Relationship anxiety is probably something you’re already struggling with but you don’t know much about it. It is a type of anxiety that gets in the way of having a healthy and fulfilling bond with another person.
If you suffer from relationship anxiety, it’s important to become aware of it. Without self-awareness, you will fail to commit to someone and your relationships will be short-lived.
In this article, we will look into the reasons why relationship anxiety occurs and how you can begin addressing this issue. It is your responsibility to deal with your anxiety and make sure you don’t start building a family on negative emotions like fear or lack.
What is relationship anxiety
If someone’s parents did not provide them with the love and care they needed as a child, they grew up confused and insecure.
Moreover, if both parents were dealing with their own mental health issues and were not able to met their children’s needs, these children took on the false belief that they were undeserving of love, support and care.
In addition to feeling undeserving and insecure, they might also struggle with trusting people. They grow up expecting others to hurt them or break their boundaries like their own parents did.
If these people avoid conflict and distance themselves from their loved one when they should be intimate, they are probably anxious in a relationship.
The cause of relationship anxiety: Your attachment style
This anxiety manifests itself through attachment behaviors. According to Lisa Firestone, Ph.D, there are four types of attachment behaviors.1
Knowing some things about each attachment style might shed a light on your fears and relationship phobias. Here is a attachment style matrix illustrated by Riskology:2
Let’s look at each of the attachment styles in details:
People who were safe and comforted by their mother as a child would have a secure attachment with others. These people’s needs were met as soon as they expressed them. They felt acknowledgment from their parents for who they were growing up. This acknowledgment created an inner safety and comfort about who they are.
In romantic relationships, they feel safe and trust the other person to be there for them in times of need. They acknowledge their partner’s individuality and independence but, at the same time, are able to say ‘I need you to pick me up from work’ or ‘I feel so sad about your cat dying. This reminds me of a dog I had growing up who got sick. I miss her a lot.’
Anxious preoccupied attachment
In this case, people were made to believe that their needs as a child were not important. Perhaps, whenever they were angry or hurt, their mother walked away from them instead of comforting them.3
This made them feel unsafe growing up. They weren’t showed how to cope with emotions. Which threw them in the cycle of fight or flight. When they are taught that emotions do not matter, they become fearful of them.
Thus, when these people get hit by a wave of anger and they don’t know how to express it or communicate it to others, they stuff it. That leads to an overwhelming sense of anxiety because the mind thinks that they are trying to escape a very dangerous emotion.
Dismissive avoidant attachment
A person who has a dismissive avoidant attachment style might be emotionally unavailable. Folks in this category deny the importance of their loved ones and make them feel unloved by ignoring them.
They also brush conflicts off like they were not essential to the relationship’s growth.4
Fearful avoidant attachment
Those who have a fearful avoidant attachment style are stuck with ambivalent feelings: they crave for love and attention from their beaux but are afraid to let him/her get too close.
They certainly want their partner but they are scared of getting too close to the core of the intimacy. They think that the core will burn them and they will end up disappointed and hurt. They try to avoid this disappointment by ‘running away’ from the person they love. Avoiding feelings, thoughts and relationship problems is what they do.
If you’re this type, you’re not alone. I too am sometimes fearful of getting attached to people, especially men. The idea that I will be disappointed by them like my own mother disappointed me is heartbreaking. However, you should know that there are ways to manage these crushing feelings.
How to get over relationship anxiety (and create happy relationships)
Even if you do get disappointed by someone you love and trust, you can get over this. It is not the end of the world if your partner does something hurtful. You will live!
You can follow the tips below to get better at keeping your relationship anxiety at bay and even cultivating happiness and fulfillment.
1. Know that you have a problem.
You have relationship anxiety and, by acknowledging this fact, you will shed the confusion you have been carrying around for years. You will no longer be asking yourself Why am I so bad at relationships?
2. Find out what your attachment style is.
If you are a fearful avoidant, you might want to think of ways of confronting your relationship fears.
Go back mentally to your childhood time and remember how your relationship with your mom was. Were you excited to be with her? Did you play a lot with her? Did she care for you when you were angry, fearful or sad or punished you for showing natural, human emotions? Keep a journal to document these memories.
3. Challenge yourself.
If you are brave enough, challenge your attachment style by seeking emotionally healthy partners and friends.
Go where these folks usually hang out and try to connect with them. Can you do that? Why? Why not? How did you feel during this challenge?
4. Practice mindfulness.
When you have relationship anxiety, you shift your focus from your body, needs and emotions to your partner’s needs, thoughts and emotions. You worry about what he/she might think of you or you try to not upset them so they will not leave you for someone else.
Instead of being codependent, spend more time alone to become independent. Seek out support groups that deal with unhealthy behaviors like codependency (if you have relationship anxiety, you are probably a codependent)5 and toxic or narcissistic relationships.6
Learn how to practice mindfulness from this guide: A Simple Guide to Mindfulness for Beginners
5. Make a habit of asking yourself daily ‘How am I feeling today?’
Are you angry, excited or sad about a current event in your life? If you are in a toxic relationship, ask yourself how does the body react to your partner? What is your intuition telling you about him/her? Are you happy with him? Would you feel better if you were alone?
Use your journal to mark down your feelings and build a more positive relationship with your thoughts. You can also incorporate meditation in your daily schedule to get more comfortable with difficult feelings.
6. Even better, seek help from a therapist
Seek help from a therapist who is experienced in family relationships and trauma. He/she will know the best way to move forward from where you are now.
Muster your courage to face relationship anxiety
It’s not easy to deal with relationship anxiety each time you find yourself dating someone new. But knowing that you learned this anxiety from your connection with your parents or caretakers will take a load off your chest. You can turn your life around by starting a healthy relationship with your own self so you can be in healthier, happier relationships with others.
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help for your worries. Everyone struggles with personal issues when it comes to relationships. Getting help is a sign that you take your issues seriously and want to improve the quality of your life.