- Relationship anxiety and its sequelae
- Causes of relationship anxiety
- Signs and symptoms of relationship anxiety
- How to overcome relationship anxiety
Have you ever heard of relationship anxiety? Doesn't sound so familiar, does it?
You are in a relationship with a great guy who loves you, and you love him too. You have spent years of commitment with them, you have developed trust for each other, defined your personal preferences, and have learned each other's communication styles. Still, you sometimes find yourself asking doubtful questions about your partner, or questioning their own commitment to you despite evidence to the contrary.
Relationship anxiety refers to the feelings of worry, insecurity, and doubt that often pops up in the mind of a partner about a relationship, even when everything is going well in the relationship.
It is normal to be anxious in a relationship, especially in the early stages of a relationship. Talking of stages of a relationship, four stages of relationship have been identified;
- The stage of attraction and infatuation, when you meet your partner for the first time. This stage is characterised by attraction and curiosity about getting to know them more.
- The stage of love and emotions, when feelings start raving and the love hormones fire every second. This stage is characterised by the lovey-dovey butterfly feelings you experience when you have thoughts about your partner.
- The stage of trials and tribulations, when the hormones begin to wane in their effects. It is characterised by more frequent problems in the relationship and tendencies to break up.
- The stage of commitment, where the relationship has survived the three stages above. especially the stage of trials. You may want to add the fifth stage – the stage of Marriage – which is quite self-explanatory.
Relationship anxiety occurs commonly especially in the first two stages of relationship above. At these stages, the relationship partners are yet to see what extent they can go for each other. In the absence of any proof that your partner will stick to you indefinitely, you can begin to worry that someday they might walk out through the door without saying a "goodbye", and never to return again.
Astrid Robertson, a psychotherapist and relationship expert, also confirmed that people commonly experience relationship anxiety during the early phases of their relationship because they are not sure how much interest their partner have in them, or what their partner wants from the relationship.
Relationship Anxiety and Its Sequelae
Now, we have justifiable reasons why relationship anxiety can be considered normal in the initial stages of a relationship. This only becomes a problem if it has persisted into the later stages, or if for any reason, it resurfaces in any of the partners at those later stages.
Relationship anxiety often reflects a loss of self-confidence in the partner experiencing it. "Do I deserve this guy/lady?", you'd ask. Suddenly, you start seeing yourself in a much lower position than your partner. This is one of the commonest triggers of relationship anxiety – lack of self-esteem – and it might end up ruining your relationship.
By now, you should have started getting a glimpse of what relationship anxiety can do to any relationship. Serious problems can ensue and a breakup may become inevitable. Hence, you must understand how to clearly make a diagnosis of relationship anxiety in yourself or your partner and take deliberate steps to manage it.
What Causes Relationship Anxiety?
Here, we see some factors that might predispose an individual to develop relationship anxiety in their relationship. Here we go.
Like I already mentioned, low self-esteem is one of the leading predisposing factors for relationship anxiety. It brings about a feeling of insecurity and anxiety in a relationship. When you start experiencing low self-esteem, it suddenly feels like you do not deserve your partner. You begin to think that they will someday, soon, leave you for someone better than you.
Some old research has suggested that people with low self-esteem are more likely to doubt their partner's feelings. This often occurs as a projection of your perceived image of low self-worth. In other words, feeling worthless about yourself can make it easier for you to believe that your partner feels the same way about you.
Previous relationship experiences
Every one of us is gifted with the ability to forget unpleasant situations over time, but some of those memories can affect how we behave and respond to things in our current relationship. Maybe you had a cheating partner, who deceived you into loving him/her, only to dump you later into the relationship. Maybe you had a partner who lied about their feelings just to exploit you for something, maybe money or sex.
These past experiences can affect how you react to situations in your current relationship even when you are making efforts to move on. No one wants to make the same mistake more than once, the more reason you often carefully probe your current relationship and critically analyse any single behaviour or attitude your partner may put up, especially if the behaviour resembles what you may have experienced in the past.
Nature of inquisitiveness
Not everyone has the ability to let little things go without getting concerned. Some people are very inquisitive, paying attention to and wanting to know the 'why's about the slightest actions, words, or gestures. This may be considered a good trait to some extent. It can only become a problem when not properly managed or allowed to meddle with your relationships.
If you naturally question things to the last point, your relationship might get haunted by relationship anxiety. You might find yourself asking about every possible outcome of your relationship even when it shows signs it might be going in the right direction.
The decision to get committed in a relationship is a leap of faith, and staying committed is an act of true love – the decision to keep moving no matter what. But if you are someone who intentionally focuses on the challenges and analyse them judgmentally, you might find yourself worrying too much about your relationship even when there is really nothing to worry about.
Again I say, inquisitiveness is a good trait if possessed in measurable/controllable amounts.
There is a strong relationship between the type of attachment you had in childhood to how you handle relationships as an adult. First, let see what attachment style is.
Attachment style refers to a person's specific way of relating to other people when they are attached to one person. According to attachment theory, first developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s, attachment style is shaped from early childhood in reflection of the nature of our relationships with our earliest caregivers - parents and family members.
Children who have a fixed attachment to their parents, especially their mothers, are said to have an insecure attachment style. Those who see their parents as a secure base but are confident enough to explore the world have a secure attachment style. These would later be broken down into four types, essentially.
Our adult attachment style is thought to mirror the dynamics of our childhood attachment style. In light of these, the four attachment styles generally recognized include;
- Secure - autonomous;
- Avoidant - dismissing;
- Fearful-avoidant - ambivalent/unresolved;
- Anxious - preoccupied.
As you scale down this list above, relationship anxiety increases accordingly. People who had the avoidant attachment style could have problems with deciding to get committed in their relationships; the fearful-avoidant individual not only avoids commitment but also vividly express their fears that something might go wrong; while people with the anxious attachment style have the highest level of relationship anxiety – usually characterised by the constant fear that your partner might leave you unexpectedly.
It's not so hard to know when you have "trust issues". Trust issues commonly referred to someone inability to trust other people, even those who have given them enough reason to trust them for. This is usually the result of several factors some of which are already outlined above – past experiences, low self-esteem, the type of attachment style, etc.
The presence of one or more of these factors does not necessarily mean that you will develop relationship anxiety. However, they could be predisposing factors or potential triggers for relationship anxiety.
When you have relationship anxiety, there are some signs and symptoms that will show up. This brings us to what those signs and symptoms of relationship anxiety are.
Signs and Symptoms of Relationship Anxiety
Relationship anxiety often begins with you asking a series of rhetorical questions about your relationship. These might make you take actions that might affect the relationship negatively. You'd question yourself, "Will things last? Am I sure he/she is the right one for me? What if they are hiding something? What if I am being deceived? Am I capable of maintaining this relationship?", and so on.
Over time, relationship anxiety can lead to emotional distress, lack of motivation, emotional exhaustion and fatigue, and even physical signs like nausea and stomach upset, etc.
Eventually, it creates issues in the relationship that would cause you and/or your partner distress.
Here are some potential signs you are having relationship anxiety:
- Wondering if you matter to your partner
- Doubting your partner's feelings for you
- Worrying if they would break up with you
- Doubting long-term compatibility
- Putting up unnecessary behaviours
- Misjudging their words and actions
- Lack of happiness in the relationship
Let's go over them briefly.
Wondering if you matter to your partner
When you trust your partner, you can confidently affirm that they got your back no matter what. You agree that you matter to them and they matter to you too. When relationship anxiety sets in, you lose that confidence and you begin to wonder if you still matter to your partner. When you start having these thoughts very often, you should know that you might be having relationship anxiety. Look if you ask yourself the following questions:
- Will my partner miss me if I am not around?
- Would they offer help or support if anything serious comes up?
- Are they with me just because of what I can do for them?
Of course, the usual answer to the question would be a "yes" and that is what makes relationship anxiety so pathological. In relation to the kind of questions asked in relationship anxiety, Astrid Robertson also explains that the most common expressions are those relating to the underlying questions, "do I matter?" or "are they there for me?", reflecting the fundamental need to connect, feel belonged or secure in a relationship.
Again, these are normal questions but relationship anxiety only makes them pathological by raising them in excessive proportions when there is obviously no need to do so.
Doubting your partner's feelings for you
Has your partner previously expressed his genuine feelings for you but you have suddenly become doubtful about them lately? He may not have told you the three magic words, "I love you", but he might have proven it in many other ways.
Relationship anxiety makes you interpret some trivial actions or inactions as a sign that your partner's feelings are unreal, including, in this case, his "refusal" to tell you "I love you" even when there are countless other things to prove it.
A clear example can be seen in a case of a guy in a relationship with his girlfriend. And in the height of the emotions and ecstasy that usually come in relationships, one of the partners asked the other for sex. However, the other declined with reasons that they are not ready to do it at the moment.
Now, see what relationship anxiety would later do. The partner who requested sexual intimacy saw that refusal as a lack of love and genuine affection. Relationship anxiety makes you take trivial things very seriously in your relationship.
Worrying if they would break up with you
One thing a good relationship will do for you is giving you is a sense of unwavering confidence that you and your partner would be together always. You would never admit that anything can come between you and your partner and oftentimes, you get shocked when something actually does.
When you love someone, you want to do almost everything it takes to keep them. However, this can become a problem if you go too far to do so. By "too far", I mean behaving in weird ways that completely changes what you represent in the relationship. You begin to worry so much that you might lose them if you don't take certain actions, block certain people from your partner's life or even accuse them of certain wrongs just because you want to get them to prove their fidelity and commitment.
Relationship anxiety makes you feel like if you do nothing, your partner might leave you but the opposite is, in fact, the case. You do not need to be anything else, other than yourself for your partner to keep loving you; at most, a better version of yourself.
Have you ever felt like wreaking havoc because you want to be able to say that you caused them some considerable pain when your partner finally leaves you? You are already projecting a breakup even when the chances are remote and have plotted your payback well ahead of time. Bravo! If you go unchecked, you will succeed very effectively, in causing what you dream of – an inevitable breakup.
Doubting long-term compatibility
Relationship anxiety can make you question whether you and your partner are truly compatible. In real terms, compatibility is a product of your commitment to each other in the relationship. You might also wonder if you are actually happy or are only feigning it.
In response, you might start focusing your attention on minor differences – they love punk music but you go better with blues, your favourite meal isn't really theirs too. Are we compatible, or are we going to be compatible in the long run?. Doing these to extents that overemphasize their importance.
Putting up unnecessary behaviours
When you have relationship anxiety, you put up unnecessary behaviours that can sabotage your relationship. You are aware that these behaviours can have serious consequences but you go on with them anyways. Examples of these include;
- Picking up heated arguments at the slightest conflict of opinion
- Testing relationship boundaries, e.g, having lunch with an ex without your partner's knowledge
- Pushing them away when you are in distress by telling them there is no problem
- Doing things they hate the most because you want to check how they will react to determine if they truly love you
Even though your intentions may be different, it can be hard for your partner to understand that you may be trying to redefine your worth or position in the relationship. These may expectedly lead to the demise of the union. For example, by pushing your partner away in a way that suggests that you do not want them, you give them the impression that they are not needed in your life, at least, not anymore. In your own expectations, you may want your partner to resistively prove to you that they really love you, but no, it doesn't always go that way, signalling the beginning of complex problems in your relationship and an eventual breakup.
Misjudging their words and actions
There is a greater tendency for you to overthink your partner's words and actions when you have relationship anxiety. You often find yourself making a mountain out of a molehill, even to the extent of jeopardizing your relationship.
For example, your partner's friend walks into the room and your partner decides to give her friend some time for chats. Immediately, you could become angry and jealous that your partner is dividing her attention with someone else, even when you know this is probably only a one-time thing and that your partner would never want to take you for granted at any time.
Lack of happiness in the relationship
The best indicator of problems in your relationship or impending breakup is lack of happiness. When you start feeling despondent in your relationship, something is obviously wrong.
Relationship anxiety takes away your happiness in the relationship because you find yourself constantly expending all your joy and energy over almost everything related to your relationship with your partner. What started with worrying over a few things would soon progress to worrying over everything, and this is what saps away your happiness in the relationship. Of course, the terminal point of all failing relationships is a breakup if not rescued.
Just in case you are experiencing any of the above signs of relationship anxiety, don't you need to be reduced? Let's see how you can overcome relationship anxiety now.
How To Overcome Relationship Anxiety
Relationship anxiety may feel impossible to overcome, and for the records, it could take some considerable time and effort but it can be overcome. Helping you overcome relationship anxiety goes beyond telling you that your partner truly loves you. You may already know that very well, but it comes by helping to be able to feel that sense of safety and security that relationship anxiety has taken from you.
To overcome relationship anxiety, you may need to ask yourself these basic questions;
- Am I spending more time worrying about this relationship than enjoying it?
- What exactly do I worry about?
Here are specific ways to deal with relationship anxiety;
- Maintain your identity
- Identify your worries
- Try being more mindful
- Practice good communication
- Avoid acting on your feelings
- Talk to a therapist
Maintain your identity
As you and your partner get closer, you might find key aspects of your identity, individuality, or even your independence gradually shifts to accommodate your partner and sustain the relationship. You make some compromises in your relationship – for example, sleeping with the lights on is not really your thing but you just had to get used to it because your partner prefers it. These subtle changes may not affect your identity in any serious ways but you may have also made compromises that alters your self-identity.
The loss of your sense of self in the relationship does not produce any good outcomes. I could be the cause of your feeling of low self-esteem associated with relationship anxiety.
Even if your fears that your partner might be losing interest in you are real, it could be because you stopped being the "you" he fell in love with. You should take time to reflect on who are and what you have become now. The simple words are "maintain your self-identity".
Identify your worries
One fundamental but very helpful question you can ask is "what exactly am I worried about"? When you have relationship anxiety, you worry over the most trivial matters. Maybe you do realize that those things are insignificant or maybe not. You need to be able to provide the answer to this question for yourself. In doing so, you make yourself see clearly how trivial the matters really are and this will allay your fears.
If what you worry about has some significant importance in the relationship and is not just an over-exaggeration of trivial matters, you should address them with your partner in a discussion.
Try being more mindful
Mindfulness involves focusing your awareness on what is happening presently and making judgments without bias. Negative, and unreal thoughts occasionally encroach into our minds but when they do, you should confront them with real mindful thoughts of how great your relationship is going so far.
Even if the relationship has only a few months or years to live, being mindful and positive will help you to enjoy every time you spend with your partner while the relationship lasts. It is also important you know that the outcome (whether the relationship lasts or breaks) depends largely on what you do or do not do in the relationship.
Practice good communication
Relationship anxiety is often a problem intrinsic to you. That is, it may not have anything to do with your partner, even though it could be linked to certain behaviours your partner exhibits – for example, maybe your partner is afraid to introduce you to his family. A healthy discussion with your partner can help dissuade your fears and also help to make them modify behaviours that fuel your anxiety.
By healthy discussion, it refers to the act of raising a conversation with your partner in an as non-accusatory and polite manner as possible. If your partner values the relationship, they would normally take to corrections and work on those behaviours that get you worried.
As a quick tip for starting up healthy conversations, using the "I" statements can help you through these discussions. For example, instead of saying "You’re being so distant lately and I can’t take it", you could say, "I feel like there has been some disconnection between us lately, and it makes me feel like you are withdrawing yourself or your feelings have changed". You see the latter sounds more polite, don't you?
As the discussion continues, explain to your partner what your worries are. This can help alleviate your anxiety and also, opening up to them this way will further strengthen the bond between the both of you.
Avoid acting on your feelings
When you feel anxious about your relationship, you want to seek validation from your partner that they still care about you. This validation-seeking behaviour is perfectly normal and natural and may be of help when you really see signs that show your partner's loss of interest in the relationship. Relationship anxiety further escalates it, making it pathological, that is without any natural/normal precipitant. In this case, you must resist the urge to act on your feelings in ways that may jeopardize your relationship.
Pay attention to your behaviours and identify if you are becoming impulsive, then try to stop being so. If you notice that you have suddenly started doing things out of proportion – for example, texting your partner too many times just to ask their whereabouts or what they are currently doing can be disturbing.
When you feel the impulses to act on your anxiety, take a deep breath, reassure yourself that you are worth the best and you deserve your partner. Also, try to engage in something you love doing, maybe reading etc, or get on a phone call with another close friend or family member.
One more reason why you must stop worrying is that no matter how much you worry, it's not going to stop them from leaving you if they want to. It only worsens everything. So, why allow yourself to go through unnecessary worrying? Whoever loves you would stay by you as long as you still want them in your life.
Talk to a therapist
Sometimes it can be hard to do this on your own. For the majority of people with relationship anxiety, this guide would be very beneficial but a few people would need some additional help. If the feeling persists after following the steps above, you should consider talking to a therapist.
A therapist who specialises in managing relationships and couples issues would be very helpful. The therapist can help you to understand your own feelings better, as well as your partner's feelings and what your needs are. You can confide in a therapist without fear of judgment while you unpack loads of anxiety from your mind. This can be indeed therapeutic.
Advantageously, talking with a therapist may not cost you so much money, and you certainly do not need so many visits before everything resolves. In fact, a study by Christine and Donald has suggested that even a single therapy session can help couples deal with relationship anxiety.
The bottom line
Relationship anxiety is a problem that must be solved because it can negatively affect your relationship. Every relationship has its uncertainties and this is grossly normal. While it may not be so difficult to see triggers of relationship anxiety in your relationship, in this post you learnt what causes relationship anxiety, the signs and 6 powerful ways to overcome it.
You deserve a worry-free relationship, a relationship free from anxiety. Why should you constantly worry about things that are beyond your control when you can enjoy every bit of time while you are with your current relationship partner?
If you learnt something about relationship anxiety from this post, please drop a comment, share and subscribe. Thank you for reading.