My partner makes me anxious.  I don’t know if I should bring them to my therapy or do individual work.


You might already be an anxious person or you have been suffering from anxiety due to some recent events in your life.

On top of that, your partner creates additional anxiety for you.  You wish they would help make things less stressful for you but things seem to be getting worse and you are stuck.  It is time to look for a therapist since you have not been able to improve things on your own.

You are wondering if you need to come by yourself or if you should bring your partner along.  After all, your relationship is being impacted by your anxiety.  Perhaps your partner feels that you don’t have a relationship problem; they think that the problem is “you”.

It turns out that you are a good candidate for couples therapy instead of just individual therapy.  This is because couples therapy can be used to treat a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.  You do not need to seek individual therapy if your condition is affecting your relationship.

Although anxiety happens within the individual, it is possible to address a person’s psychological difficulty through a social context (a marriage or a family).

The next question is, “will your partner be motivated to attend”?

Partner-Assisted Intervention


In a partner-assisted or family-assisted intervention, the partner or the family member is trained to be used as a “surrogate therapist” or coach assisting the person with anxiety.

A therapist can help you create specific assignments to take place outside of the therapy session.  This works very well if the partner is supportive and willing to help.  Sometimes we have situations where partners say that “they are fine” and they don’t need to attend.  This is most likely an indication that your partner is insecure because they think that in therapy, we find someone to blame (this does not happen!).

For example, a partner might accompany an individual who suffers from social anxiety on exposure outings as a way to offer support and adherence to the treatment plan. You might think, “I already do that”.   That is very good, but sometimes partners need to learn skills about how to become a more effective “surrogate therapist”.

Therapists can teach skills to alter negative interactive cycles and to increase the connection between partners. They will also educate you on the nature of the individual’s disorder.  The more you explore and learn about the disorder, the better you can support your partner.

An informed partner can identify and modify specific ways in which your environment is maintaining or making the situation worse.  They can encourage you to behave in ways that will lessen the disorder and help you cope better.

If couples are not getting along, we must remember that the focus of the intervention is not on the dynamics between the couple, but on reducing the symptoms of anxiety for one partner.  A therapist will follow your treatment along and you will be able to share that other problems might also be happening, or that you need additional resources regarding your relationship.

Disadvantages of Partner-Assisted Interventions


Having an anxiety disorder can be significantly associated with marital discord for either partner where a partner might not be so motivated to help.  This happens when couples have so many responsibilities including children, finances, job-related stress, etc.

Sometimes having your partner assist with the treatment might not be a good idea because this could create an imbalance in your relationship. One partner can become negatively labeled “sick partner” or the helping spouse can be viewed as the superior partner in the relationship or “well partner”.

In relationships where couples love each other, respect each other, and want to support and improve their wellbeing, to have someone who shows contempt towards your anxiety signifies a much larger problem and can be dangerous.

Couples who are impacted by the presence of contempt (e.g. frequent statements that come from a relative position of superiority) must know that contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce and it must be eliminated.  Contempt is a frequent source of distress that prompts clients to seek counseling.

Should you enlist your partner to assist you with your diagnosis of anxiety? You can certainly give it a try provided that you are seeing a couples therapist to guide you.

The most important thing is to remember that having a support system (your partner, family, or friends) is an incredible resource to help you go through this debilitating condition.

If you would like to learn more about how your partner can help you, contact me and we can discuss whether this is a viable treatment option for both of you.

I hope we have an opportunity to work together.



Source: Empirically supported couple and family interventions for marital distress and adult mental health problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology