“It’s going perfect. That’s what I’m worried about. Our relationship right now is at its best but what if I do something to ruin it?! What if he is actually not the one for me and I should explore more?! I think before it gets too serious and I really start investing completely in this relationship I should consider breaking up. I should leave before I make things bad or worse”.
These were my words exactly as I was ranting to my friend about how scared I was about my relationship and constantly worried about how either of us in the relationship could perfectly sabotage whatever close to “perfection” in our own way we might have created.
Though I could not stop my worries and anxiety from sabotaging my relationship but I did gain insight about my constant pattern of worries.
These constant worries, fears, insecurities and self-doubt that pop up in at least some of our heads when it comes to our relationships be it with our friends or our romantic interest has a term and it’s called “relationship anxiety”.
Relationship anxiety is pretty common especially in the starting phase of any relationship, particularly in romantic relationships when the partners are in the dating phase and are figuring out their interest towards each other. That being said, it is not uncommon to have such worries in committed long term relationships when decisions regarding living together or getting engaged might be under consideration.
However, when this anxiety starts creeping into one’s everyday life and starts becoming the cause of distress in the relationship, it is important to realize that it is becoming a problem.
Researchers have described three common symptoms of relationship anxiety:
Excessive reassurance seeking- when a person constantly relies on the other to seek evaluation and acceptance. This may even instill fear regarding poor evaluation.
Self-silencing- a behavior of not expressing one’s thoughts, opinions, feelings, tastes and interests to the partner especially if those are different to that of the partner. One often indulges in this behavior to appear similar to those whose acceptance they want to seek.
Partner accommodation- when the other partner starts accommodating for the worries and insecurities of the anxious partner.
However, relationship anxiety can be experienced differently by different people. Some people are able to manage it and get past their worries. However, for some people it may become clinical and lead to sabotage of a potentially healthy “perfect” relationship (Exactly how my relationship did…)
Some signs to look out for that may suggest the presence of relationship anxiety are:
Wondering if you matter to your partner Often caught up in thoughts like “will s/he miss me if I’m not around”, “Is s/he with me only for my money and other things that I have to offer”
Doubting your partner’s feelings for you You’ve exchanges countless I love you’s or I really, really like you and your partner may seem really thrilled and happy to see you every time and go out of their way to do things that make you happy. But a tiny devil in your mind whispers into you: “S/he might not really love me”
When one has relationship anxiety, this tiny whisper often grows into an echo that keeps resounding in one’s mind over and over.
Worrying they want to break up Relationship anxiety often makes someone live in persistent fear that their partner will leave them sooner or later and their perfect paradise will end. This makes them often accommodate their own behavior by:
Avoiding bringing up issues that bothers them or upsets them about their partner
Constantly worry about them getting mad at you
Doubting long-term compatibility People may start questioning if this relationship is what they want despite being happy in it and keep questioning if they are right for each other and its something that they want to have in the future. This often makes the person scrutinize into minor differences among each other like their taste in food and color and tend to overemphasize them.
Sabotaging your relationship This happens both intentionally and unintentionally. In order to test how much your partner cares for you or how s/he feels about you, you may deliberately start to sabotage the relationship by:
Picking arguments with the partner
Pushing them away when you actually need them when you’re in distress
Testing relationship boundaries
Reading into their words and actions The tendency to overthink about the partner’s actions is one of the most common symptoms as well as one of the most emotionally distressing. People having relationship anxiety tend to scrutinize every action and word spoken by their partner and overthink which leads them into a loop of negative irrational thoughts and worries about their partner and relationship leading to catastrophizing behavior.
What a partner may/may not do out of habit may become a source of stress to the anxious partner and become distressed.
Eg., If one’s boyfriend is not the kind to show physical affection in public, the partner with relationship anxiety may believe that their partner is ashamed of them and that’s why he is avoiding any physical contact. This may even include worrying about subtle changes in the text messaging patterns of the partner leading to catastrophizing.
Being concerned about your relationship and your partner from time to time is normal and natural in any relationship. As a relationship progresses and goes through various phases, getting upset, angry, and having some worries are part and parcel of maintaining a healthy relationship. However, it's worrisome when it starts affecting one’s life and introduces an element of toxicity in the relationship.
GOOD NEWS: IT CAN BE MANAGED AND TAKEN CARE OF.
It might not feel like it if you are presently dealing with the above-mentioned symptoms and noticing the signs in yourself or your partner but with time and effort, one can hustle their way through it.
Remember the 3 most important elements of a relationship - Trust - Establishing boundaries - Building and understanding communication styles
It is very important to be able to build mutual trust with the partner, establish healthy boundaries to maintain one’s identity and focus on yourself, and most importantly establish and follow healthy communication pattern with your partner by speaking about the things that make you happy as well as things that distress you.
Maintain your identity
It’s natural to feel your sense of individuality and independence shifting as you grow closer to your partner. But remember, your partner’s reasons for wanting to be with you have a lot to do with who you are as a person. That is what they liked you for and that is the reason they are with you. Therefore, pushing down the shining parts of you to hold on to a relationship may eventually give you a feeling of losing your own self.
2. Try being more mindful
Try focusing your awareness on what’s happening in the present moment without judging it or thinking about it. Simply acknowledge your surroundings. This will help you avoid the negative thought loop or spiral. This can even help you have more enjoyable experiences with your partner.
3. Avoid acting on your feelings
Your anxiety may constantly want to seek reassurance from your partner and that may often make you anxious about the relationship.
So, every time you want to send a row of texts to know the whereabouts of your partner to go cold turkey on them at a stretch, take a deep breath and avoid or stop these impulses.
Pay careful attention to your usual behaviors and your impulsive actions and when you feel what you’re about to do is out of your anxious impulse, STOP. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. FOCUS YOUR ATTENTION ELSEWHERE.
4. Talk to a therapist
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to fix our problems on our own or try taking the help of loved ones, it just doesn’t work out. In such scenarios, it is advisable to take therapy.
Experts suggest couples-based psychoeducational sessions and single psychoeducational sessions. Researchers have found effective results just after one session of couples’ therapy with an anxious partner showing decreased reassurance-seeking behavior and the other partner demonstrating decreased accommodation for the anxious partner.
Relationship anxiety is real and can have a debilitating effect on the partners in the relationship. Therefore, don’t be afraid to seek help and it’s never too late to start making a change.