Although adults with anxiety disorders often report interpersonal distress, the degree to which anxiety is linked to the quality of close relationships remains unclear. The authors examined the relational impact of anxiety by sampling the daily mood and relationship quality of 33 couples in which the wife was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Use of a daily process design improved on prior methodologies by capturing relational processes closer to their actual occurrence and in the setting of the diagnosed partner’s anxiety. Analyses revealed significant associations between wives’ daily anxiety and both partners’ perceptions of relationship quality. Associations were moderated by anxiety-specific support. Results also indicated significant concordance between wives’ daily anxiety and husbands’ distress. Concordance was stronger for husbands who reported frequent accommodation of wives’ anxiety symptoms. Findings are discussed in the context of existing evidence on the social costs of anxiety disorders.
Keywords: anxiety disorders, couples, marriage, marital distress, relationship functioning
Intimate relationships are a primary context in which adults express and manage personal distress. The study and treatment of depression in particular have benefited from increased recognition of its interpersonal consequences (Beach, Whisman, & O’Leary, 1994). In comparison, we have far more limited knowledge of how anxiety disorders operate in close relationships. Little is known about the impact on the significant other of living with a partner who suffers from persistent and chronic anxiety. Given the degree of social and functional impairment often accompanying these disorders (e.g., Bystritsky et al., 2001), the current study sought to clarify how the presence of an anxiety disorder impacts the relational life of a couple.