In 2010, the Journal of Abnormal Psychology published a study that investigated the association between relationship quality and anxiety disorders.
The study recruited 33 married or cohabiting heterosexual couples “in which the female partner met criteria for a principle anxiety disorder.”
Unlike previous studies that examined relationship quality and anxiety disorders by comparing large groups of individuals, this study examined the day-to-day effect of anxiety on relationship quality.
Both partners in this study provided 14 daily reports, which assessed their emotional state and satisfaction with their relationship. On “high anxiety days,” the wives additionally reported the level to which they believed their husband was involved, either positively or negatively, in their anxiety.
According to the authors of this study,
“on days when wives experienced increased anxiety, their husbands were more likely to report a reduction in positive qualities of the relationship.”
Although the husband was likely to report a reduction in positive qualities of the relationship, such as “partner was dependable,” he was not any more likely to report an increase in negative qualities of the relationship, such as “partner was demanding.”
As the authors explain,
“Our results suggest that when wives experience elevated anxiety, husbands do not perceive relationship discord per se but instead experience diminished support and availability.”
In couples that reported higher levels of interaction and communication, the effect of anxiety on relationship quality seems to have been smaller than those who reported less communication. As the authors of this study note,
“A high degree of communication and support in handling one partner’s anxiety may be protective for couples affected by anxiety disorders, making it less likely that the partner’s anxiety will impact the relationship quality day to day.”
The study also found that on most occasions, the husbands were perceived as having a positive effect on their wives anxiety. Husbands were only perceived as making the anxiety worse on about 17% of the days and on about 38% of the days the wives reported their husband had no effect on their anxiety.
Zaider, T.I., Heimberg, R.G. & Iida, M. (2010). Anxiety disorders and intimate relationships: A study on daily processes in couples. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol 119, No 1: 163-173.