Imagine this: You meet someone nice and go out with them more than a few times. You really like spending time with them and have no plans to stop. But when the idea of a committed relationship comes up, you panic.
Or, maybe you’re already in a relationship. You’re constantly stressed about whether your partner still likes you, or you find yourself ruminating on why you’re not good enough for them. Maybe you start obsessing that they could be cheating on you when there’s no signs of that.
If any of those situations sounds familiar to you, it could be a sign of relationship anxiety—and you’re not alone. In fact, research suggests about 20% of adults have an insecure attachment—a relationship rooted in fear—to their romantic partner. But there are some things you can do to ease your relationship anxiety and get back on a healthier track with your current partner or future ones.
Whether it’s new relationship anxiety or anxiety about an existing relationship, understanding the phenomenon can help you identify whether you’re suffering from relationship anxiety and what to do about it.
What is relationship anxiety?
Relationship anxiety is any type of anxiety someone experiences that’s associated with starting a relationship or being in a relationship, said Rachel Dubrow, LCSW, psychotherapist at Rachel Dubrow, LCSW and Associates.
That anxiety affects people differently, so it can manifest in different ways. Often, it can be a type of nervousness that causes someone to think and/or behave in an unusual or irrational way.
For example, “Someone who has relationship anxiety may be someone who overshares on the first few dates because their anxiety is fueling them to talk,” said Dubrow. They may also try to define the relationship upfront instead of allowing it to evolve naturally.
Who gets relationship anxiety?
People with relationship anxiety are often people who have an “anxious attachment style.”
“If you are someone with an anxious attachment style, you are likely to seek proximity to your partner, whether it’s time spent together or in frequency of communication, think about your partner often, and be quick to assume you’re at risk of your partner leaving or abandoning you at the slightest sign they are less available,” explained Rachel Perlstein, LCSW, psychotherapist and founder of InFlow Wellness in New York City.
Often, people develop relationship anxiety because of negative experiences in past relationships or even as a result of their relationship with a parent or caregiver.
“Individuals who have anxiety about being in a relationship often have fears about being liked or accepted, or concerns about being judged,” said Dubrow.
Relationship anxiety symptoms
There’s a wide range of ways people experience relationship anxiety, so the signs and behaviors can vary, said Perlstein. Relationship anxiety symptoms may include:
- Preoccupation with a relationship. For some people, thoughts of the relationship become so consuming, they have difficulty thinking about other things.
- Intense emotions. If you feel particularly blue or nervous about your relationship, it could be a red flag.
- Nervous physical symptoms. Some people with relationship anxiety have nausea, heart palpitations or other nervous physical reactions.
- Behaviors that could harm the relationship. Some people become so anxious about their relationships that they start to do things that might be off-putting to their partner, such as oversharing or sending text after text.
- Loss of friendships. “Some people find they are so focused on their partner, they lose contact with their friends,” said Perlstein.
- Loss of sense of self. “They may spend time adapting to their partner’s interests [and] lifestyle, and cater to their moods,” said Perlstein. “Others may find that they talk often about their partner and may feel like they’re on a ‘rollercoaster’ associated with the relationship.”
- Choosing the wrong type of partner. Unfortunately, Perlstein said, people with relationship anxiety tend to repeatedly choose partners whose personalities aren’t an ideal match for someone who’s anxious. For example, they may want partners who are very independent and don’t communicate well with them. That can cause even more anxiety.
How to deal with relationship anxiety
Thankfully, there are a few steps you can take to help rein in your relationship anxiety and try to set yourself up to have healthier, more secure relationships.
Be self-aware. The first step is better understanding your own anxiety. Pay attention to your own behaviors and tendencies. What relationship scenarios tend to cause you to react in extreme ways? What past experiences could have caused you to become anxious? What thoughts do you have when you’re feeling anxious?
Practice calming techniques. Methods that calm stress and anxiety in general can help you handle your relationship anxiety. Try guided meditations, do yoga, take a walk, do more vigorous exercise and practice other relaxation techniques. Find what helps make you feel more at ease.
Choose good partners. You’ll set yourself up to have a strong relationship if you choose a partner who’s consistent, reliable and shows you affection in healthy ways, said Perlstein. Without those qualities, the person’s behavior is more likely to trigger your anxiety. Be honest with yourself about who your partners claim to be, even going as far as looking them up via an online people search, which may help paint a clearer picture of who they really are. A partner with secret social media accounts, for instance, may be hiding more.
Communicate clearly. “If you are someone that tends toward relationship anxiety, talk to your partner about it,” suggested Perlstein. “Let the person know, ‘Hey, I’d like for us to check in once a day,’ or, ‘It really helps when I know when I’m going to see you again.’” Honest communication can help them better understand what support you need to feel less anxious.
Talk to a therapist. Dubrow said that individual, couples and/or group therapy can help people treat their relationship anxiety. Some people experiencing severe relationship anxiety symptoms may also benefit from medications. Talk to your doctor about what type of professional help might be right for you.
With a combination of self-awareness, open communication, calming techniques and perhaps therapy, there’s a good chance you can feel less stressed and more secure in your relationships. You should try to develop your own toolbox of ways to handle anxious thoughts when they occur and better learn to find comfort and joy in your personal relationships.