Love is probably the most powerful emotion possible, and when you start to experience anxiety over that love, it's not uncommon for it to have a profound impact both on your relationship and on your quality of life. Relationship anxiety is complicated and means different things to different people, but there is no denying that once you have it, you'll do anything you can to stop it.
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Relationship Anxiety Types and Tips
So many things can cause anxiety in relationships, and often that anxiety differs depending on what brought it on. Abusive relationships cause anxiety for reasons that are completely different than those that develop anxiety because of problems raising children. Some people have anxiety first that leaks into their relationship in other ways.
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It is such an immense topic that entire books have been written about how and why some people develop relationship anxiety and the challenges that they go through. When we talk about relationship anxiety, we may be talking about any of the following:
My Husband or Boyfriend Gives Me Anxiety (or Girlfriend)
Many women and men experience anxiety as a result of the behaviors of their significant other. Some of these behaviors include:
- Mean language.
- Hiding things (like texting in secret or staying out late and being vague).
- Physical intimidation.
These are all potentially problematic issues that need to be addressed in a relationship for it to work, and all potential causes of anxiety.
In some cases, the anxiety may be for other, unrelated reasons. Some people are afraid that their partner will leave them. Some people experience anxiety because their partner is "too" something - too rich, too good-looking, too busy, too talkative, etc. The partner (boyfriend, husband, girlfriend, wife) has qualities that lead to anxiety.
Successfully evaluating the quality of the relationship is critical for determining how to eliminate the anxiety.
I'm Scared or Afraid of a Relationship
Some relationship anxiety has little to do with the partner and more to do with the fear of being in a relationship in the first place. Known as a "fear of commitment," it is very common for those that:
- Have never been in a relationship.
- Have been in bad relationships.
- Have concerns that if they commit they may miss out on something else.
Some people have a fear of being in a relationship that cannot be easily explained. This type of anxiety is a challenge not only because of the anxiety itself but also because of the way it may harm potentially good relationships.
My Partner Has Anxiety and I Struggle With What to Do
We explore this even more on this page, and we encourage you to read it if you're looking for tips to help someone with anxiety. But certainly, anxiety doesn't just stress the person that is struggling. It can cause distress in the relationship as a whole as well. Dating someone with anxiety or marrying someone with anxiety can be confusing and it is not uncommon to need to learn ways to overcome it.
The Relationship Itself Causes Anxiety
For many, however, the issue can be placed on the quality and experiences in the relationship itself. It is not necessarily about a single behavior of a partner or a broad fear of commitment. Sometimes, anxiety just arises over time as the relationship progresses due to a number of different factors.
That is what we are focusing on here, below, as it is common in relationships of all ages, styles, and lengths. It can arise in happy marriages and it can arise in unhappy short-term dating. It is always a good idea to evaluate it to determine what the next steps may be.
Causes of Anxiety in Relationships
There are very serious issues that cause anxiety and much less serious issues that can cause anxiety. Yet all anxiety is a struggle, and when you find yourself with relationship anxiety it's something that you want to cure. Some of the universal causes of relationship anxiety include:
Loss of Trust: In Relationship Future
Easily the most common cause of anxiety is uncertainty about the future of the relationship. This can come from lots of fights, or it can come from previous breakups, or it can come from growing distant. No matter the cause, when that trust that the relationship is going to work out is lost, the uncertainty can cause a lot of anxiety as you become unsure of what to do with your life.
Loss of Trust: General
Of course, a general loss of trust is also a problem, after things like infidelity or less serious issues like forgetting to run important errands around the home. Trust is a very important part of a relationship, and if the trust is gone it can be very hard to build it back natural.
Fighting often is a problem. But the problem isn't just that fights involve anger – it's also this general feeling of worry that you're going to fight again. This worry can cause significant anxiety because you become too afraid to do anything around the home since you are worried another fight will happen at any moment.
Relationships that are struggling also involve a lot of negativity. Rarely are the two of you as supportive and friendly as you once were to each other. Even your playful jokes become negative, and often most words you say are criticisms or use an unfriendly tone. Constant negativity and negative thinking appear to cause anxiety and, while it's not clear exactly how, it's a very big problem.
Of course, perhaps the most over-arching reason that relationship anxiety is common in struggling relationships is that of long-term stress. Usually the stress develops over time, and long-term stress is known without a doubt to cause anxiety – it can even cause anxiety disorders. So when you're in a tense relationship and you feel tense all the time, it's not uncommon to show symptoms of anxiety not only in your relationship but out of it as well.
These are only the basic reasons that anxiety in relationships is common, and clearly not the only ones, but you can see where it becomes a big issue. Those that have relationship anxiety often start to have the same symptoms of anxiety disorders, for example:
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of depression
Very often this anxiety bleeds into other areas of the person's life, which is why in a way, it's not relationship anxiety anymore. It may be an anxiety disorder that was simply caused by a troubled relationship.
How to Stop Relationship Anxiety
Relationships are incredibly complicated. There are two things that you have to ask yourself in the beginning, long before you can expect to fix your relationship:
- Is the relationship worth saving?
- Are you willing to change yourself even without your partner changing?
The first question is self-explanatory. Not every relationship is worth saving, no matter how long you've been together. It may sound cliché, but breakups are actually an important part of relationships. If we assume that the point of any relationship is to be with one person that always makes you happy, then you always have to remember that the person you're with may not be the right person for you.
The second question, however, is based on one simple truth about relationships: you can only change yourself. Despite all the ways you plead with your partner to improve, you can't be the one to change them. Only they can change them. Your role, then, is to try to be the best partner you can be and as open as possible, and then hope that it motivates them to change as well.
Ways to Control Relationship Anxiety
With that in mind, controlling your relationship anxiety has more to do with you than it does with them, and you can't expect them to contribute. The following are basic strategies for making sure your relationship can heal:
- Exercise and Other Anxiety Reduction Strategies First and foremost, anxiety is still anxiety, and that means that effective anxiety reduction strategies can help control the way you feel. Exercise is the easiest one to integrate into your life right now. There is a lot of evidence that exercise is as powerful as most anxiety medications for controlling anxiety symptoms.
- Starting Over If the trust is gone, talk to your partner about starting over completely and dating as though you'd never been together. Trust is about building a foundation and needs to be grown from the ground up. You need to stick with it though. If after a few weeks things are getting better, it's still too soon to say the trust is back. You don't want to fall back into old habits.
- Exchanging Needs Have a conversation with your partner about each other's needs. Write them down as well to make sure you both know what they are. Then, do your best to do everything your partner wants, provided it doesn't hurt your morals. Don't expect them to do any of your list – just give them what they've asked for and be the best partner you can be. Often you'll find they'll be motivated to improve themselves as well. If they're not after a month or so, chances are they may not want to.
- Staying Mentally Busy Being busy in relationships can be difficult, but something that is known to improve the mood of the relationship is to stay mentally busy. Often you'll find that your mind is your enemy in relationships, as you imagine fighting with your partner. So keep your mind off your relationship as much as possible by doing outdoor activities, watching TV, going on dates, and so on. This decreases the way your mind can wander into negative emotions.
- Be Physically Affectionate Touching and holding, even when you're mad at the other person, is very calming. It's one of the reasons that successful couples often hug after a long and hard day. Try to be more physically affectionate for a while, even when you're mad at them so that it sends that relaxing reminder that you and your partner aren't going anywhere.
These are both relationship tips and anxiety tips because in some ways they're very similar.
However, you want to also address your anxiety like it is its own separate condition because in some ways it is. Even when has to do with your relationship, anxiety is still anxiety, and so it's important that you figure out how to control it and improve your quality of life.
I've helped thousands of people overcome their relationship anxiety starting with my free 7-minute anxiety test. Make sure you take the test now to learn more about your anxiety and treatment.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Jul 24, 2018.