What it is, how it manifests and how you can overcome it.
Hello, My name is Jennifer and I have relationship anxiety and I am here to work it out. Just kidding. If only everything could be as easy as going to a support group! Unfortunately, everything isn’t. Especially relationship anxiety. But it does not have to be insurmountable if we can recognize the signs and learn how to overcome them.
Relationship anxiety is not something I thought I had or was suffering from. Instead, I chalked it up to an overactive imagination and a desperate need to always have answers. However, the last couple of weeks of my relationship have really tested me, driving me to seek answers online. I realized I am incredibly insecure about my relationship at times but the root of that insecurity is coming from inside, not from my partner.
What is Relationship Anxiety?
Relationship anxiety is all the questioning, uncertainty and anxiety felt at any stage in a relationship. Those with relationship anxiety may find themselves unable to commit to a long term relationship, hesitant to trust and develop deep feelings for a partner, or unable to quiet our critical inner voice. It is our critical inner voice that raises all the hard questions, the ones that hurt us the most and cause issues within our relationships.
Questions such as: “Can this last?” “Do I really like him/her?” “Should we slow down?” “Am I really ready for this kind of commitment?” “Is he/she losing interest?” All these questions create insecurity and apprehension that feels impossible to overcome. Often, it might be easier to leave the relationship than to continue to be confronted by these questions. And to remain in the relationship can feel hopeless and create even more fear we will be rejected in the long run.
What Causes Relationship Anxiety?
At some level, everyone experiences some anxiety within relationships. As we spend more time with a partner and value their place in our lives, the more we have to lose if the relationship ends. However, those experiencing more intense relationship anxiety, like myself, can find themselves paralyzed but this anxiety, creating distance between themselves and their partner with words or actions and subconsciously pushing their partner away to protect themselves.
For myself, I can go weeks feeling comfortable and confident in my relationship, but then seemingly out of nowhere, I am struck with debilitating fear. I question the depth of my partner’s feeling assuming he’s with me because it’s easier than being alone. I wonder if I am giving too much and I wonder if I am being too overbearing or lovey or attached. I also start to question my partner and imagine him with other women or simply not where he says he is. In the back of my head, my critical inner voice is breaking me down piece by piece assuring me that there is no possible way my partner could love me or truly enjoy being with me. All these thoughts make me feel nauseous, I lose sleep for wondering and I drag my partner through tense conversations about all my fears.
All this anxiety stems primarily from the critical inner voice we all have and is helped along by the day to day flow of our relationship. On a basic level, where one might not receive a call from their partner at the time promised and just chalk it up to being busy and move on, someone with relationship anxiety will construct an entire elaborate story in their mind as to why the partner didn’t call them — a story that will most certainly undermine their faith in the relationship. When their partner does call, instead of simply being happy to hear from them, the person will be anxious and may demand a reason why the partner didn’t call — possibly attacking the partner and being critical of them.
Essentially, the critical inner voice can cause us to be hostile, paranoid and suspicious towards our partner. These emotions create an unhealthy environment for our relationship leading to mistrust, defensiveness, further anxiety and jealousy. We find ourselves unable to enjoy our relationship with our critical inner voice feeding us a steady stream of uncertainty and negativity. Our critical inner voice colors our thinking and we end up creating the distance between ourselves and our partner that we fear most.
How Does Relationship Anxiety Manifest?
Being Clingy/Needy – perhaps the easiest to understand, when we are anxious about our relationship or our partner’s feelings, we may overcompensate by being clingy or needy. Because we fear a distance is developing, we seek to be as close to and involved with our partner as possible. However, by doing so, the fear of distance becomes even more real and our critical inner voice promises us that our neediness is annoying/upsetting our partner.
Controlling Behavior – when we are feeling anxious, we often feel out of control. As such, it is only reasonable that we desire to try and control as much of the situation as possible. We may try and control our partner — where they go, what they do, or who they see. We may also try and control the direction or pace of the relationship pushing for specific milestones to be reached on our time and not on our relationship’s natural progression.
Withholding of Ourselves – perhaps the most upsetting for ourselves is when we withhold ourselves from our partner. We desperately seek an intimate connection with our partner but we hold back purposely. This withholding only serves to reinforce any feelings of being alone we may have and any thoughts that our partner isn’t truly interested in us.
Punishing our Partner – Sometimes anxiety fuels anger that we then take out on our partners with yelling, fighting or giving our partner the cold shoulder. Our anxiety manifests as aggression that can cause permanent damage to our relationships despite our partner’s intense desire to help the relationship grow healthily.
Withdrawal – We may withdraw from normal relationship behavior in an effort to protect ourselves. We will take a step back to create distance so our partner can not hurt us.
How Can Relationship Anxiety be Overcome?
Unfortunately, relationship anxiety can only be overcome by looking internally and doing the work. We have to learn to distinguish between what our critical inner voice is telling us and what actual logic is telling us. Personally, I have spent about a year trying to get the comfort I needed to silence my critical inner voice from my partner. But this doesn’t work. Even when my partner reinforces our relationship, my critical inner voice assures me it isn’t because he loves me or values me. Essentially, no matter what our partner will do or tell us, our critical inner voice breaks it down and sows the seeds of doubt. To break through, we have to catch every seed before it falls and yank the existing ones from their roots.
For myself, the first step was realizing that relationship anxiety is what I am battling. The second step was speaking with a therapist. I am now reading self-help books that introduce methods of quieting the critical inner voice. I still am struggling with anxiety. I don’t imagine it will be easy to overcome. But all the experts out there promise that overcoming it is possible. However, you have to want to overcome relationship anxiety to truly succeed.
For myself, being in a relationship with a partner I truly value, I have an absolute desire to overcome my anxiety. For many like me, it will take the right person to come along for us to want to find a solution to our anxiety. Or to simply realize the depth of our relationship anxiety as a relationship progresses further than previous ones. We must have faith in ourselves and realize that no matter what happens, even if our relationship does end, we are strong and will be able to overcome the breakup and find something even better suited for ourselves.
Article originally published in P.S. I Love You here