We’ve all heard that humans are social beings, or “people who need people.” And it’s true: we do need other people in our lives. We draw meaning and strength from deep relationships with our significant others as well as short casual interactions with neighbors or passersby. Sometimes, however, instead of improving our lives, these relationships detract.
If you’ve ever felt anxious about going to a family gathering or hanging out with friends — because you can’t be yourself around them or you get bombarded with uncomfortable or judgmental questions about your life — your relationships may be causing you stress.
When left unaddressed, social stress can adversely affect our overall well-being and happiness. What’s more, it can cause lasting damage to your relationships. When anxiety brews, resentment can give way — which is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick.
If you’re wondering about how to spot relationship anxiety symptoms or how to deal with relationship anxiety, read on. This article explores relationship anxiety — what causes it and ways to cope.
Understanding Relationship Anxiety
Relationship anxiety is a common — and uncomfortable! — experience that affects many people. It can manifest as constant worry, fear of abandonment, or an overwhelming need for reassurance.
Signs You Are Scared of Your Partner
Signs that you are scared of your partner — or are experiencing relationship anxiety in general — can vary, but there are some common patterns:
- Walking on eggshells. You're constantly careful about what you say or do, fearing that something might upset your partner. This constant state of alertness is exhausting and a sign that you're not comfortable or feeling safe in the relationship.
- Lack of openness. If you're scared to share your thoughts, feelings, or concerns with your partner, there might be a lack of trust and comfort in the relationship.
- Overthinking their actions. Constantly analyzing your partner's actions and words to gauge their mood or intentions, often assuming the worst, can be a sign of fear.
- Over-apologizing. Constantly apologizing, even when you haven't done anything wrong, can be a sign of relationship anxiety.
- Withdrawal from friends and family. If you're avoiding or limiting contact with your close ones because of your relationship, it may be due to fear of judgment or interference, or because your partner discourages such interactions.
- Anxiety about the future. Anxiety or fear about the future of the relationship can be clear signs that you are scared of your partner.
Causes of Anxiety in Relationships
This anxiety can stem from various sources, including past traumas, attachment styles, or negative relationship experiences.
We might have relationship anxiety for many reasons. One common cause is a fear of intimacy. People who struggle with intimacy may have difficulty opening up emotionally or trusting others, leading to anxiety when faced with the vulnerability that comes with deep connections.
Another cause or factor contributing to relationship anxiety is a fear of rejection. This can leave us preoccupied with questions regarding our worthiness of love and acceptance.
The Impact of Relationship Anxiety
Relationship anxiety can significantly impact both our mental and our physical health. Constant worry and fear can lead to chronic stress, which can weaken the immune system, disrupt sleep patterns, and increase the risk of developing anxiety or depression.
Relationship anxiety radiates out beyond the damage it causes us: it can wreak havoc on the ways we relate to our loved ones. Here are other ways anxiety shows up in — and adversely affects — our relationships:
- Excessive worry, anger, or irritability: Anxiety can lead to excessive worry and other negative emotions, which can be stressful for both people in the relationship.
- Isolation — or Codependence: Some people with anxiety may isolate themselves and become avoidant of relationships to avoid negative feelings. On the other hand, some people with anxiety may become overly dependent on their loved ones.
- Communication issues: Anxiety can cause communication issues in relationships, leading to misunderstandings and conflict. The aggregate effects of prolonged, unresolved anxiety can lead to emotional distancing and poor relationship quality.
- Self-silencing: Those of us with relationship anxiety may engage in self-silencing, which involves suppressing our own needs and desires to avoid conflict.
- Excessive reassurance-seeking: Those of us with relationship anxiety may seek excessive reassurance from our partner — which can be stressful for our partner, too.
- Partner accommodation: We may expect our partner to accommodate our anxiety. As a result, they might feel like they have to walk on eggshells, for fear of triggering us. If nothing changes, this can eventually put a strain on the relationship.
If left untreated, anxiety can interfere with relationships and cause significant distress for both people involved. However, there are ways to cope with anxiety and nurture our relationships, either by making big personal changes or through seeking professional help.
Letting Go of Anxiety in Relationships
Building healthy relationships is essential for managing relationship anxiety. To address your relationship anxiety, first take time to understand the root causes of this specific anxiety. Reflect on past experiences and identify any patterns or triggers that contribute to your anxiety. This self-awareness can help you develop healthier coping mechanisms.
Honest, open communication can foster understanding and create a supportive environment where anxieties can be addressed together. Share your feelings and concerns with your partner or loved ones.
Here are some other ways to cultivate strong and supportive connections:
- Set boundaries: Establishing clear relationship boundaries ensures that our needs and values are respected. Aim to communicate these boundaries openly and assertively.
- Practice self-care: Because we can’t pour from an empty cup, prioritizing activities that promote relaxation and reduce stress can help foster a deeper connection to ourselves — and to those in our lives. Engaging in pleasant activities that bring us to the present moment — such as meditation, journaling, or mindful breathing — helps fill our own cup. Become curious about whether your drinking ever results from relationship anxiety. If so, is this a source of tension in your relationships, or do you drink more to feel less anxious (knowing, of course, that alcohol exacerbates anxiety)?
- Foster trust: Work on building trust in your relationships by being reliable, honest, and consistent. Trust is the foundation of healthy connections and can help alleviate relationship anxiety.
- Challenge negative thoughts: Recognizing and challenging negative thoughts or assumptions that contribute to your relationship anxiety is a positive move. Replace these with positive or realistic affirmations.
- Focus on personal growth: Investing time and energy into personal growth and self-improvement can help nurture our own journey. We can do this by discovering hobbies, pursuing interests, and setting goals independent of our relationships.
- Surround yourself with support: Cultivating a network of supportive friends and family who understand and validate our feelings is one way to fight anxiety in other relationships. Having a strong support system can provide comfort and reassurance during times of anxiety.
Consider seeking therapy or counseling to work through your relationship anxiety. A trained therapist can provide guidance, tools, and techniques to help manage anxiety and improve your relationships.
Relationship anxiety is a common struggle — one caused by various factors, including a fear of rejection or intimacy.
By understanding the root causes and implementing coping strategies, we can manage our anxiety and build healthier, more fulfilling relationships.
Remember, we have the power to create a happier future by taking action and prioritizing our well-being.
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