Annie and David have been dating for 2 years now. On the surface, they seem great and their future seems bright! But honestly, they both are stuck and unhappy. They want to stay together but they aren’t sure if they are with the ‘right’ person. There always seem to be little doubts in their minds; Is she ‘the one’? Is he really going to make me happy for the rest of my life? Is there someone else out there who is better for me? These doubts and anxiety can freeze Annie and David’s relationship making it grind to a halt. Does this sound like someone you know? Or have you struggled with these thoughts? So, what are the source of these fears? Read on to understand the symptoms and manifestations of relationship anxiety and how to deal with it.
Relationships can be fulfilling and beautiful but they also tend to be messy and sometimes, they bring out the worst in us. You may remember a version of yourself before you got into this relationship as being carefree and without fears and doubts but suddenly you see yourself unhappy and paralyzed, unable to move forward towards commitment or backward to breaking up the relationship. You are fearful of committing to the wrong person but simultaneously terrified of being alone. This whole situation is called relationship anxiety.
Before we get into what Relationship Anxiety is, let me just clarify, this anxiety is not due to infidelity or emotional, physical or verbal abuse- Relationship Anxiety is when we feel fear and doubt in a seeming ‘normal’, functioning relationship.
So now that we’ve understood what Relationship Anxiety is not; let’s try to understand what it is. Relationship Anxiety is the
“tendency to struggle with commitment in the face of what would seem a fairly stable and solid relationship.”
Relationship anxiety can have 2 different focuses.
Relationship focused anxiety
It is when a person has persistent doubts and obsessions which results in them constantly checking and seeking reassurance about the relationship. The areas where the person seeks reassurance tend it be:
1. Their feelings towards their partner:
“Do I love him/her?”; “How do I know if I really love him/her?”
2. Their partner’s feelings towards them:
“Does my partner really love me?”; “Is there something my partner can do that will prove his/her love to me?”; “Does my partner love me still – he/she doesn’t seem to be romantic/want to have sex/want to spend time with me?”
3. The ‘rightness’ of the relationship:
“I need a sign that this is the ‘right’ relationship for me”; “We wouldn’t fight so much if this was the ‘right’ relationship for me”; “My partner did this and the relationship doesn’t feel ‘right’ anymore”.
Partner focused anxiety
It is similar to relationship focused anxiety where a person has doubts, obsessions, checks, and seeks reassurance but here the focus is on the partner. Partner focused anxiety tends to concentrate on the aspects of:
Being in a relationship causes excessive anxiety in people because it leaves you exposed and vulnerable to another person. It can be hard to trust another person completely especially when you’ve had difficult experiences in your past where you’ve felt abandoned or defenseless. You may be feeling fearful of making mistakes so you feel the need to take every precaution to ensure success. These fears and anxieties result in some of these behaviors.
Some manifestations of relationship anxiety:
1. Unwillingness to commit:
You may be fearful of commitment because you don’t want to commit to the wrong person. You may be afraid of making mistakes or just want to commit only to Mr/Ms Perfect. You may be looking for reasons to not commit either in the relationship or in your partner.
2. Looking for ‘signs’:
You keep looking for signs and reasons to prove to you that this relationship and this person is the right one. This also leads you to believe that every little misstep is a sign that the relationship isn’t right and isn’t going to work.
3. Being overly critical of your partner:
Since you may have this idea that you need to only be in the ‘right’ relationship, with the ‘right’ partner who is perfect – you may tend to be critical and nit-picky about mistakes and apparent flaws in your partner’s personality.
4. Being clingy and needy in the relationship:
You tend to keep needing reassurance from your partner that he/she still loves and needs you. You feel the need to control your partner to make sure that he/she doesn’t hurt or let you down in any way.
5. Pulling away from you partner:
You are unwilling to accept your partner as he/she is; rather you want them to be a version of themselves that suits you. So when he/she makes mistakes or when there are problems in the relationship instead of working on solutions you tend to pull away from your partner and retreat so that you don’t get hurt.
Studies have shown that relationship anxiety leads to disturbances in the normal functioning of a relationship and result in a lowered likelihood of the relationship ending in marriage. If relationship anxiety exists in a marriage then studies have shown that there is an increased chance of marital distress and decreased sexual satisfaction.
To say that having relationship anxiety is detrimental to your relationship is an understatement. No relationship can thrive surrounded by mistrust, fear, doubt, and criticism. The foundation for any healthy relationship is trust and acceptance. So let’s look at ways you can cope with relationship anxiety.
Coping with Relationship Anxiety:
1. Accept the truth
No change can happen if you choose to live in denial. The first step to change is to identify the issue and accept it. Owning the truth will help you look for solutions proactively and be committed to change.
2. Accept that you can change the situation by working on yourself
Before you start to doubt your partner or your relationship, you need to take a step back to understand where your insecurities are coming from. Am I dealing with any feelings of rejection or abandonment from the past? And if you are, you can always look into going for counseling to work on your own issues. Counselling can be a great way of gaining some insight and learning new skills. Counselling can be done online or face-to-face but the key is to find the right counsellor who is a good fit for you.
3. Accept your partner
Loving and accepting your partner regardless of their faults and shortcomings is a sign of a healthy and thriving relationship. No one is perfect! Everyone has made mistakes! No one person can fulfill you completely! When you take all these pressures off your partner, it frees them to grow.
4. Accept your relationship
Relationships are not perfect; there are seasons of ups and downs. Just because your relationship might be in a season of distance and disconnectedness doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stay committed. You need to stop expecting perfection and stop comparing your relationship to other seemingly perfect couples.
Studies show that accepting that one’s partner is less-than-perfect may be one of the most challenging aspects of a long-term stable relationship.
It seems that forming a more balanced and realistic view of one’s partner, including their perceived flaws and deficits, is a necessary element in long-term relationships.
Feeling anxious about relationships is normal and everyone goes through stages of doubt and fear about the future of their relationship. You invest so much time, effort, and emotion into your relationships and it’s only natural that you want the best. However, no relationship can survive under the weight of prolonged anxiety; it will kill your intimacy and take away your joy. Understanding that being anxious is harming your relationship will be help you move away from just reacting in situations to being intentional and balanced in your responses.