Romantic relationships are often a source of support and companionship; however, they can also be challenging at the same time. Although conflict is integral to relationships, disagreements or arguments can be extremely stressful for some people. Sometimes conflicts may even trigger anxiety or panic attacks in people, making them even more difficult to navigate. In this article, we’ll explore a few reasons why your partner might be experiencing panic attacks during arguments. We will also discuss strategies so that both of you can manage and cope with the situation effectively.
Why do arguments cause panic attacks for some people?
A panic attack is a complex condition, usually triggered by a stressful situation; however, there are multiple reasons why someone might have panic attacks during an argument. A few of them are:
Relationship conflicts can trigger deep-seated fears, such as the fear of abandonment. When someone is afraid of abandonment, they are more likely to avoid conflicts in relationships because they fear their partner will leave them. Thus, arguments may trigger fears regarding abandonment, leading to a panic attack.
Past traumatic or negative experiences related to relationships or other aspects of life can significantly impact how people respond to conflict. If your partner has past traumas related to relationships, arguments may end up triggering traumatic memories, leading to a panic attack.
A constant back and forth during an argument can often be overwhelming, leading to a lot of intense emotions. When emotions are overwhelming or too difficult to handle, it may trigger a panic attack. Sometimes feelings of being misunderstood can also cause panic attacks.
How to cope when your partner has panic attacks during an argument?
Although it might seem extremely difficult, it is important to take a pause or a time-out when your partner experiences a panic attack during an argument. Continuing the argument might make the situation worse, as it only escalates the conflict, leading to heightened anxiety. So, mindfully take a break so that both of you have enough time to calm down. Try engaging in some soothing activities like listening to music or reading a book during that time.
The triggers for anxiety and panic differ for each person; try to have a conversation with your partner about what part of the argument makes them feel anxious or panicked. See if both of you can come up with ways to manage these triggers during conflict.
Dr. John Gottman, a leading relationship expert, recommends using a soft start-up while arguing with your partner. A soft start-up is when the difficult conversation starts in a calming and respectful tone instead of starting with blame and negativity, which is likely to cause defensiveness and lead to panic in the other person. An effective way of using a soft start-up is by using a statement starting with ‘I’ instead of “You’. For example, say ‘I need us to talk more’ instead of ‘You are not talking to me’.
Assure your partner that the purpose of the argument is to make the relationship better and not to blame them in any way.
During arguments, establish ground rules to ensure a more constructive and less-triggering environment. Implementing rules such as avoiding personal attacks and taking breaks when needed can create a more supportive atmosphere.
Dealing with panic attacks during arguments can often be overwhelming for both partners, so ensure that you are taking good care of yourself.
Identify triggers for panic
If panic attacks persist, consider seeking professional help. A couple’s therapist might help you explore the root causes of panic and conflict while also providing strategies to cope with them.
Consider couple’s therapy
Conflicts and arguments are a part of every relationship, but sometimes these conflicts can become recurrent, causing stress and panic attacks. At such times, it is important to have open conversations and cultivate support and understanding so that both of you can manage the situation effectively. However, if conflicts are becoming extremely distressing without reaching any tangible solutions, you might want to consult a couple’s therapist.
- 17 Tips for Dating Someone With Anxiety. (n.d.). Choosing Therapy. Retrieved January 5, 2024, from https://www.choosingtherapy.com/dating-someone-with-anxiety/
- Alyssa. (2021, February 3). Top 10 Panic Attack Triggers | Banyan Mental Health. Mental Health Program at Banyan Treatment Centers. https://www.banyanmentalhealth.com/2021/02/03/top-10-panic-attack-triggers/
- Lisitsa, E. (2013, March 16). How to Fight Smarter: Soften Your Start-Up. The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/softening-startup/