What Is Relationship Anxiety And How Can You Navigate It?

In a world where a potential mate you thought you had incredible dates with can ghost you out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, it is not uncommon for people to feel a sense of distrust when getting into the dating game. But there are also instances when you're in a seemingly good relationship and your anxious mind refuses to switch off. If you find yourself in a never-ending loop of anxiety over all the possible ways your relationship could go wrong, you might have relationship anxiety. And it's more serious that the occasional instances of insecurity within a romantic union. Does this person really love me? Are they going to leave me? Does my partner still find me attractive? Such questions could plague your mind all the time and your thoughts can start to spiral.  

As clinical psychologist Shelley Sommerfeldt told Women's Health, while a certain amount of worry over compatibility and longevity (especially in the beginning stages) is harmless in a relationship, a constant state of anxiety over your bond isn't. "If anxiety [is] hindering the relationship or impacting [your] mental or emotional health, and impacting [your] partner. That's when it gets problematic," she said. 

For someone living with relationship anxiety, life can start to feel overwhelming and debilitating. After all, anxiety can do a lot to your body. The other person in the equation could feel suffocated, stressed, and even start to pull away, which only makes the anxious person more insecure. How does relationship anxiety set in? 

Getting to the root of relationship anxiety

Much like with any form of anxiety, relationship anxiety is also rooted in the person's past relationships, attachment styles, and even negative experiences they've had. You could also develop relationship anxiety if you've got another kind of anxiety. 

Shelley Sommerfeldt told Women's Health that a person's bond with absent parents in their childhood could be a trigger for relationship anxiety as an adult, as can low self-esteem. If your connection with your primary caregiver was one that was hot and cold, you could be projecting that experience onto your current romantic relationship. Psychotherapist, anxiety specialist, and author Niro Feliciano told InStyle, "If you constantly felt that you had earn love, you may need it to be proved to you over and over again — essentially, love doesn't feel like love if you can't earn it." 

For the partner who isn't anxious, what they see in the other person is constant doubt and fear over the union, repeated requests for validation, and a spouse who pulls away or shuts down because they're afraid to get too close. Sommerfeldt shared that individuals with relationship anxiety also tend to "lose their identity because they hang out [so often] with their significant other and they blend into one person." The person could also become pre-occupied with all the ways they have supposedly done something to jeopardize the relationship, which in turn could lead them to fill their days trying to please their partner in every way. 

How to navigate relationship anxiety

Since most of your worries are based on your own presumed failures and problems, a good starting point to navigating relationship anxiety is to educate yourself with facts. Learning about your past, the relationship you shared with your parents, or even thinking about previous romantic relationships that weren't healthy, could prove helpful. So might reading up on attachment styles. 

Once you're done with analyzing your past, turn to your current romantic relationship and look at the facts there. Ask yourself some crucial questions. What exactly has my partner done that is making me call into question their loyalty? What are all the ways my partner makes me feel safe? According to Niro Feliciano, "Taking account of the facts can help to discern reality from anxious and intrusive thoughts." Being open and honest with your partner about your struggles is a good idea too.

You could also try seeking professional help for therapist-approved ways to cope with anxiety. Practicing mindfulness and learning to stay in the present are also effective ways to navigate relationship anxiety. If you find your thoughts straying into anxious territory, try bringing them back to the present and tell yourself that you don't have control over the future. All you have control over are your own thoughts. You may as well direct them to pleasanter topics.