How to overcome relationship anxiety: 8 ways to feel more secure with your partner
While there are so many wonderful things about being in a relationship, learning how to overcome relationship anxiety is unfortunately part of the early stages for many people.
The start of a relationship can be magical, full of romance and excitement. But it can also trigger nerves and feelings of self-doubt as things become more intimate and intense. You may feel you have more to lose and your emotions can spiral. Your worries could range from doubts about whether your partner is being faithful, to whether you’ll be together long-term or concerns about sex and intimacy.
If you find yourself feeling insecure or worried more than normal, you could be experiencing relationship anxiety. Luckily, it's almost totally normal and very possible to overcome. Here, several psychologists and relationship coaches reveal what you need to know about the condition, signs of a toxic relationship, and how to overcome relationship anxiety to get back on track.
What is relationship anxiety?
Relationship anxiety is the feeling of insecurity, doubt, and worry that tend to manifest at the beginning of a relationship over concerns about the partnership itself or the partner. As psychologist Dr Tara Lally of the City University of New York says, relationship anxiety "can happen with a romantic partner, best friend, family, or caregiver, but it is more common in a romantic relationship when [partners] are still trying to establish trust."
Insecurities like these can come from many sources but they are particularly common in those who have previously seen serious red flags in a relationship early on or those who have been in a toxic dynamic where there was trauma or abuse, which can impact confidence in subsequent relationships.
It can also be rooted in family issues, says Lyndsey Murray, a certified sex therapist. "A lot of the time, it's rooted in childhood attachment styles that may have manifested into an insecure attachment style as an adult," she explains. For example, if your parents had a turbulent relationship or separated when you were growing up, you may be more likely to experience relationship anxiety.
Anxious thoughts may also be related to relationship burnout, which is when your relationship starts to feel less positive and more like hard work. Symptoms of this kind of burnout can be stress, fatigue, loneliness, and feeling low.
Some anxiety when starting a new relationship is very common though and it’s a way of your brain protecting you from further hurt. You might also find some negative thoughts creeping in if you’ve had a recent break-up and haven’t had time to process what happened or recover emotionally.
Relationship anxiety can affect the way you behave in your relationship in a number of ways. You may become needy, withdrawn, or controlling and in some cases start to take out how you're feeling on your partner, and all of these actions can lead to the breakdown of your relationship if they are not addressed properly.
How to deal with relationship anxiety
1. Be honest about how you're feeling
Share your negative feelings or insecurities with your partner. It’s easy for your mind to jump to the worst-case scenario, when in fact it might just be that the pair of you need to communicate more effectively. If your partner knows and understands the reasons for your anxiety, they will be able to offer you support and reassurance. This is an important part of intimacy. Keeping your feelings from them could drive a wedge between you and it will likely lead to more conflict further down the line.
Equally, if you’ve been in a toxic relationship previously and are worried about history repeating itself, discuss this with your partner in the process of learning how to overcome relationship anxiety. Feelings of low self-esteem are natural but being in a healthy, honest relationship will hopefully help you move on and feel safe and loved again.
If there are specific things your partner does which are causing you to feel anxious, try to explain that to them in a non-confrontational way. It may be that they didn’t realize that a habit or behavior was affecting you and your emotions.
2. Find the cause
Once you've established that anxiety exists in your relationship, you need to dig down to discover the cause of it. As we stated above, previous romantic relationships or childhood attachment issues may cause issues in adults. If you’re aware of why you are experiencing these feelings, and feel able to talk about the causes with your support network and partner, it can help you cope better.
"A common one I see in the context of childhood attachment styles are those who did not receive unconditional love in childhood, which they absolutely deserved and should have gotten," says Murray. "Now they want unconditional love in their adult relationships. Unfortunately, that's just not how adult relationships go."
When there are competing needs of both parties in a relationship, it can be tricky to manage it and it may lead to feelings of rejection. "Finding the root cause and learning the emotional capacity it takes to handle our differences in a relationship while also trusting that we can be loved and cared for is really difficult work, but necessary to overcome relationship anxiety," she explains.
3. Look at the positive aspects of your relationship
Being in a relationship can be a rollercoaster, full of highs and lows, but in general, it should be something that makes you feel happy. Sadly, anxiety can lead to a downward spiral of negativity, perhaps with feelings of loneliness, and you can easily forget why you and your partner got together in the first place.
If you want to continue with the relationship and it's healthy in all other ways, try to focus on this. No one knows what lies ahead so enjoy the present, make fun plans, learn how to spice up the relationship and remember why you were attracted to each other in the first place.
4. Find a good support network
Many people choose to keep anxious feelings to themselves, which whether in a relationship or not, can lead to further mental health problems such as depression.
If you feel like you can’t share your feelings with your partner, speak to your family and friends about what you’re experiencing. They will be able to offer support and advice from an outside perspective. They will be able to help you manage your so-called ‘critical inner voice’, which might be telling you you’re not good enough for your partner, that you can’t trust them, or that they don’t really love you. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed if you keep these feelings to yourself.
5. Don't avoid conflict at your own expense
It can be easy to want to avoid conflict if you're experiencing relationship anxiety, for fear it could bring the partnership to a quick end. However, conflict avoidance in a relationship can lead to frustration, resentment, and anger. It is also a sign that you’re not communicating adequately as a couple, which could lead to more serious issues.
Try to explain your feelings calmly and don't wait until things have become really serious to bring them up. Then make sure you listen to your partner and work together to see if you can find a resolution to the issues. Ignoring them won't mean they go away, they'll only fester until they explode later on.
6. Consider couples or individual therapy
A number of the experts we spoke to said Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help give you coping mechanisms for turning negative thoughts and feelings into positive ones. It is a type of talking therapy that can change the way you think and behave.
The only drawback of using this type of therapy for relationship anxiety is that, unlike other types of talking treatment, it deals with your current problems rather than delving into events that might have happened in your past to trigger them.
Couples therapy may also be beneficial if you and your partner feel like you need support from a professional. Licensed couples therapist Kendra Capalbo says going into therapy together can help couples understand how problems in the relationship are affecting both partners. “In terms of couples therapy, the focus would be on deepening the understanding of the problem and how it impacts both partners as well as learning ways to better communicate about it," she explains.
7. Find ways to control the anxiety
If you’re aware of the triggers for your anxiety, you can find ways to soothe yourself when they crop up, says relationship coach Liam Barnett. "For example, when you catch yourself having thoughts that originate from high levels of anxiety about the relationship, you can try taking deep breaths, having a moment to yourself, rubbing ice on your palms, or meditating,” he says.
Dr Lally also has some suggestions for managing anxiety when learning how to overcome relationship anxiety, including “practicing mindfulness to reduce social anxiety and increase positive self-image, exercising regularly to increase neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which ultimately make us feel mentally healthy, and practicing feeling your emotion. That means recognizing what is happening and asking yourself why."
8. Trust your partner
If you’ve been cheated on or lied to by past partners, it's natural to find it hard to build trust in a relationship straight away. But, as we’ve stated above, communication is key. If you’re talking over and over about the same issues, it can be very draining and turn the issue into something it isn’t. If your partner has offered you support and reassurance that they love you, try to accept this and enjoy the relationship.
As clinical psychologist Dr Nicole LePera says, "If you want to know how someone feels about you, testing them isn't the way to do it. Neither is demanding they prove their love. When you want to test someone, you're seeking reassurance. You'll need to learn how to directly ask for it."
How to help a partner with relationship anxiety
Talk about it: As suggested, there can be no positive changes in the relationship unless you talk about what's going on. "Listen to one another and express how you are feeling about one another in the relationship," says Dr Lally.
Resist the urge to judge: "[Avoid treating] their anxiety as something bizarre or a character flaw, which usually makes people defensive and want to shut down."
Point them towards professional help: "If the anxiety is severe and persistent, recommend therapy and let them know you'll be supportive," the psychologist suggests.
Does relationship anxiety go away?
The good news is, relationship anxiety can and does go away with recognition of why it's happening and learning how to ask for what you need in a relationship, says Murray. "Having a partner who is by your side when you are feeling anxious [will also help]," she adds.
Dr Lally agrees that there is no need for anxiety to be a constant in your relationship. “The anxiety can be alleviated or even disappear if you're willing to reflect inward and examine what is leading to the negative patterns impacting the current relationship, and if you have a significant other who is patient in the process of building a relationship together.”
Both of these experts highlight that a key aspect of easing relationship anxiety is having a partner who is prepared to help you learn how to overcome relationship anxiety. For some people, the anxiety may never completely go away but, hopefully, by using some of the tips and tools we’ve mentioned above, you will be able to minimize the impact the negative thoughts and feelings have on your life and relationship.