When you have relationship anxiety, you know what it is. All the same negative thinking that “dogs” all of your previous relationships, including questions like:
As all these negative thoughts are rolling around in your head, the whole range of physical symptoms appears: getting an upset stomach, labored breathing, and a pounding heart. And when you get better, you think: “Where does it come from? And how can I stop this from happening?”. If this sounds like you, read on. You’ll get your answers here.
The simple definition of relationship anxiety is having doubt, worry, and insecurity during a relationship. A person who experiences this will often exhibit symptoms of being clingy, needy, and jealous, even though there may be no real need for these insecurities.
Sometimes, professional therapists call relationship anxiety a disorder. If so, relationship anxiety disorder negatively impacts all your relationship approaches and keeps you from establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship with a significant other.
We all want intimacy, but once we have relationship anxiety, we make our partners drive away, achieving the exact opposite of what is wanted. When that happens, all the insecurities and doubts are just reinforced. As a result, the person moves into the next relationship with the same doubts and insecurities.
The specific reasons you may be experiencing relationship anxiety are different. Still, the most common factors can be summarized into three major groups: unattentive parents, unloving exes, and generally low self-esteem. Let’s see if any or all these causes of relationship anxiety fit you.
Dealing with relationship anxiety from childhood doesn’t necessarily mean you had bad parents or other primary caregivers. Although bad parenting may be the case, relationship anxiety disorders rather comes from unmet needs for love and support.
There are two types of childhood attachment styles:
Related reading: Disorganized Attachment Style & Romantic Relationships
A child with an anxious attachment style may become clingy and require continual reassurance that they are loved. And out of fear that love may be withheld, they may watch for signs that loved ones are losing interest. This puts them in a state of relationship anxiety as they go into adulthood.
“A traumatic experience in an earlier romantic relationship, such as betrayal, infidelity [or] loss, could also be a cause for relationship anxiety later in life.”
Deborah Courtney, Ph.D. a licensed psychotherapist and clinical social worker
Negative experience from a previous relationship is one of the most common reasons for relationship anxiety, causing people to have anxious feelings about any new relationship they develop. Past trauma causes projections that a new partner will treat us the same way, and we look for signs they will break up with us.
It’s relatively easy to get hurt so deeply by a breakup. Suppose you were in a committed relationship and looking forward to a great future with your partner. Over time, though, your relationship dynamics made you less self-assured – especially if you feel your partner losing interest and drawing away from you. Or, to make things more traumatic, you discovered they were cheating on you.
No surprise that after this story, you become clingy, suspicious, and constantly worrying about things your partners do when not with you. But once your rational doubts grow into a disorder, this relationship-based anxiety becomes a true “killer” – chances that your new partner won’t stand your suspicions and escape too are high.
Related reading: Ex Still Renting Space in Your Head? 11 Tools to Break Free
Not sure you have this problem? Check out these most common signs of low self-esteem:
If you recognize yourself in any of these mental health issues, it would be a good idea to seek out a mental health pro to help you work this through. There is no quick fix, but overcoming relationship anxiety and having successful intimate relationships is necessary.
Related reading: How To Maintain Your Individuality While In a Relationship
Every case is different, but past experiences usually bring us low self-esteem. They are not always romantic, but they make you feel anxious in your current relationships, doubt somebody loves you, and take every little negative thing to heart. You become jealous easily and worry that they are just using you until they find someone better.
Ultimately, your behaviors result in frequent breakups. And that just reinforces your poor sense of self. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that continues to repeat itself with any relationship you get into.
“The most common expression of relationship anxiety relates to underlying questions of ‘Do I matter?’ or ‘Are you there for me?’…This speaks to a fundamental need to connect, belong, and feel secure in a partnership.”
Astrid Robertson, psychotherapist
Here is your checklist of the most common (although there can be more) signs of relationship anxiety:
Sometimes, such self-esteem issues can lead you to sabotage things in a loving relationship out of a self-fulfilling prophecy or as a type of controlling behavior to force “proving” love. Many unconscious things, like losing phones, occasionally setting up a lunch with an ex, or deliberately picking fights, may happen in intimate relationships. Individual and couples therapy can help you if that happens frequently.
Related reading: Setting Healthy and Fair Expectations in a Relationship
Once you have an anxious attachment to your relationship, you may feel discomfort in all the spheres of your life. Here are 5 typical effects of relationship anxiety:
These are prime signs of relationship anxiety caused by insecure attachment styles. Ultimately, you feel increased anxiety, become isolated from a normal social life, and close yourself to building a trusting relationship with any other romantic partners.
Once you decide you don’t want your anxiety disorders to ruin your relationship, the best approach is to attend couples therapy. This way, you can work on your problem together with your partner and have a reality check on your situation. However, if you’re not ready for couples therapy but still want to stop relationship anxiety from affecting every aspect of your life, here are some strategies you can try on your own.
In addition to this read, access peer-reviewed studies and other research verified by medical reviewers. Identify the specific causes that relate to your relationship anxiety disorder. Once you know the causes, you can begin to work on addressing them.
Find a therapist who works specifically with a person with relationship anxiety and stick with it. It’s a process, not a quick fix. If it’s hard, that’s perfectly normal, especially if you’re at the early stages of dealing with constantly feeling insecure.
The list of activities you can pick from to stop spending your time worrying about your partner and look inward is long, so choose what works best for you. This can be a workout, yoga class, or meditation. When you feel anxiety rearing, try deep breathing and place yourself in a peaceful place.
In addition to finding inner peace, seek a hobby outside your current relationship:
Having honest conversations is a must because your relationship partner has a right to know what you are going through. Perhaps they can reassure you that your feelings are unfounded. At the very least, they can take steps to help reduce your anxiety (e.g., keep in touch and let you know where they are at regular intervals – even a short text will help). Don’t hide your vulnerability from them if you’re in a trusting relationship.
Related reading: How to Build Trust in a Relationship: 15 Tips
If your partner doesn’t want to join couples therapy with you, you can still attend the individual therapy alone. Building a relationship will become easier once you work your problems out.
Don’t start blowing up your phone with calls or texts whenever your anxiety begins and grows. Try to catch yourself before you do that. Have a list of things you can do instead posted on your frig. Run to that frig, choose something appealing, and dig into it. Your partner will thank you, and your relationship will take a step forward.
Everyone has some things in their life that are praise-worthy. What about you? Create a list of all the good things about yourself:
Make your list and add each new achievement. And when you doubt your self-worth, read it.
Who were you before you entered into this relationship with your partner? You had a life as a highly functioning adult. Go back to that time in your mind and recall what you did in those days and nights.
Start doing those things again. The more you do, the more your feelings about yourself will change. In short, you are not in a relationship with your partner.
When you are with your partner, embrace the time with them. Put your anxiety on the back burner and focus on how you enjoy your time together. Nothing in life is promised, so, as the saying goes, “carpe diem,” or seize the day. Let your feelings of enjoyment take over.
“Just as you can’t change from one kind of personality to another, you can’t completely change your attachment style…But you can certainly make enough changes that an insecure attachment style doesn’t hold you back in life.”
Jason Wheeler, psychotherapist
Regarding relationship anxiety, you should embrace your past but take responsibility to change your future:
You cannot change any of your experiences that have brought you to relationship anxiety, but you can change your attitude to them. Recognize that your anxiety is impacting your mental health, and you must do something about it.
Dealing with relationship anxiety is not easy and is not a “quick fix.” You will have to be committed and honest about your anxiety triggers with yourself and your partner and seek professional help if you cannot overcome it on your own.
You’ll start changing your situation once you realize that living with relationship anxiety doesn’t have to be your fate.