Anxiety in Relationships
By: April Carson
What is relationship anxiety?
I define relationship anxiety as extremely high concern over being embarrassed, criticized, or rejected by a romantic partner. I have also heard it defined as "anxiety about being in a relationship." Another friend of mine says that she used to get into relationships with guys that were emotionally unavailable and then would cling on to them because she was afraid that they would reject her if she let go. When I asked if this was an example of relationship anxiety, she said yes and explained: "It started to scare me the way I was acting because it seemed so out of character for me and so I actually broke up with him." When I asked what might have happened otherwise she replied, "I might have stayed in the relationship with him forever."
Relationship anxiety, or sometimes called "relationship phobia," refers to an intense fear of being in a romantic relationship. People who have this experience severe discomfort when they are around their partner and feel physical symptoms such as nausea, sweating, shaking, racing heart, or difficulty breathing. They may also experience mental and emotional symptoms such as feeling like they're going crazy, obsessing over every little thing their partner says or does, and constantly checking up on them. This can lead to controlling and manipulative behaviors. Relationship anxiety can be rooted in attachment concerns, which are fears that the other person is unable or unwilling to care for you in a way that meets your emotional needs.
People with anxious attachment styles tend to feel more insecure and less sure about themselves in romantic relationships than people who have secure attachment styles. They also tend to be more preoccupied with their partner's feelings and behaviors, particularly with their partner's ability to love them back . Relationship anxiety can lead to difficulty trusting and feeling intimate in a relationship.
Sometimes, when a person starts to feel anxious about life with their current or prospective partner it is understandable - this is such an important part of everyone's lives. However in some cases the anxiety becomes so crippling that it can prevent the relationship from flourishing and even taking off- beginning with one simple date night for example.
Although there are many different types of anxiety disorders, the most common type in relationships is social anxiety disorder. This is when a person has trouble interacting with or forming relationships with other people due to feelings of shame and self-consciousness over their appearance, performance, or social skills. In general, people who experience social anxiety tend to avoid social interactions, which can include dating.
Anxiety in relationships can also lead to jealous thoughts and behaviors, such as the " green-eyed monster ," which is a term for jealousy coined by Shakespeare to describe how Othello felt toward Desdemona. People who tend to be more anxious in their relationships may find it difficult or uncomfortable to trust and rely on their partners, fearing that they will leave or be left.
How do you overcome relationship anxiety?
Overcoming relationship anxiety is an iterative process that starts with self-awareness, then moves into accepting and validating yourself, and then developing coping strategies for when you start to feel anxious. Once the initial steps are in place, it's important to share what you're feeling with your partner and try to communicate in a calm and constructive way how and why you feel anxious and what they can do to help.
Understanding the role of anxiety in your relationships is a necessary first step towards overcoming your anxiety and transforming it into something more constructive.
Confronting your Anxiety -
To start overcoming your relationship anxiety, you have to first understand what it actually means, and then to take personal responsibility for letting that fear affect you.
If you're wondering why you experience anxiety in relationships as opposed to friendships or even as a single person, one explanation is that anxiety can be a sign of a deeper issue. You may feel anxious in relationships as a result of your past history and the expectations that you place on yourself and your partner to live up to those standards.
Confronting your anxiety means trying to act in spite of your fear, not because it's gone away. So, you'll need to face the things that scare you most about being in a relationship, rather than avoiding them.
Trying to be less afraid will require courage, but there are some tips and techniques for overcoming fear that can really help if applied appropriately.
Communication is Key -
Another way to overcome your anxiety, is to communicate your feelings. Talk with your partner about how you feel, what is making you afraid, and what would make you more comfortable.
It's important that the two of you don't jump to conclusions or blame each other for causing your anxiety. This can not only be upsetting for your partner but it will probably just cause them to withdraw which can exacerbate the problem.
It's also really important that you are honest about your feelings. Let your partner know if they do something that makes you uncomfortable or afraid, and don't feel bad about asking for things to make you more comfortable (within reason). If it is reasonable, then most people will try to accommodate for their partner.