Relationship Anxiety Is So Much More Common Than You Think

Here’s why it happens — and how to overcome it.

What Is Relationship Anxiety?

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Although we tend to idealize romantic relationships, intimate bonds always have their highs and lows. But if you’ve ever been in a relationship that feels like it’s more right than wrong and still found yourself spiraling with doubt, worry, insecurity, and fears that the other shoe is bound to drop at any given moment, you might be struggling with relationship anxiety. 

“A person who has relationship anxiety never believes the relationship is truly in a good space and constantly experiences a low hum of insecurity about what they think their partner ‘really feels’ about the relationship and constantly wonders if their partner is truly content enough to stay long-term,” explains Dana McNeil, PsyD, LMFT, founder of The Relationship Place in San Diego. 

Here, what McNeil and other experts point out the signs you might be suffering from relationship anxiety, why it happens, and how to overcome it.

What Is Relationship Anxiety?

Relationship anxiety, specifically, is the general sense that things are not going well in your relationship, even in the absence of evidence. There are no specific behaviors, situations, or recent events that correlate to this sense of worry, says McNeil.  And McNeil and other experts interviewed emphasize that it is “so common.” 

“You might feel an ever-present dread that even if things seem like they are going well currently, the relationship could turn bad at any point without warning,” notes McNeil. “There is often a sense of ever-present vigilance about the need to keep a lookout for issues that may take the relationship off course.” 

And when problems arise, relationship anxiety can cause you to blow them out of proportion, attempting to head off even larger issues (like a split). 

You might also suffer from obsessive thought patterns and compulsive behaviors — maybe tracking your partner’s location or asking questions like, “Do you really love me?” or “Are you going to leave me?” — which are major red flags of relationship anxiety, says Lauren Cook, PsyD, MMFT, a San Diego-based psychologist.

It can also manifest as frequently checking in with your partner about their mood, asking if they’re “really happy” or upset or angry about something in an effort to receive reassurance and to soothe your anxiety. Unfortunately, this can lead to the partner being asked to constantly soothe to pull away, creating more of the cycle of seeking validation and connection, points out McNeil.

To be fair, it’s ridiculously easy to ghost someone you’ve been dating these days. People cheat, and about half of married couples in the U.S. ultimately file for a divorce. All of these are factors that contribute to the super-normal fear that a perfectly wonderful relationship could go up in flames.

Where Relationship Anxiety Comes From

Pinpointing the root cause of relationship anxiety could make it easier to understand and address. A few reasons experts say it develops are outlined below.

You struggle with other forms of anxiety

If you struggle with general anxiety, separation anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you might also contend with relationship anxiety. And by nature, relationships lend themselves to anxiety, says Cook.

“Relationships don’t have full certainty,” she acknowledges. “Even if someone gets married, it’s not an absolute guarantee for life. And with anxiety, we want to have control and predictability. Relationships are the opposite. Even with the best of intentions, there can be unpredictable, uncontrollable things that happen.”

You have an anxious attachment style

Another potential cause: having an anxious attachment style, which develops in early childhood when caregivers are inconsistent in meeting a child's needs, explains Tyler Jamison, associate professor at the University of New Hampshire in the department of human development and family studies. “Parents, or other caregivers, can be warm, loving, and involved sometimes, but distant or unresponsive at other times,” explains Jamison. “In adulthood, this can show up in romantic relationships causing worry, fear, stress and other feelings of anxiousness.”

Growing up feeling like love was always conditional can lead to anxious attachment, says Niro Feliciano, a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and anxiety specialist and author of This Book Won't Make You Happy. “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,” she explains.

You’ve faced past hurt and trauma 

Unpredictable, devastating situations — like if you've been cheated on, lost a loved one unexpectedly, or been ghosted when a relationship seemed to be going so well — often make it really hard for someone to trust and feel secure in relationships in the future, points out Cook.

How to Address Relationship Anxiety

Whether you find yourself freaking out when your partner doesn’t text for a few hours, or you feel like you have to constantly make sure they actually care, it’s possible to face relationship anxiety head-on. Here are several expert tips.

Learn more about attachment styles

If you think you — or your partner — might have an anxious attachment style, Cook recommends learning more about it. “There are a lot of TikToks on attachment styles, and I’ve had so many clients say the book Attached [by Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S. F. Heller, M.A.] was a game-changer for them,” she notes. “It’s something great to talk about in therapy as well.”

In addition to learning more about your attachment style, there’s evidence that simply being in a stable, healthy relationship for a long time can be the antidote to overcoming relationship anxiety, says Jamison.

Stick to the facts

Zoom out and look at what you know about the relationship overall versus what you feel in any given moment, suggests Feliciano. Because anxiety can lead you to distort the truth and magnify the negative, she recommends asking yourself reality-checking questions like:

  • What has your partner done to show you their love for you? 
  • What have they done to prove to you that the relationship is secure?  
  • What have they done to prove otherwise?

“Taking account of the facts can help to discern reality from anxious and intrusive thoughts,” explains Feliciano. “Make two columns, and look at the facts.” 

Take ownership of your relationship

“When we’re anxious, we often want to put the ball completely in the other person’s court,” notes Cook who encourages someone grappling with relationship anxiety to take action for themselves. “Ask yourself, ‘What do I want to do in this relationship? Do I want to progress the relationship forward? Do I want to end this relationship because it’s no longer in line with my values?’”

This can remind you that you’re not a passive bystander, and relationships are a two-way street.

Know that you are resilient 

Falling in love and being in a relationship means being vulnerable and putting your heart on the line. But it’s important to remind yourself that even though that can be daunting (and a relationship can end for many reasons), you are resilient, says Cook. “Even if your relationship ends or something difficult happens, you can live through it and endure, even if that’s not comfortable and easy.”  

Self-esteem is also crucial to cultivating this belief. “[It’s important to know] that you’re capable and competent as your own person. It’s wonderful if you have someone else in your life who is a source of support and joy, but you don’t need that person for your survival.” 

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