“Will my relationship last? Are they getting sick of me? Are they about to break up with me? Am I good enough?”
If you find yourself wrestling with these questions on a regular basis or getting stuck in a spiral of self-doubt about your partner, you may be suffering from relationship anxiety.
Although extremely common, relationship anxiety is a mental health condition that causes individuals to experience excessive worry about the stability of their romantic relationships. From questioning a partner’s commitment to constantly fearing being broken up with, relationship anxiety can put a real strain on you and your significant other.
While those who experience Generalised Anxiety Disorder are more likely to suffer from relationship anxiety, there are a few other causes which may be playing a part. This includes:
Past experiences – Many of us have felt the pain of being cheated on, broken up with or mistreated in a relationship. However, while some people may be able to set these negative experiences aside and treat new relationships like a fresh start, others may find it difficult to move forward without worrying about history repeating itself.
Anxious attachment style – Often stemming from parental relationships, anxious attachment style can cause a person to become overly fixated on how their partner perceives them. This preoccupation with analysing their partner’s words and actions means that the individual becomes so focused on their anxious thoughts that they’re no longer actively participating in the relationship.
Poor communication skills – Strong relationships are built on communication, so when we fail to speak openly to our partners and instead bottle up our worries, we’re allowing those worries to escalate in our minds. Having a good old-fashioned heart-to-heart with your partner can not only strengthen emotional intimacy, but can also prevent resentment, promote bonding and help your partner empathise with your fears.
Low self-esteem – Self-confidence plays a huge role in relationship anxiety, as it impacts what you think you deserve based on how you see yourself. If your self-esteem is low, you may feel like you’re not entitled to a happy relationship or worthy of your partner’s fidelity.
Just like Generalised Anxiety Disorder, relationship anxiety can often lead to physical health symptoms as a result of the brain’s fight-or-flight response to a perceived threat. In this case, the perceived threat might be the end of your relationship, the idea that your partner is losing interest, or fears that your partner may be being unfaithful. Some of these physical symptoms include:
- Rapid breathing or hyperventilating
- Increased heart rate
- Sweating or hot flushes
- Feeling weak
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Racing thoughts
- Pins and needles, tingling and numbness
- Muscle tension
Although it’s totally normal to feel anxious from time to time in your relationship – especially if you’ve not been with your partner for very long – sometimes these thoughts can spiral and start to affect your day-to-day life. Being able to recognise these anxious thoughts is the first step to addressing them, so let’s take a closer look at how the mind can be affected by relationship anxiety:
Rhetorical questioning is the act of constantly asking yourself questions about a relationship, and often stems from feelings of fear or self-doubt. You might ask yourself if you’re good enough for your partner, why they’re not responding to your text, or whether they’re interested in someone else. Because we’re unable to answer these questions, we often try to resolve them ourselves with yet more anxious thought patterns, and so the cycle continues.
Over analysis can also play a big part in exacerbating relationship anxiety, as we become fixated on trying to find hidden meaning in everything our partner says and does. For example, you might assume that your partner’s low mood means they’ve fallen out of love with you and a breakup is on the horizon, when in fact your partner may just be feeling out of sorts for a completely different reason that has nothing to do with your relationship.
Self-sabotaging can be a really destructive force in relationships, as it can cause an individual to essentially throw away a good thing in fear of a bad thing happening. This might present itself as ending a relationship for fear of being cheated on – even if you’ve got no reason to believe your partner is actually cheating. As such, this misjudged act of self-preservation is in fact an act of psychological self-harm, and can severely affect your happiness and quality of life.
Chronic lack of trust is another big indicator of relationship anxiety (and somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy), as it can cause people to alienate or anger their partners due to insecurity or fear of abandonment.
Excessive reassurance seeking is another common trait of those experiencing relationship anxiety – especially if you have low self-esteem or a history of toxic relationships. While it may be comforting to hear that your partner loves you, is faithful and not thinking about ending the relationship, a constant need for reassurance can be exhausting.
Catastrophising is an irrational thought pattern that causes people to feel like the worst possible outcome is inevitable. Although it might feel like this kind of thinking is helping to prepare you for the worst, it can actually increase anxiety levels because you’re constantly living on edge and looking for a possible threat when no such threat exists.
Overcoming Relationship Anxiety
There are many steps you can take to help calm your anxious thoughts and feel more secure in your relationship. A good place to start is by talking with a counsellor, who may be able to help you change your negative thought patterns and teach you ways to boost your self-worth.
Another great way to overcome relationship anxiety is by practicing mindfulness through mediation or breathing exercises, which can help you feel more present and less focused on your worries. By becoming more aware of yourself and your actions, you can also soften your impulsive actions and become more attentive to the needs of your partner.
Practicing healthy communication can make a huge difference to the quality of your relationship as it enables you to voice your worries in a constructive, pro-active way whilst boosting trust and intimacy. Set aside time to talk with your partner and think carefully about what you’d like to say beforehand. Talk openly and honestly, share your feelings and experiences and make sure you’re listening to their wants and needs while also communicating your own.
Relationships can sometimes feel all-consuming, especially if you spend a lot of time worrying about the current state or future of your relationship. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a level of independence and spend time doing things just for you. Whether that involves picking up a new hobby, going for a solo walk or retreating to another room with a good book, these moments of me time can really help to lessen reliance on your romantic partner.
Where to Turn for Help
If you’re experiencing relationship anxiety and would like to talk to a professional, you can reach out in confidence to any of the organisations listed below:
Relate – Help and support for relationship issues, including counselling for individuals and couples, family counselling, counselling for children and sex therapy.
Anxiety UK – Support, advice and information on all anxiety and stress-based conditions.
Mind – Informative phone and email support for mental health concerns, including anxiety.
If your employer offers the Vivup Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) as a staff benefit, you can contact the 24-hour telephone helpline for responsive, confidential and totally independent advice should you or a colleague need mental health support.
Learning how to Cope with Relationship Anxiety – Very Well Mind
How to Handle Relationship Anxiety – Healthline
How to Get Over Relationship Anxiety – Psychology Today
Relationships & Communication – Better Health Channel