Do you ever find yourself worrying excessively about the state of your relationship, regardless of how well things are going with you and your S.O.? If so, don't worry: Relationship anxiety is completely normal. Whether you've been dating someone for a short time, are longtime partners, or you've been married for a few years, feeling stressed about the state of your romantic partnership isn't at all unusual.
To learn more about how to deal with this common relationship problem, we asked psychotherapist and relationship counselor Alysha Jeney, to weigh in on the topic.
Meet the Expert
Alysha Jeney, MA, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and relationship counselor based in Denver, CO. She runs her own private practice, Modern Love Counseling.
"It's important to remember that everyone has fears," Jeney says. "But if your anxieties are causing so much anguish that it's consistently preventing you from connecting with people, it may be time to seek additional support so you can learn the tools to work through it and have healthy relationships—because you deserve it."
Below you'll find all you need to know about how to deal with relationship anxiety, including potential causes, how to identify relationship anxiety, and steps you can take to overcome it.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are among the most common form of mental illness in the United States. So what exactly is causing all this anxiety? Jeney says that one of the root causes of anxiety is fear. "Fear is a core emotion that stimulates physiological sensations in the body or irrational thoughts and insecurities," she explains. "Anxiety can be a funny little way our body alerts us that there may be perceived danger." Whether that perceived danger is rational or irrational, however, is not so clear cut.
When it comes to relationship anxiety, some of the fears (whether they're conscious or subconscious) could include "rejection, abandonment, fear of being authentic, fear of intimacy, or unresolved trauma from past relationships," says Jeney. If a past partner has broken your trust in some way, that could be manifesting in your current relationship whether you realize it or not.
Another factor that studies show can contribute to anxiety (and ultimately to a less satisfying relationship) is low self-esteem. If you're experiencing self-doubt, it makes sense that you might project those doubts onto your partner. After all, if you don't believe in your own self-worth, it would be difficult to believe someone else does. This kind of thinking can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, so it's important to address.
Relationship attachment style is another piece of the puzzle to consider. Psychologists say that humans develop attachment styles in early childhood that continue to develop throughout our lives. You may find that your particular attachment style is more prone to relationship anxiety. It takes awareness and hard work, but it is possible to change.
How do you know if you have relationship anxiety? "Anxiety is normal. Fear is normal. Being excited or nervous about a relationship is normal," says Jeney. "However, if you are experiencing a pattern of being unable to establish loving relationships that are reciprocal due to your anxiety, I'd say it's getting to an unhealthy level."
The first thing to consider is that what you're feeling might not be anxiety, but rather, excitement, as the two trigger similar emotional responses, explains Jeney. "If you're feeling anxious about a relationship, maybe ask yourself, 'What am I afraid of?' But then also ask, 'What am I excited about?'" This may provide some clarity for you. Keep in mind, too, that it's normal to experience some anxiety and insecurity if you and your partner hit a rough patch—you are only human.
But if you find yourself constantly questioning your partner's feelings for you, worrying they want to end things with you, doubting your long-term compatibility for trivial or non-existent reasons, or otherwise self-sabotaging your relationship, these could be signs of relationship anxiety. When you are spending more time worrying about your relationship than enjoying it, it's nearly impossible to maintain a lasting connection.
If this is the case and your anxiety has reached a point where it is interfering with your ability to connect, it's time to be honest with yourself. "If you are unable to soothe, reassure, or confront the fear yourself, your anxiety may be taking over in an unhealthy way," Jeney explains. "Your anxiety should not consume you, and if it is, it's because you need additional tools to process it."
If you do have relationship anxiety, there are some relatively simple things you can do to overcome it—and that doesn't necessarily involve ending the relationship you're in. "Some may assume finding the 'right' person will be the cure to relationship anxiety or insecurities, however, this is not the case," explains Jeney.
Instead, Jeney advises reflecting inward in order to address your anxieties. "A relationship and partnership can support you with feeling secure and soothed, but it shouldn't be the sole source of comfort," she elaborates. "It is important to be autonomous in your own self-reflection and self-awareness, as well as be accountable for your behavior and needs."
Jeney recommends anyone experiencing anxiety to "check with yourself, understand your triggers, your fears, your excitements, and your needs, and then share them with your partner." After all, "your partner cannot read your mind (or your heart), and if you solely rely on them to 'fix' your anxiety, you will be consistently disappointed and feel more and more isolated."
For some, addressing such a crippling emotion might involve exploring additional avenues. Further strategies that Jeney recommends include "seeking relationship coaching or therapy, reading self-help books, and practicing emotional awareness and mindfulness at work." Like with any mental or emotional roadblock, overcoming relationship anxiety will take hard work, time, and a real desire to change, but the reward for doing so will be well worth the effort.
Erol RY, Orth U. Self-Esteem and the Quality of Romantic Relationships. European Psychologist. 2016;21(4):274-283. doi:10.1027/1016-9040/a000259