Humans spend a lifetime building connections with other individuals.
Among all sorts of relationships, key relationships with family, friends, partners, and lovers most significantly influence our life.
Starting a new relationship with another human being can be both exciting and scary.
You may feel like you are opening Pandora’s box, anxious and stressed by thoughts of your relationship going wrong.
Is this even real? Will this last? Am I handling it right?
It is normal if these questions pop up once in a while, but if you notice yourself becoming too obsessed or weighed down by these thoughts, you may have relationship anxiety.
What is relationship anxiety?
Relationship anxiety is not a mental illness. Therefore, doctors cannot diagnose you with relationship anxiety, as there is no clear definition or criteria established by any authorities.
However, your doctor can tell if you have anxiety disorders, which are characterized by anxiety that does not go away or worsen over time.
Researchers in the field of psychology defined relationship anxiety in different ways. In general, relationship anxiety describes pervasive worries that the relationship will end or the partner is losing interest in the relationship even though there is little evidence for such things to happen.
It encompasses a wide range of behaviors and thought processes and may result in irrational actions that endanger the relationship.
Relationship anxiety may also disturb your routine activities, such as job performance, schoolwork, and other relationships.
Is it normal to have relationship anxiety?
Occasional anxiety is perfectly normal. People can worry about many things in life: health, money, family problems, and of course, relationship with partners.
But when the negative feelings hit too hard, you may be overwhelmed; when this gets frequent, it is no longer normal. You need help.
Anxiety disorders, including relationship anxiety, will not go away on their own. Leaving those feelings unattended not only deteriorates your mental health but also harms your partner.
The anxiety, distress, and persistent fear caused by anxiety disorder can interfere with your daily functions.
Unfortunately, since there are no criteria to diagnose relationship anxiety, it is hard to tell whether your current anxiety is still at a “normal” level. Therefore, the rule of thumb is to visit a counselor if the anxiety is stressing you out.
What are the signs of relationship anxiety?
Here are 6 telltale signs that relationship anxiety might be creeping in:
1. You feel insecure about your relationship
Having a sense of insecurity is the most common sign of relationship anxiety. You feel insecure, unconfident, and unsure if you really have some space in your partner’s life.
You constantly wonder if you matter to your partner and doubt they will miss you when you leave. As a result, you spend more time worrying about the relationship than enjoying it.
2. You need constant reassurance from your partner
You have endless doubts about your partner’s love for you, despite repeated reassurance and promises given by your partner. Your partner needs to constantly declare their love in a say-it-out-loud or purposeful way.
Some people with relationship anxiety may even deliberately sabotage things or pick fights with their partner just to test their fidelity- “if you love me, you won’t fight with me.”
As a result, your partner may be stressed out and feel like walking on eggshells.
Research has shown that people know their behavior is frustrating for partners and potentially harmful to their relationship, yet, they engage in it anyway.
Indeed, such reassurance-seeking behavior can have short-term benefits (reduce anxiety), but the destruction it causes can ruin the relationship.
3. You can’t tolerate short separation from your partner
Feeling attached and wanting to spend more time with your partner is natural. However, when you have relationship anxiety, things get heightened. You can’t stay calm and carry out your usual routine without your partner.
Examples of behavior include staring at your phone all day to wait for messages from your partner, being upset when seeing your partner spend time with other people, and fearing that your partner might forget you.
In short, relationship anxiety makes you look “clingy” and over-dependent on your partner.
4. You tend to stay silent and overly submissive
When you have relationship anxiety, you tend to show a behavior known as self-silencing.
Those who self-silence keep their opinions to themselves and agree readily with those around them, even if they actually disagree deep down in their heart. Also, you tend to be extra careful not to upset your partner, as you fear rejection.
Relationship anxiety wrongly convinces you that your partner will leave you if you don’t do whatever they want. So you put their needs ahead of your own and go above and beyond to please your partner, sometimes at detrimental costs to yourself.
At the same time, your anxiety affects your partner too. According to research studies, those who have a partner with relationship anxiety often conceal negative emotions and exaggerate positive emotions to avoid upsetting their anxious partner.
Although these accommodation behaviors are intended to alleviate the other person’s anxiety, studies found that individuals with relationship anxiety can detect their partners’ accommodation, which in turn increases their anxiety. This toxic cycle eventually led to relationship distress.
5. You tend to overthink your relationship
When you have relationship anxiety, you tend to over-analyze your partner’s sentences, tones, and actions for signs of trouble. This is closely related to the previous point (overly please your partner).
Do you recall past conversations in your head, regret if you should have phrased your words better, and worried that your word inflicts unpleasant feelings on your partner? Then you may have relationship anxiety.
6. You are afraid things may get too serious
Relationship anxiety can make you close yourself off. You are hesitant to get close to your partner and get scared off when your relationship becomes serious.
In the back of your mind, you think that the relationship will not last and that you will end up alone with a broken heart. Therefore, you keep your partner at an emotional distance, get stressed and run away when your partner invites you to meet their parent, etc.
Relationship anxiety holds you back from enjoying the relationship with your partner.
What can trigger relationship anxiety?
Relationship anxiety has many potential causes, but they are not well understood, and researchers are still working hard to explore further in the field.
Some identified factors associated with relationship anxiety include the following:
- Childhood trauma or stressful events, such as domestic violence, child abuse, or bullying.
- Emotional neglect by the parent, which leads to low self-worth.
- Attachment issues during childhood.
- Biological relatives with anxiety or other mental health disorders.
- Acute or chronic exposure to stressful and negative environments.
- Other anxiety disorders manifested as relationship anxiety.
- Physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats).
- Caffeine, alcohol, or substance abuse.
Studies found that young adults with poor relationships with fathers experience greater relationship anxiety with their partners. In contrast, the quality of relationships with mothers was not significantly related to relationship anxiety.
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Tips to overcome relationship anxiety
Relationship anxiety hurts you and your partner both. Act if you discover yourself or your partner having relationship anxiety before it ruins your relationship. Here are some tips:
Self-management is the first step to helping yourself escape from relationship anxiety.
Here is what you can do:
- Identify and confront your triggers of anxiety. Ask yourself why you have anxiety and try to tackle the root cause.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Examples are deep-breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, and yoga.
- Avoid abusing caffeine, alcohol, and other recreational drugs.
- Regular exercise. Exercise stimulates the chemical release in the brain that increase positive emotions. Besides, exercise helps improve our self-image, increasing our self-confidence and reducing anxiety.
- Ensure having at least 6 hours of sleep every night. People getting sufficient sleep are less prone to mental distress.
- Take healthy diets. Nutrients boost your physical health, and having a healthy body saves you from anxiety associated with physical illness.
Help from partners, family, and friends
Inviting people in your close circle to help you tackle your relationship anxiety problem is always good.
Below are some useful tips on how you and your partner, family, or friends can fight relationship anxiety together with you:
- Partner buffering mechanism. Share your true feelings with your partner and allow them to cross your emotional barriers. Meanwhile, as the partner, listen and be accommodative. Show your commitment to sailing through relationship anxiety together with your loved one.
- Maintain a support network with family members, friends, or support groups. Talk to them, and do not keep your anxiety to yourself.
Helps from professionals
If the above measures do not work for you, please consider speaking with your healthcare provider, either a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or counselor.
They can offer professional therapy for relationship anxiety, such as:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Supportive psychotherapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Acceptance and commitment therapy
- Combination of multiple therapy modalities
Involving in a relationship can be a source of pleasure and comfort, but it can be a nightmare for people with relationship anxiety.
Identify the signs, determine the root cause, and practice the tips discussed to fight your relationship anxiety.
Most importantly, when things are not working well, always remember your partner, family, friends, and healthcare providers are there to support you. So don’t be shy to ask for help.