Relationship anxiety can creep up at any stage of a relationship, right at the onset, or even when two people have been together for a long time.
Even if everything is going relatively well, relationship anxiety can cause a partner to question the future of the relationship. This can lead to feelings of worry, doubt and insecurity that can create a tense atmosphere between both partners.
Relationship anxiety can cause a partner to wonder the following:
If you are experiencing relationship anxiety, do not get downhearted. It is extremely common.
Whether you’ve been dating someone for a short time, are long-time partners, or even marriage mates, it is normal for couples to sometimes feel stressed about the state of a romantic partnership.
Sometimes the anxiety may not be caused by anything in the relationship itself, but it can eventually lead to behaviours that later cause problems for couples.
Let's discuss common scenarios related to relationship anxiety as well as how to overcome it.
Let’s look at three different factors that may lead to relationship anxiety: pre-existing anxiety, anxiety caused by a partner’s behaviour, and anxiety about being in a relationship in the first place.
When discussing this topic, it’s important to understand that a person may struggle with anxiety and then enter a relationship and find that their anxiety spills over.
Being in a loving, romantic, relationship means sharing most things, if not everything with your partner. But what happens when one of those things is anxiety?
A person who suffers from anxiety may realize upon entering a relationship that their anxiety is no longer theirs alone – it affects the other person too, and their dynamic as a couple.
There are a range of awkward situations that could be experienced in a relationship when one person has anxiety.
For example, anxiety can cause a person to be physically and emotionally exhausted from interactions with strangers. As a result, family traditions and gatherings could be a stressful time for a partner who has to be introduced to every member of the family.
Dating or marrying someone with anxiety can be a confusing experience as well.
Anxiety, like any other feeling, can be contagious and people who are ordinarily non-anxious may start developing anxiety themselves. The situation can also create tension as the non-anxious partner may feel frustrated by their newfound anxiety, while the anxious partner feels guilty for sharing it.
For example, some partners have found themselves developing anxiety about flying just because their partner has it.
People without anxiety may also feel inclined to problem-solve their partner’s anxiety, which may feel frustrating and invalidating for someone with chronic anxiety.
Many men and women experience anxiety as a result of the behaviours of their significant other. Such behaviours can include the use of hurtful language, physical intimidation, suspicious behaviour and secrecy.
Such behaviours may appear out of the blue, causing the other partner to worry about why things are changing all of a sudden.
While those in new relationships tend to be more careful about their word choices, as a relationship matures partners may too often forget how angry or hurtful words can create a strain on the relationship.
Hiding things, like texting in secret or staying out late and being vague can further contribute to anxiety. After all, we feel anxiety when we sense that our relationship might be at risk. We want our relationships to work, and we also worry about not having them.
Physical intimidation can certainly cause a person to worry not only about the relationship, but about their personal wellbeing. Even if a relationship never gets physically abusive, emotional abuse can result in stress, anxiety and a diminished sense of identity, dignity and self-worth.
Some relationship anxiety stems from a fear of being in a relationship in the first place. A fear of commitment may appear for those who have never been in a relationship, have been in bad relationships, or even those who may be worried about missing out on other potential relationships.
Anxiety about being in a relationship can be caused by childhood experience. Often a child will develop a prototype of what to expect from others based on their observation of their parents’ interaction.
Some people feel suffocated in a relationship because of attachment patterns that developed in childhood.
For example, a child who was neglected and did not receive loving attention from a parent may have learned to suppress their natural inclination towards bonding in order to prevent heartache and feelings of rejection. As an adult, that child may have a difficult time committing to, or being vulnerable in a relationship.
The fear of entering a relationship may also arise from the fact that an individual does not want to get hurt, does not want to hurt someone else, and is afraid of making mistakes that could damage the relationship.
Past relationships can greatly contribute to such fear, especially if a person is afraid of being cheated on. Even if an individual thinks they have gotten over a previous relationship, certain memories could come up again and trigger feelings of distrust and anxiety.
Another reason for anxiety about relationships is when you’re used to the single life and you’re worried about allowing someone to get to know you. If you haven’t been in many relationships it may seem uncomfortable to let someone into your life and to let them see you at your best and worst.
You might also think that the only reason you seem desirable to anyone is because you’ve only put your best self on display, and that things might change if you commit to a deeper relationship.
We’ll talk about tips for overcoming this type of relationship anxiety toward the end of this post.
If you’re feeling anxious about a relationship, you may worry if it’s a sign that things are about to go downhill.
Relationship counselor Alysha Jeney explains that being excited or nervous about a relationship is normal. However, if you notice a pattern where your fear and anxiety prevents you from establishing a loving, reciprocal relationship, then there may be a problem.
Although anxiety is natural, if over a prolonged period of time it’s affecting your ability to enjoy the relationship, then it has reached an unhealthy level.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Amanda Zayde also advises “if you find yourself hypervigilant for clues that something is wrong, or you experience frequent distress that impacts your daily life, please take some time to address it. Everyone deserves to feel secure and connected in their relationships.”
Signs that relationship anxiety has become unhealthy include consistent emotional instability, decreased motivation, loneliness and fatigue, difficulty focusing on tasks, and impaired judgement.
Determining the cause of the relationship anxiety is a key part of overcoming the issue.
There are some important steps you can take to overcome relationship anxiety – that do not necessarily involve ending the relationship.
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Some may assume that finding the right person will cure the relationship anxiety, but this is often not the case.
One important thing to do is to reflect on some of the causes mentioned above and how your experiences have may shaped your attachment style.
Inward reflection is vital for addressing relationship anxiety, especially anxiety that is related to insecurities.
Sometimes we have anxious thoughts that exaggerate our fears, here are some examples:
The critical inner voice that generates these ideas can sabotage our love lives in many ways. The process of self-discovery can be a vital step in understanding the feelings that drive our behaviour and ultimately shape our relationship.
Try to understand your triggers, fears, excitement, and needs. Acknowledge the good parts of your relationship while you try to identify what exactly may be causing the anxious feelings.
Also try to understand that while you cherish this person in your life, you don’t have absolute control over them, neither should you want it.
Embrace the autonomous aspects of your life, being accountable for your own behaviour and needs.
When you are happy as your own person and allow your partner to be too, then you’ll be better able to appreciate your relationship when you are together.
After you’ve spent some time in self-reflection, share your feelings with your partner. Good communication with your partner can help lessen the feeling of relationship anxiety and ensure you’re on the same page.
Many couples have enjoyed activities such as the BestSelf Intimacy Deck as a way to initiate deep and meaningful conversations that bring you closer together.
The Intimacy Deck is a pack of 150 conversation prompts designed to help couples get to know each other better while building trust, openness and vulnerability.
Letting your partner in on your thoughts is an important part of intimacy. Remember that they cannot read your mind, or your heart. Sometimes they will have no idea about your anxiety and worried thoughts, meaning that if you don’t communicate you’ll only feel more disappointed and more isolated.
As you can see, relationship anxiety has so many different dimensions to it.
If you’re in a relationship where you have anxiety but your partner doesn’t, it may cause you to think that your relationship is subpar, even though your partner doesn’t. To avoid such doubts, try to be present in your partnership to quiet the voice of your anxiety that sometimes doubts good things. Remember that your anxiety can cause doubts that aren’t actually reflective of the quality of your relationship.
Your partner has anxiety but you don’t – express your certainty in the relationship, and don’t try to fix them. The biggest thing you can do for your partner’s anxiety is to accept it and be there for them. See your partner’s anxiety, not as a problem to be solved, but more of a problem to be managed in terms of a partnership with both people. Continuous moral support will be greatly appreciated, and so will gestures such as a back rub or reassuring smile.
If you experience relationship anxiety because of a past experience – make peace with the fact that you can’t rush trust. If you’ve been cheated on or let down, or if you grew up in an environment where you had to learn to look after yourself, it can take even longer to let down those defences.
If you’re finding it difficult to adjust to a new relationship, or the thought of a new relationship, try to take things at a slower pace and see how you get on.
Again, communication is key. Try to talk this over with your partner so they know some of the challenges you face. People often use the Intimacy Deck to tackle the difficult conversations and questions you wouldn't normally ask.
Pay attention to if you are jumping to conclusion too soon and whether you have sufficient evidence to support your fears. You might find out that your fears are based on past experiences, not your current relationship.
If you’re anxious because you haven’t been in a lot of relationships – remember that this is normal. Maybe you haven’t be in a relationship at all and you feel worried because you’re at an age where all your peers have been in one.
Remember, there’s no timeline for life, especially when it comes to relationships. It’s perfectly fine if you haven’t been in a relationship. It’s also normal to be a bit nervous about getting into one. We generally all get scared about things we haven’t experienced yet.
If you are worried about being vulnerable in a relationship because you think that the other person will lose interest or think you’re weird, remember that we’re all imperfect. You love people despite their imperfections, and people will love you despite your imperfections.
No one hides forever anyway, and many relationships only get stronger with time and experiencing both ‘the good and bad’ sides of a person.
I think this article said it perfectly:
“Ask yourself: do you want to be alone for the rest of your life? Picture yourself living alone in 40 years. Are you okay with that? The answer to that question can be yes. But if you are unsure, and there is someone in your life who you are interested in exploring a relationship with, and they are standing there with their arms open to you, and they are willing to help you out of your comfort zone into a new zone of possible relationship awesomeness, then for God’s sake, let them.”
Even when we deeply love and care about someone, moments of anxiety can self-defeat our best intentions and sabotage the relationship. Remember that anxiety means you care.
Look into the situation, and see if there is a need to separate personal worries from relationship worry. Find ways to share with your partner your deeper experiences, anxieties and worries, and understand that this is the only way of them being able to understand you and what you need.
At the end of the day, avoid acting on your feelings. Take a step back and perhaps go for a walk or jog. Taking steps to deescalate your anxiety in the moment will allow you to later open up discussions that can potentially strengthen your relationship in the long term.
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