People with relationship anxiety are prone to overthinking, which can lead them to feel stressed and insecure about their relationship with their partner. If unaddressed, this anxiety can lead to struggles in relationships, but self-care techniques and individual or couples therapy can be effective treatments.
What is relationship anxiety?
Relationship anxiety is a type of anxiety that affects your thoughts and feelings about your partner and your relationship.
It can be caused by various factors, including experiences in previous romantic relationships, anxieties outside of your relationship, low self-esteem, or poor communication with your partner.
Relationship anxiety can cause you to second-guess your relationship, consistently seek reassurance, or even deliberately try to push your partner away.
Relationship anxiety vs dating someone with anxiety
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions in the United States, experienced by over 19% of adults, and include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and phobias . Relationship anxiety isn’t an official anxiety diagnosis, but instead can be an aspect of GAD, panic disorder, or social phobia.
While the signs and symptoms experienced by somebody with another type of anxiety might affect their relationships, this does not necessarily mean that they have relationship anxiety.
For somebody with relationship anxiety, their partner, and their relationship with their partner, is at the center of their worries and fears.
Causes of relationship anxiety
There isn’t a single cause for relationship anxiety, but experiences in your childhood, and other anxieties outside of your relationship can all play a part.
Common underlying causes of relationship anxiety include:
- Previous relationships: Negative experiences from previous relationships, including cheating, lying, gaslighting, abuse, or breaking up with you unexpectedly, can lead to anxiety in future relationships. These relationships can occur even if your new partner doesn’t display the same qualities. It might take time to become aware of the extent of these residual feelings of hurt and distrust, and what actions from your partner that trigger them.
- Low self-esteem: Low self-esteem or self-worth can be caused by various factors including abuse or neglect in childhood, being born with an anxious temperament, or adverse experiences throughout life. People with low self-esteem might be more likely to doubt their partner’s feelings for them; concerned that their partner perceives them in the same way they do themselves, they might feel undeserving of their partners’ affections. This doubt might also lead to suspicions of unfaithfulness.
- An anxious attachment style: how you relate to and trust other people in adulthood is often significantly impacted by your experiences growing up. If you had an unstable home, frequently unmet needs, or experienced an inconsistent care, you might have developed an insecure attachment style. In a romantic relationship, an anxious attachment style might make you worry about your partner leaving you and seek constant reassurance of your partner’s feelings for you.
- Poor communication: A lack of frequent, open, and honest communication in a relationship can lead to feelings of anxiety. If one partner is left unsure about another’s feelings or intentions for the future, the uncertainty can create anxiety.
- Generalized anxiety disorder: People who experience generalized anxiety disorder can get triggered by elements of romantic relationships.
How does anxiety affect relationships?
When one person’s anxious feelings become a key part of a relationship, it can drive a wedge between partners, blocking effective communication, and overpowering positive connections.
The thoughts and behaviors experienced by somebody with relationship anxiety can cause stress for both partners, and, if unaddressed, can lead to a relationship breakdown.
The ways that anxiety affects relationships depends on the signs exhibited by the anxious partner:
- If your anxiety leads you to be overly dependent on your partner, you might need constant support, reassurance, and communication from them. This can put pressure on your partner and make you worried that you’re being ‘clingy’. If your needs are unmet, you might respond with anger, which can create further tension.
- If your anxiety leads you to be avoidant with your partner, you might become withdrawn and steer clear of stressful situations or conversations that could reveal your feelings or make you vulnerable. This can make it hard to build meaningful connections with your partner and make them perceive you as emotionally unavailable or lacking empathy.
Is relationship anxiety normal?
It’s very normal to experience a degree of anxiety in healthy relationships. For many, this can be early on, when there is uncertainty about compatibility or the level of interest from a partner, but feelings of anxiety can appear in long-term relationships, too.
How you experience relationship anxiety can also vary. For some it is short-lived, for others it comes and goes as the relationship develops. For others, it becomes a constant presence, which is when it is most likely to become an issue.
Relationship anxiety becomes problematic when it lasts long enough or is severe enough to impact your relationship, your partner, and other aspects of your life.
Signs someone has relationship anxiety
Signs that somebody has relationship anxiety vary from person to person, and many are interlinked. Common examples include:
- Overthinking: This could be overthinking or overanalyzing your partner’s words and actions. The overanalyzing can lead to assumptions that your partner doesn’t love or care about you, even if they show you otherwise. You might also tend to conclude the worst-case scenario in multiple situations with your partner.
- Insecurity and a need for validation: Constantly seeking reassurance from your partner is a sign of feeling insecure in your relationship. You might project your insecurities onto your partner, regardless of whether these insecurities stem from your relationship.
- Doubting: You might doubt your compatibility with your partner, focusing more than necessary on your differences, or doubt that they really love you. You might doubt their faithfulness, and feel a sense of distrust, even if they have given you no reason to do so.
- Worry and stress: Consistently worrying about how strong or ‘good’ your relationship is can lead to harmful stress for you and your partner. While questioning your relationship is normal, when you spend more time feeling stressed than content, and consistently worry that they might ‘find somebody better’, this can be a sign of relationship anxiety.
- Loss of sense of self: Fearful that your partner might leave you, you might avoid bringing up issues that bother you, or feel that you can’t be open and honest with your thoughts and feelings. You might try to please your partner at any cost, even if you suffer as a result. You might also want to be around your partner all the time, over-relying on them, and losing a sense of independence.
- Sabotage: People with relationship anxiety might deliberately try to push their partner away, to test whether their partner really loves them. For example, you might start arguments over minor issues, and blow things out of proportion. You might push relationship boundaries, or lay traps for your partner to test their loyalty.
Overcoming relationship anxiety
Identifying what is driving your anxiety is the first step to overcoming it. Depending on the root cause, effective treatments include self-care and self-soothing techniques, improving communication with your partner, therapy, or medication.
Self-care and self-soothing techniques
Practicing mindfulness and improving your wellbeing can help to address feelings of overwhelm. Simple activities like going for a walk, writing in a journal, or focusing on your breathing can improve your sense of self, make you feel more in control, and help you to avoid acting impulsively to seek reassurance.
Actively focusing on the present moment can also help to curb feelings of anxiety. Instead of worrying about what may or may not happen in the future, bringing your awareness to your current reality and letting yourself enjoy time spent with your partner can help you break out from a negative thought spiral.
Improving communication with your partner
While communication between a couple is often affected by relationship anxiety, improving it is an essential part of moving forward.
While all relationship dynamics are different, being honest about your feelings, and letting your partner open up to you, enables both parties to understand and support each other better, and overcome conflict.
Talking to a therapist can offer you a safe space, free from judgment, to uncover the root of your relationship anxiety, identify your anxious behaviors, and help you to work through them.
Couples counseling can also be a helpful way to manage anxiety in relationships. Professional help can offer structure and guidance to help you understand each other’s needs and feelings and communicate effectively.
If the anxiety in your relationship is linked to anxiety outside of your relationship, for example, if you’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, you might be prescribed medication to treat the related signs and symptoms.
- Zaider, T. I., Heimberg, R. G., & Iida, M. (2010). Anxiety disorders and intimate relationships: a study of daily processes in couples. Journal of abnormal psychology, 119(1), 163–173. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018473
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