Anxiety in Relationships
Anxiety can appear in our lives at any time – meeting new people, giving a presentation, doing an exam or meeting a deadline. Often this anxiety is short-lived and we get through it until we are again faced with the same anxiety trigger. Anxiety can also be chronic when we are under sustained pressures from things like work, raising a family, on-going financial issues and so on. For some people intimate relationships can also cause chronic anxiety even when they are in a healthy, loving and committed relationship.
Signs of relationship anxiety
At the start of any relationship there is often some anxiety as we start getting to know the other person. We might ask ourselves questions like, “do they like me?” or “do I like them?” This is a normal part of the dating process. For many people this anxiety passes when feelings are reciprocal and they start to feel safe. However, for some people these anxious feelings do not subside and there is on-going doubt about the relationship, despite there being no red flags (emotional or physical abuse, addictions etc.) and often when the partner fits exactly what the person is looking for.
These worries about the relationship, which can come up at the start of a relationship or appear at any point during a relationship, may include thoughts such as:
“Do I love my partner enough?”
“Do they love me enough?”
“I feel anxious around my partner so that must be a sign that they are not right for me”
“When my partner doesn’t answer my texts I panic and feel they don’t want me anymore”
“I don’t always feel loving towards my partner, in fact sometimes I want to move away from them, surely this isn’t right?”
“I was so happy to get engaged and I know I’m with a great partner so why am I suddenly feeling anxious?”
Having these thoughts can be really destabilising and feed our worry about the ‘rightness’ of our feelings towards our partner or their feelings towards us. This can lead us to sabotage the relationship by pulling away, criticising, blaming or seeking constant reassurance.
How to address relationship anxiety
We may see our anxious feelings as a sign to end a relationship, but what if instead of looking at our partner as the cause of our anxiety we look at ourselves and how our past may be contributing to our anxiety in this relationship? This might include examining:
- Your early childhood relationship with your parents or caregivers which may have led you to have an insecure attachment style which is impacting how you experience close relationships as an adult.
- If you have been hurt before in a relationship and are now hypervigilant for signs that this will happen again, even when there is no evidence to support this fear.
- Your perceptions of how a relationship ‘should be’ or ‘should feel’ might also colour how you are seeing your partner and your feelings and behaviours towards them.
Learning to understand the reasons for your anxiety is an important part of the therapy process. With awareness you can start to understand what you need to work on in yourself to reduce the anxiety and connect more fully in your relationship.