Intimate relationships can be a source of love, support, and strength. They can, however, also be a source of stress, worry, and anxiety.
Relationship anxiety manifests in a number of ways: behaviors like clinginess, argumentativeness, silent treatment, and reassurance-seeking; and emotional and physical responses like low sex drive, fatigue, pain, sleep problems, panic attacks, paranoia, jealousy, and particularly, fear of abandonment.
In this article, we examine potential reasons for relationship anxiety and ways of managing it on your own or through therapy.
Reasons for relationship anxiety
Relationship anxiety stems from three sources: the individual, their romantic partner, or the relationship itself.
Many different factors can contribute to relationship anxiety. For example:
- Individual: low self-esteem, mental health issues (e.g., a mood disorder, like major depressive disorder), a history of childhood abuse and neglect, or an anxious attachment style—an attachment pattern associated with a tendency to worry about the availability of “attachment figures,” such as one’s romantic partner.
- Partner: bad habits, alcohol/drug use, or emotional baggage.
- The relationship: either of the partners having been unfaithful in the past, major communication problems, or compatibility issues—i.e. having different interests, goals, values, etc.
Going for therapy
As the above example shows, identifying the root causes of anxiety in a relationship is challenging. That is why seeing a couples therapist (also called a marriage counselor) can be beneficial.
Aside from identifying the root causes of relationship anxiety, couples therapy can also help reduce your anxiety. How? For instance:
- Through providing information on how to create and maintain appropriate personal boundaries and learning to say no without guilt or fear.
- By giving you the skills to express your feelings of fear and anxiety in more constructive and healthier ways.
- By helping you understand how erroneous assumptions and beliefs—about yourself, your partner, or the relationship—maintain or exacerbate anxiety.
You and/or your partner may benefit from individual therapy as well, particularly if the therapist determines that either of you has personal mental health issues such as an anxiety disorder or a mood disorder.
If that is the case, then depending on the diagnosis, treatment may consist of psychotherapy (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy), medications (e.g., antidepressants, anti-anxiety agents), and mind-body interventions (e.g., yoga, mindfulness meditation).
Dealing with relationship anxiety
Let me end with some general suggestions on how to strengthen your relationship and reduce relationship anxiety.
First, get to know yourself better. For instance, spend some time thinking about the following questions:
What are your goals in life? What does love mean to you? And what do you want out of a relationship?
Second, get to know your partner better. An effective approach is to build a detailed love map.
A love map refers to intimate knowledge of your significant other—meaning your partner’s goals, beliefs, interests, concerns, and worries.
With such knowledge of each other, you and your partner will feel, even in the middle of anxiety-provoking life situations, a greater sense of intimacy, connection, and security.
Third, analyze your beliefs about yourself, your partner, and the relationship regularly.
Write them down, then examine the evidence for each belief. Does the evidence support it? Or have you been jumping to conclusions or thinking in black and white terms? Remember, what we believe influences our emotions and behaviors.
Lastly, take care of yourself. Exercise, get sufficient sleep, stay connected with friends and family, and do something fun each day.
Engaging in self-care will not only make you happier and healthier but will also help you gain perspective. And as a result, ease your relationship anxiety.