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How to overcome relationship anxiety and feel secure and happy

Jun 11, 2024 | Blog

How to overcome relationship anxiety and feel secure and happy
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Anxiety about a relationship is tough to deal with. Relationships bring up all our stuff, and often, there is no one more triggering in the whole world than the person you love the most.

Navigating relationships with anxiety is hard, not only for us, but for our partner too! Many people experience relationship anxiety, which can stem from past relationship experiences, attachment styles, or preexisting social anxiety disorder.

In my own experience, having anxiety was a big strain on my relationship. I’d second guess my partner, need constant reassurance and a lack of self esteem made it hard for me to let my walls down and open up.

The good news is that there is lots we can do to overcome relationship anxiety and feel less anxious and more secure.

What is relationship anxiety

It might be that you’re experiencing relationship anxiety over a new relationship, or a long-term one. Relationship anxiety is when someone feels excessive worry and fear about their romantic relationship. For example, a person might constantly worry that their partner will leave them or doesn’t truly love them, even when there’s no real reason to think this way. This can lead to behaviours like needing constant reassurance, overthinking every interaction, or avoiding intimacy to protect themselves from potential heartbreak. These anxieties can stem from past experiences or insecurities and can make it hard to enjoy a healthy, trusting relationship.

How anxiety affects relationships

Anxiety can significantly impact relationships in various ways. When one partner experiences an anxiety disorder, it can create a dynamic where the anxious partner’s fears and worries become central to the relationship’s daily functioning, often exacerbating relationship insecurity. The signs of relationship anxiety can be increased tension, as the partner with anxiety might require constant reassurance or struggle with fears of abandonment or distrust. This can be emotionally draining for both partners, potentially leading to frustration and misunderstandings.

Communication often becomes strained in such scenarios. The anxious partner might withdraw or become overly dependent, while the other partner might feel overwhelmed or unsure about how to provide the right support. Anxiety can also lead to conflict avoidance, where important issues are left unaddressed due to fear of triggering an anxious response. Over time, this can result in a lack of intimacy and emotional distance.

On the other hand, anxiety symptoms can also manifest as irritability or mood swings, which can be challenging for the other partner to understand and cope with. This can create a cycle where the partner without anxiety feels unable to express their own needs or concerns, for fear of exacerbating their partner’s anxiety.

It’s important to note that while anxiety can pose challenges, it doesn’t doom a relationship. Many couples find ways to navigate these challenges through open communication, mutual understanding, and professional support when necessary. Creating a supportive environment where both partners feel heard and valued is key to maintaining a healthy relationship in the face of anxiety.

navigating relationships with high-functioning anxiety

If you’re busy and tired (and let’s be honest, who isn’t) it’s easy to lose your temper, experience dips in your mood and get into arguments.

What does a Healthy relationship look like?

In a healthy relationship where one partner has anxiety, key elements include understanding, communication, and support. Romantic partners, in particular, need to show empathy and patience, making efforts to understand their partner’s experiences with anxiety without judgment. Open communication is vital, where both partners can discuss their feelings and needs openly, and the partner with anxiety feels safe to express when they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Support is demonstrated through both emotional reassurance and practical help, like accompanying them to therapy sessions if needed. The partner with anxiety, on their part, takes responsibility for managing their condition, including seeking professional help if necessary.

Both partners work together to establish boundaries and coping strategies that respect each other’s needs, ensuring that the relationship remains a source of comfort and stability. A healthy relationship in this context is characterised by mutual respect, compassion, and a commitment to understanding and supporting each other through challenges. While you can’t cure your partner’s anxiety, you can be a source of support for them as they seek help. Anxiety disorders are treatable and it’s important to keep trying things until you find what works for you.

Separation anxiety in relationships

Separation anxiety in relationships refers to excessive fear or worry about being apart from a romantic partner or loved one. It can often be a sign of underlying anxiety, indicating deeper emotional issues that need to be addressed. This form of anxiety can manifest in various ways, including extreme distress when separated from the partner, constant worry about the relationship when apart, fear of the partner abandoning or betraying them, or reluctance to spend time away from the partner even for healthy, independent activities.

This condition often stems from deep-seated fears of abandonment or insecurity in the relationship. It can lead to clingy or overly dependent behaviour, putting strain on the relationship. The individual with separation anxiety may require constant reassurance of their partner’s commitment and feelings, which can become overwhelming for both parties.

How to manage anxiety in a relationship

I’ve been with my partner for 14 years, and the first 3 years were hell because of my anxiety. My previous relationship experiences and memories continued to affect me, leading to relationship anxiety and difficulty in trusting again. We’ve seen FIVE different relationship therapists, and I’ve read countless books. These days, we’re in a MUCH better place, and we rarely argue (even with a 15-month-old in tow). That being said, I’ll always maintain that relationships are hard work and require a lot of care and attention from us in order to thrive.

navigating relationships with high-functioning anxiety

Clear and kind communication

It used to feel like groundhog day in my house, having the same argument repeatedly. If it wasn’t about who emptied the dishwasher (usually me), it was about taking about the bins (usually me, again). It was only when I changed my communication approach that things changed. The following is based on Michael Rosenburg’s ‘Non-Violent Communication’ (crap name, brilliant concept). First, you make an observation and state only the facts; ‘I’ve emptied the dishwasher every day this week’. This is much better than my usual refrain of ‘You NEVER empty the dishwasher, you bas*ard!’

Then you talk about how the situation makes you feel. You don’t say, ‘you make me feel angry!’ Instead, you say, ‘I’m feeling overwhelmed right now’.

Then, you make a request. For example, ‘Would you be able to empty the dishwasher on alternate days, please?’

To summarise: Make an observation, state how you feel and make a request.

According to Rosenburg, this communication method is cleaner and expresses things in a way that doesn’t trigger the other person’s defences, making you more likely to get your needs met.

Another essential thing to remember is our tone. If you ask for things in a grumpy or snappy manner (I have a tendency to do this), it will often trigger the other person’s defences, and you’re unlikely to get your needs met.

In the classic relationship book, Getting the Love You Want, Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen Hunt recommend saying things in a light and friendly way.

I know it’s not easy when you’re pissed off.

But trust me when I tell you, you’re 1000x more likely to elicit a positive response when you ask for things in a pleasant voice!

navigating relationships with high-functioning anxiety

Overanalyzing a partner’s words and actions can lead to misunderstandings and relationship anxiety. It’s crucial to interpret your partner’s words correctly to avoid unnecessary conflicts.

Keep Your Independence in Check

Ever heard the saying, ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’? Well, it applies to relationships too. Maintaining your independence is like having a safety net for your well-being. Pursue your own hobbies, hang out with your friends, and have some ‘me time’. It’s like keeping a part of your life just for you, which is super important. This helps in two ways: it gives you a sense of identity outside of the relationship, and it takes the pressure off your partner to be your everything. Plus, it’s super attractive when you have your own things going on. It keeps the relationship fresh and gives you both loads to talk about.

Master the Art of Self-Soothing

Anxiety can be like an uninvited guest who loves to stir up trouble. So, learning to self-soothe is like having a polite but firm way to show this guest the door. Find things that calm you down and make them part of your routine. Maybe it’s yoga, journaling, or blasting your favourite tunes and dancing around like nobody’s watching. When you feel those anxious thoughts creeping in, turn to these activities. It’s all about creating a personal toolkit of chill-out tricks that work for you. The more you practice self-soothing, the better you get at it. Think of it as building a mental muscle – the more you work it out, the stronger it gets. Plus, being able to manage your anxiety on your own is super empowering. You’ve got this!

Don’t discuss issues when you’re in a low mood

This tip comes from one of my favourite relationship books, The Relationship Handbook by George Pranski. When you’re in a low mood, it skews your perception of everything. You’re wearing your gloomy glasses, and the whole relationship can have a negative slant. Being in a highly emotional state means we can’t make good decisions.

So don’t sit down for a serious talk when you’re feeling rubbish or triggered.

It might be that you’re just tired, hungry or having a bad day. Wait for the mood to pass before raising issues or making any decisions. It’s also important to remember that moods pass (I’m not talking about clinical depression here), even though it can seem like it will last forever when we’re in a bad mood. Wait for the dark clouds to clear and save the big discussions for when you’re in a more resourceful state.

family meeting

Have a family meeting

My slightly anxious and controlling need to ‘get things done’ and ‘be organised’ can mean I ambush my partner with requests throughout the day. Asking Aidan to put something in the loft when he’s just about to get on a Zoom call, or letting him know I’m craving more quality time with him while we rush out the door to go and see his parents, never goes well. Bringing up issues or making requests on the fly can make the other person feel ambushed or overwhelmed.

Enter: the family meeting.

Since having regular meetings to discuss big and minor issues, we’ve resolved more things with less stress. We create the time and space to sit down, discuss things, and make decisions and an action plan.

No one feels ambushed or overwhelmed because they’re in the middle of something else. And we schedule a time to do things in the meeting, like putting things in the loft or spending more time together.

Love,

Chloe x

PS. Feel calmer, less pressured and more present in 10 minutes a day (guaranteed) with The Hypnotherapy Pack.

Frequently asked questions

What to do when my boyfriend causes me anxiety?

If your boyfriend causes you anxiety, it’s important to first understand the root cause of your feelings. As part of your mental health journey, consider seeking support, guidance, and treatment to address your concerns. Communicate openly with your boyfriend about how his actions or behaviours make you feel, expressing your concerns calmly and clearly. It’s crucial to establish whether the anxiety is stemming from your own insecurities or if it’s a response to specific aspects of his behaviour. Consider seeking support from a therapist, mental health professional or counsellor who can provide guidance and help you navigate your emotions and the dynamics of your relationship. It’s also essential to engage in self-care practices and maintain a support network of friends and family. Remember, a healthy relationship should be a source of comfort and support, not a constant cause of stress.

Is it relationship anxiety or a gut feeling?

Determining whether it’s relationship anxiety or a gut feeling can be challenging. Relationship anxiety often involves persistent worries and insecurities about a relationship that may not be based on factual evidence or past experiences. It is characterised by overthinking and constant questioning of the relationship’s stability. On the other hand, a gut feeling, or intuition, is a more instinctual, immediate sense of something being right or wrong, often without a clear rational basis. Distinguishing between the two often requires self-reflection and possibly guidance from a therapist to understand the underlying reasons for these feelings.

How to fix an anxious attachment style in relationships

Addressing anxious attachment styles in relationships is a multifaceted process that requires self-awareness, commitment, and often professional help. The journey begins with understanding your attachment style and its impact on your relationships. Recognising patterns of neediness, dependency, or fear of abandonment is crucial. Engaging with a therapist, especially one versed in attachment theory, can provide valuable insights into the origins of your attachment style and guide you toward healthier relationship dynamics.

Key to this transformation is building your self-esteem independent of your relationship. Investing in personal interests, hobbies, and activities that bolster your sense of self-worth can significantly reduce reliance on a partner for emotional validation. Simultaneously, it’s important to cultivate effective communication skills. Expressing needs and feelings openly, without fear or reservation, can alleviate many anxieties rooted in miscommunication or unmet expectations.

Developing a sense of trust in your partner is another critical step. This includes allowing them space and learning to manage feelings of anxiety during their absence. Practicing mindfulness and emotional self-regulation can be incredibly helpful in managing immediate anxious responses and fostering a more secure attachment style.

Additionally, it’s vital to challenge negative thought patterns that often perpetuate anxious attachment. Replacing self-doubt and fear with positive affirmations and realistic perspectives can gradually shift one’s outlook towards relationships. Patience is key in this process; changing deep-rooted attachment styles doesn’t happen overnight.

Finally, nurturing healthy relationships outside of your romantic partnership can provide additional emotional support and a broader perspective on interpersonal dynamics. Remember, the goal is not just to improve romantic relationships but to foster a healthier, more secure sense of self, leading to more fulfilling and balanced relationships overall.

Is it relationship anxiety or am I not in love?

Determining whether you’re experiencing relationship anxiety or a lack of love can be challenging, as both can manifest as doubts and discomfort in a relationship. Relationship anxiety often involves persistent worries and insecurities about the relationship’s stability, fueled by fears of inadequacy or abandonment. This can lead to overthinking and questioning your feelings, despite evidence of a healthy relationship. On the other hand, not being in love often shows up as a consistent lack of emotional connection and indifference towards your partner’s needs and presence in your life. It’s important to reflect on your feelings when you’re calm and not under stress. Consider whether your doubts are based on internal insecurities or a genuine lack of emotional connection with your partner. In many cases, consulting with a therapist can provide clarity, helping to distinguish between anxiety-driven fears and your true feelings about the relationship.

How do I cope with my partners anxiety?

Coping with a partner’s anxiety involves understanding, patience, and open communication. It’s important to educate yourself about anxiety, its symptoms, and triggers, to better understand what your partner is experiencing. Offer support without judgment and encourage them to seek professional help if necessary. Establishing healthy boundaries is also crucial to ensure you don’t become overwhelmed by your partner’s anxiety. Encourage your partner to develop coping strategies and be there to listen and provide comfort, but also take time for your own self-care and maintain your own social and personal interests. Being supportive does not mean neglecting your own well-being.

How long does relationship anxiety last?

As for the duration of relationship anxiety, it varies greatly depending on individual circumstances, the underlying causes, and whether active steps are being taken to address it. For some, anxiety may be a temporary response to specific stressors and can diminish as the situation resolves or as they develop better coping mechanisms. For others, especially those with a predisposition to anxiety disorders, it might be a more persistent issue that requires ongoing management. In cases where anxiety is significantly impacting the relationship, seeking guidance from a therapist can be beneficial for both partners.

How to deal with separation anxiety in relationships?

Dealing with separation anxiety in relationships requires a multifaceted approach focusing on communication, self-awareness, and often professional support. Openly discussing your feelings with your partner can help them understand your perspective and needs. It’s important to identify and express what triggers your anxiety and work together to find ways to alleviate it. Building trust is key, as is fostering independence in the relationship. Engaging in individual activities, hobbies, and maintaining social connections outside the relationship can help build a sense of self-sufficiency. For those with severe separation anxiety, therapy can be invaluable, providing tools to manage anxiety and addressing any underlying issues contributing to it. Both partners should be patient and supportive, recognising that overcoming separation anxiety is a gradual process that requires understanding, trust, and consistent effort.

My girlfriends anxiety is ruining the relationship – help!

When a partner’s anxiety is significantly impacting your relationship, it’s essential to approach the situation with empathy and open communication. Express your concerns to your girlfriend in a supportive and non-confrontational manner, focusing on how her anxiety affects both of you and the relationship. Encourage her to seek professional help if she hasn’t already, as therapy can provide effective strategies for managing anxiety. It’s also important for you to set healthy boundaries to ensure your own well-being isn’t compromised. Educating yourself about anxiety can help you understand what she is going through and how to support her better. However, remember that while being supportive is crucial, you are not responsible for her mental health. Encouraging her independence and self-care, along with couples therapy, can also be beneficial in addressing the impact of her anxiety on the relationship.

What does male anxiety in relationships look like?

Male anxiety in relationships can manifest in various ways, often influenced by societal expectations and norms regarding masculinity and emotional expression. Men with anxiety might exhibit increased irritability, frustration, or anger, sometimes over seemingly minor issues. This can be a defense mechanism to mask underlying fears, insecurities, or feelings of vulnerability. They may also become withdrawn or emotionally distant, avoiding conversations about their feelings or the relationship. In some cases, there might be a noticeable increase in controlling or overprotective behaviours, stemming from fears of loss or betrayal. Physical symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, or changes in sleep and appetite can also be indicators of anxiety. Additionally, men with relationship anxiety might constantly seek reassurance about the relationship’s stability or excessively worry about their partner’s fidelity or love. It’s important to recognise that these behaviours are often expressions of deeper emotional distress, and understanding, patience, and open communication are key to addressing them effectively.

What is a good anxiety in relationships book?

A highly recommended book for understanding and managing anxiety in relationships is “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. This insightful book delves into attachment theory, explaining how different attachment styles (secure, anxious, and avoidant) play a crucial role in shaping our interactions and relationships. It offers a clear and practical guide to understanding your own attachment style and that of your partner, providing strategies to build stronger, healthier relationships. “Attached” is particularly helpful for those who struggle with anxiety in relationships, as it provides a framework for understanding the underlying causes of anxieties and how to effectively address them. The book’s blend of scientific research with practical advice makes it a valuable resource for anyone looking to improve their relationship dynamics.


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