You are in a healthy relationship with someone you love and trust completely, and it is smooth sailing apart from a few fights here and there. Yet you cannot stop overthinking and constantly questioning everything about your partner and your relationship. Does this seem familiar?
Everyone experiences some level of anxiety about their relationship, and this is entirely normal. In the early stages of your relationship, you might be wondering, “Do they really like me?” or “What do they see in me?” or “How serious is this?” or “Is this going too fast?” In the later stages, these worries can take the form of questioning your partner’s expressions of love, worrying if they are truly “the one” for you, if they are losing interest, or if the relationship is progressing too fast.
But when your constant worrying has taken over all aspects of your relationship, to the point that you cannot enjoy the good times, you might be experiencing relationship anxiety. It becomes a problem when it hinders the growth of your relationship. Anxiety about your relationship can distance you from your partner. It can create relationship problems such as unnecessary conflicts, or might make you sabotage the relationship due to your fear of getting hurt. Over time, this can bleed into other areas of your life and show symptoms similar to anxiety disorders, such as loneliness, emotional distress, fatigue, debilitating stress, and insomnia, which is when you might need professional help for it.
What Causes Relationship Anxiety?
- Your past relationships
If you have been in a previous relationship where you were hurt, mistreated or cheated on, then your anxiety might be rooted in the fears of the past repeating itself. “A lot of people walk into relationships with baggage. No matter how much we try, all our previous relationships will leave some imprint on us. Sometimes we unknowingly put our emotional baggage onto the new relationship, and it’s unfair to the person we are with,” says Shahzeen Shivdasani, who writes on dating and relationships, and the author of Love, Lust and Lemons.
- You are scared of intimacy
Romantic relationships require emotional vulnerability, which comes with the risk of getting hurt or disappointed. Thus your insecurities might make you constantly anxious about your partner, question their feelings, or anticipate the end of the relationship. “You see this a lot in new relationships, because trust has not been built yet,” says Shahzeen. “Sometimes we tend to sabotage ourselves as a self-defense mechanism. We avoid letting people in to get rid of the risk of getting hurt or disappointed.”
- You are uncertain about the future of the relationship
Relationship anxiety can show up as constantly questioning the future of your relationship instead of enjoying the present. These worries can sound like: Are you truly compatible? What if they lose interest in this relationship a few months later? Will you get married? Are you actually happy, or are you settling for this relationship?
- You are going through a turbulent phase in life
Stress related to other aspects of your life can also cause anxiety about your relationship. This includes big changes like losing or changing your job, moving to different cities, suffering from a severe illness, going through pregnancy, or losing a loved one.
- You are bad at conflict resolution
All couples fight, and healthy conflict resolution can strengthen your relationship. But if you are unable to resolve conflict in a productive way, or if you try to move on after empty apologies, or you do not communicate with your partner about your feelings at all, then these fights can cause relationship problems later. “All the small fights that we allow to go unresolved, or think are not a big deal at the time, eventually add up,” says Shahzeen.
- Attachment styles formed in your childhood
Theorised by psychiatrist John Bowlby, attachment styles are the way in which we behave in intimate relationships and respond to affection, and these are formed early in our childhood. They are of two types: secure and insecure. Insecure attachment styles include being anxious or avoidant. If you have an anxious attachment style, you might crave more intimacy, affection and outward expressions of love than your partner is giving you, making you question the extent of their attachment to you. If you are avoidant, then you might be fearing emotional vulnerability.
- Your idea of a perfect relationship
Romance novels and blockbuster movies have sold us the idea of a perfect relationship for years. “But the picket fence imagery in your head is not the reality,” says Shahzeen. “In long-term relationships, things don’t always work out how you thought they would, and you have to go with the flow and work with your partner to create the life you both want to create. So when you have this idea that your relationship has to go a certain way, or that you need to control how it is proceeding, then it can cause anxiety and strife in relationships.”
How to Cope With Relationship Anxiety
- Avoid acting on your feelings immediately
When you feel anxious about your relationship, you might want to reassure yourself constantly that things are okay. This can take the form of constant texting, checking up on your partner through their friends or colleagues, obsessing over your partner’s social media accounts, etc. But taking a step back to assess what is causing these feelings might be a better idea, says Shahzeen. “Go do five minutes of meditation or your work, or check in with a good friend, or have a glass of wine with somebody else. Wait an hour or two, and see if it is still bothering you afterwards. Then if you feel like it is something you need to communicate, talk to your partner about it.” You can also speak positive affirmations out aloud to break the chain of intrusive thoughts.
- Talk about it with your partner
Although anxiety might stem from something within yourself rather than your partner’s actions, communicating about your fears and worries might be key to alleviating them. For example, if you are worried about the future of your relationship, asking your partner their thoughts on it will put you on the same page. Being vulnerable about your feelings will also strengthen your emotional bond.
- Work on strengthening your bond as a couple
After the initial exciting phase of a relationship, the spark might fade, making you doubt its sustainability. To rediscover your passion, compliment your partner’s actions, help each other out with household chores, go out on fun dates, and engage in activities that both of you like.
- Retain your own identity in the relationship
It is easy to lose your sense of self and individuality in a relationship, which might make you fear the end of the relationship. According to a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, a side-effect of relationship anxiety is self-silencing, where you do not express your tastes, opinions and feelings in order to appease your partner. Thus one of the ways in which you can combat your insecurities is by maintaining your sense of identity, through pursuing your personal projects, looking after your own growth, and nurturing your friendships.
- Consider therapy
It is never weak to seek professional help. Although relationship anxiety is not a diagnosed disorder, it can help to talk it out with a therapist. You can either address your personal insecurities in therapy, or go to couples therapy to improve your communication styles with your partner and manage your expectations.