact that it is difficult to live a person suffering from this disorder, thus making it challenging for them to have a long-time commitment. Individuals with GAD tend to cause regular conflicts and arguments due to the constant state of anxiety, which is always manifested through reactions, provoking more misunderstanding and resentment. In the end, such situations may lead to the separation of the partners. Numerous studies have shown that divorce rates are higher for the families with one of the spouses having the GAD diagnosis. In order to evade the break-up, there is a need for a proper treatment and constant support of the loved ones. The right attitude towards the person suffering from an anxiety disorder is the key for helping them become stable and save the relationships.
Cuncic, Arlin. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Your Relationships.” Verywell Mind. 2020, Web.
“Gender and Women’s Mental Health.” World Health Organization, 2020. Web.
“Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAP).” Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 2020.
Idstad, Mariann, et al. “Mental Distress Predicts Divorce over 16 Years: The HUNT Study.” BMC Public Health, vol. 15, 2015, Web.
“Mental illness and divorce rates.” Law Offices of Jim Jarvis, 2018, Web.
Rowland, David and van Lankveld, Jacques. “Anxiety and Performance in Sex, Sport, and Stage: Identifying Common Ground.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 10, 2019, Web.
“Spouse or Partner”. Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 2020. Web.