Relationships can bring us happiness, comfort, and a sense of connection. However, relationships can also bring about anxiety and stress. If not managed appropriately, relationship anxiety can get out of hand and negatively impact your relationship and quality of life. Learn more about what relationship anxiety is and ways to cope with it.
What Is Relationship Anxiety?
Relationship anxiety involves having worries and doubts about your partner’s feelings for you, your partner’s faithfulness, and your compatibility with your partner. Thoughts that might come up for someone experiencing relationship anxiety include my boyfriend might leave me for someone better, or my girlfriend will dump me once she figures out what I’m really like, or why doesn’t my husband seem to be excited to see me? Does this mean that he doesn’t love me anymore? or What if my partner has feelings for others?
It is normal to have doubts and worries about your relationship. After all, there is no guarantee that any relationship is going to work out. However, anxiety may be a problem if you’re engaging in the following:
- Spending a significant amount of time worrying and overanalyzing what your partner had said or his/her behavior.
- Attempting to control, investigate, and monitor your partner’s behaviors to make sure he/she is faithful to you. Examples include checking your partner’s computer, social media activity, and phone.
- Frequently engaging in arguments with your partner because of your anxiety. Predicably, this often hinders efforts to spend quality time with them.
What Are Possible Causes of Relationship Anxiety?
Below are some of the most common causes:
- Unhelpful beliefs about the self: People who experience relationship anxiety may have negative beliefs about themselves. For example, if you believe that you are not good enough, you may think that you don’t deserve to be with your partner and your partner will inevitably leave you for someone else. Other unhelpful beliefs include the following: you are unlovable, you won’t be able to find anyone else if this relationship doesn’t work out, or you won’t be able to cope with the breakup.
- Unhelpful beliefs about others: You may also have developed some unhealthy or negative beliefs about other people. For example, if you believe that everyone cheats then you’ll likely have a hard time trusting your partner.
- Unrealistic expectations about relationships: Sometimes, people with relationship anxiety have unrealistic expectations about how the relationship should look. For example, you may expect your partner to only find you interesting and attractive (and no one else) or that a healthy relationship should never have arguments. Problems arise when the relationship does not match your expectations. This makes you feel anxious and insecure about your relationship.
How Do I Manage This Type of Anxiety?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy offers multiple strategies to help, such as:
- Increase your awareness of your emotions, thoughts, and urges: When you are feeling anxious, you’re likely thinking about the worst-case scenarios. You may also have the urge to engage in unhelpful (and maybe impulsive) behavior, such as confronting your partner or monitoring your partner’s behavior. Being aware of your emotions, thoughts, and urges can help you understand what’s happening inside of you at the moment and give you the space to decide what to do with these experiences. This approach is also called mindfulness, which can be extremely helpful in managing your anxiety.
- Acceptance: It is important to accept that you cannot control all aspects of the relationship. Unfortunately, there is never a guarantee your relationship is going to work out, or that your partner’s feelings for you won’t change. In fact, the more you focus on trying to control your relationship, the less likely that you’ll enjoy it.
- Question and challenge your worrying thoughts: When you’re having worrying thoughts about your relationship, it’s helpful to question whether there is evidence supporting these worries. Ask yourself if there is another way to look at the situation. For example, say you’re worrying that your partner is cheating on you because he/she has not responded to your text. Ask yourself if you have any solid evidence that your partner is cheating on you. Consider if there is another possible explanation for the delay in response, such as their being busy with work.
Individuals who have relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD), a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder, may also experience relationship anxiety. However, people with ROCD also experience recurrent unwanted intrusive thoughts about their relationship. The doubts about the relationship prompted by the intrusive thoughts can cause significant distress. Exposure and Response Prevention is an effective treatment for ROCD. If your relationship anxiety or ROCD is causing you a lot of distress or interfering with your life, consider working with a CBT therapist.