Defining Relationship Anxiety
We, as humans, are thought to be social beings. Most of us are reliant on having relationships with friends, family, and acquaintances. For those individuals who have an interest in dating, a romantic relationship become a major component for social interaction. Relationships can provide a sense of comfort, as well as, a partner to assist in alleviating anxiety. However, some people deal with an increase in anxiety while in a relationship, specifically referred to as Relationship Anxiety.
Relationship Anxiety is the process of experiencing intense worry in regards to a relationship. This can be either from a friendship or a romantic relationship. As far as the fifth and most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) is concerned, it does not specifically identify Relationship Anxiety as a mental disorder. Relationship Anxiety, however, shares characteristics of social anxiety, with both types of anxiety involving an intense fear of rejection 1.
Symptoms of Relationship Anxiety
Any relationship may involve some level of anxiety, especially in the first few weeks and months of the relationship. This is completely normal to experience, however, there are some symptoms to look out for to see if certain symptoms are impacting you on a larger scale.
Relationship Anxiety involves many potential symptoms, such as:
- Questioning how important you are to your partner
- Wondering how your relationship could work long-term
- Sabotaging the relationship
- Overthinking your partners words and actions
- Missing out on good times
- Partner accommodation
- Excessive reassurance-seeking.
Deeper Analysis of Symptoms
Questioning your Importance to your Partner
This can involve questioning if the other person is only in the relationship with you due to the things you offer them in the relationship. You may find yourself questioning if they are just with you for convenience and feel that if you were not around, it would not make a difference to your significant other. If ‘I love you’ has been said, you may doubt if they truly mean that. You may find yourself worrying if they do not seem as responsive to text messages or as eager to make plans to spend time together 2.
Questioning the Long-Term Compatibility
You may find yourself worrying if you are happy, even if things seem to be going very well. This may lead to looking at minor differences, such as taste in music, favorite hobbies, etc. This may assist in your own doubts of the relationship, not due to unhappiness in the relationship, but more as a coping mechanism. It may feel easier to convince yourself that it will not work out in the long-run, rather than potentially dealing with the fallout if it does go south down the road unexpectedly 3.
Sabotaging the Relationship
There are many ways that relationships can be sabotaged, but some of the ways may be from starting fights on purpose with your partner or doing things to test the boundaries, such as spending time with an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. This can almost be a ‘test’ to see how much the other person cares, yet it is an unfair test, as the other person does not know the motivation behind these actions. It is also not healthy to test a partner’s commitment to the relationship, as it may just push the person away 4.
Overthinking your Partners Words & Actions
There are a wide range of ways that overthinking can happen. It could be from worrying when you are holding hands and they pull their hand away, their dislike for public displays of affection (PDA), or maybe the time that you asked them what day your birthday was and they blanked. These things may lead to you overthinking about your partners intentions, however, it is important to remember that not everything has a major underlying reason. They may pull their hand away because their hand is starting to cramp up. Their dislike for PDA may be related to feeling uncomfortable seeing others showing PDA when they are around. They may have blanked on your birthday as it is early on enough that you have not yet celebrated your birthday together as a couple, or maybe they even just felt put on the spot and panicked 5.
This involves consistently asking a loved one for reassurance, asking about the status of the relationship, or even requiring the other person to offer them frequent reminders of their commitment to the relationship. Researchers believe this can be related to interpersonal dependency, which is a person’s reliance on others 6.
This is deliberately choosing not to express opinions or feelings to another person, specifically if those opinions and feelings differ from that of the other person. Self-silencing is found to be a symptom in a variety of mental health conditions. It is found specifically in women who are attempting to please their partner. This can be used as a tool when seeking acceptance and in order to prevent feeling rejected. In time it can make one feel less satisfied in the relationship 7.
This is when the partner in the relationship accommodates the individual with anxiety. The non-anxious individual will give in to the requests of the loved one with anxiety, in order to attempt to alleviate the symptoms 8. However, this tends to backfire as it typically leads to a cycle requiring more reassurance and self-silencing for the one with anxiety.
Missing out on Good Times
It is important to recognize if you are spending more time worrying about the relationship, rather than simply enjoying it. If you are constantly finding yourself displaying one or more of the symptoms discussed, you may be dealing with Relationship Anxiety 9. It may help to recognize which symptoms are the main ones impacting your anxiety, so as to better manage the symptoms.
Causes of Relationship Anxiety
Trauma from Past Relationships
More times than not, relationship anxiety is related to something from the past that has you concerned about your current relationship. It can be hard not to compare one relationship to another, so oftentimes, previous relationships can create certain anxieties.
If you went through something traumatic in a relationship, like dealing with a partner who cheated on you, being broken up with unexpectedly, or having a partner take back their previously declared feelings for you, this could be the cause of the current anxiety about the relationship.
Other factors can play a role in relationship anxiety as well, such as dealing with low self esteem 10. The low self esteem may be projected onto your partner, believing that the things you dislike about yourself are things they also dislike. This can make you question your partner and even feel they are lying when stating their feelings or things they like or love about you.
Another factor can be the type of attachment style you developed as a child 11. Your attachment style is based on the way you were raised by caregivers. If your caregivers were tentative to your needs, you likely developed a secure attachment style. For those whose parents allowed their kids to develop more independently or did not meet the child’s needs regularly, these kids likely grew up to have an insecure attachment style, such as avoidant attachment or anxious attachment.
While avoidant attachment may cause you to question your own feelings about the relationship and whether the relationship is truly something you are ready to commit yourself to, anxious attachment may lead to constant worries of the other person leaving you. While having an attachment style is not something easy to change, it is something you can learn to deal with and even greatly improve upon with help.
Managing Symptoms and Treatment Options
In order to manage symptoms, a treatment option to consider is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This therapy can be utilized to address the underlying reasons for your relationship anxiety. CBT helps you address the different thoughts, beliefs, and feelings you have regarding relationships. CBT can also help you understand the role of your behaviours and actions in relationship, as well.
Another option to seek out is Couples Therapy, which can you help identify why you experience a lack of confidence, as well as, how both partners can work together in alleviating some of that anxiety.
Both of these options may also be beneficial in helping you find healthy ways to communicate feelings with one other. In addition to therapy, some individuals may consider a medication to assist in regulating some of the consistent anxiety. For medication options, you may want to contact your doctor to see if medication would be a good choice for you.
If you are experiencing Relationship Anxiety and CBT is something you are interested in, we would love to hear from you! We have multiple therapists available waiting to support you through the difficult times in your life. When you are ready, head over to www.online-therapy.com, we are looking forward to helping you!
Medical News Today. What is Relationship Anxiety? (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/relationship-anxiety). Accessed on 02/16/2022.
Heathline. How to Handle Relationship Anxiety? (https://www.healthline.com/health/relationship-anxiety). Accessed on 02/16/2022.
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